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Nevada sex offender classifications challenged

Associated Press

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a new law on the classification and movement of sex offenders.

“We think the law is irrational and vague,” ACLU lawyer Margaret McLetchie said. “It changes how people will be classified and defined as a sex offender, and subjects these people and their families to violence and the possibility of losing their jobs.”

Filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court on behalf of a dozen offenders in Washoe and Clark counties, the suit argues the new law creates confusion among people now listed as sex offenders and has sparked fear in others who would be pulled into that category.

At least three other offenders have filed similar challenges to the law that takes effect Tuesday.

The law passed by the 2007 Legislature reclassifies offenders by the crime they committed instead of their assessed risk of re-offending. That means that some offenders could face stricter rules even if authorities believe they have a low risk of committing another sexual crime.

The law puts Nevada in accord with federal legislation passed in 2006 that called on states to categorize sex offenders in the same way.

“Numerous people not previously considered ‘sex offenders’ will now fall under the changed definition and will be required to register and subject to community notification and other onerous requirements and limitations,” the ACLU suit said.

“These restrictions are being imposed retroactively, regardless of the limitations imposed, or not imposed, on offenders at sentencing.”

One of the plaintiffs, identified as Doe 5, lives in Reno and accepted a plea deal in 2003 for one count of lewdness with a minor younger than 14, the suit said. He said he was intoxicated, and allowed his 11-year-old daughter to touch him inappropriately while clothed.

He immediately recognized the serious nature of what happened, told his wife, turned himself into the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office and sought counseling, the suit said. He served five years of probation, was classified as a Tier I offender and has been living a normal life.

But in May, the Nevada Department of Public Safety told him that as of Tuesday, he will be classified as a Tier III offender, the suit said. He was told that his home is too close to a trail head that leads to a park and playground, so he must sell his house and move.

“Doe 5 believes that the financial burden of selling a house that was purchased just last year will bankrupt his family and destroy the business that he recently started, especially in the current economic climate,” the suit said.

It added that having his photograph and name posted on community Web sites will result in his family “being singled out for scorn and ridicule and perhaps for threats of violence or destruction of property.”