MADISON, Wis.—In a case that proves the actual slipperiness of some potential slippery slopes, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has said that it is permissible to add people to the state’s sex offender registry who have committed no sexual crime. The case in question is not new, but the reminder that some high courts have lost their way cannot be mentioned frequently enough, especially where due process is concerned.
Wisconsin v. Smith involves a 17-year-old who forced another 17-year-old to go with him to pick up a drug debt.
According to the High Court’s opinion, “Smith and others forced a minor to ride around with them in a vehicle in order to collect a drug debt from the minor's friend. Even though the complaint alleges that Smith and at least one other person physically threatened the minor in order to force him to assist in the search, there is no allegation that the false imprisonment entailed anything sexual.”
Despite the fact that Smith also was a minor and no sexual activity took place, the court reasoned that requiring Smith to register under the state’s sex offender statute—§ 301.45—is “rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest,” even though it admits that the wording of the statute is “ambiguous.”
In fact, the statute is not that ambiguous, considering it clearly states that covered parties must register as sex offenders if they commit certain offenses that are “comparable to a sex offense.” In other words, in Wisconsin, a sex offense can also be a non-sex offense if it is considered like a sex offense.
“We conclude that Wis. Stat. § 301.45 is constitutional as applied to Smith because requiring Smith to register under § 301.45 is rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest. Smith has failed to prove that the registration requirements of § 301.45 as applied to him are unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt,” the majority held. Two justices dissented.