Volume 74, Number 5

November 1999

Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood? Due Process, Public Protection, and Sex Offender Notification Laws

Jane A. Small

All fifty states have enacted sex offender registration acts (SORAs). In addition to requiring registration with the state, these laws usually provide for the notification of an individual’s status as a sex offender-along with the dissemination of personal information-to law enforcement officials and members of the community. In this Note, Jane Small argues for enhanced due process protections for offenders when they are required to register. Since SORAs are not aimed at punishment but rather community protection, they are civil, not criminal, statutes and the due process standard for civil proceedings, as announced in Mathews v. Eldridge, ought to be applied. That standard requires a court to weigh the risk of depriving an individual of a protected interest against the governmental interest embodied in a particular procedure. Small surveys SORAs’ problems, including the inappropriately generalized categorization of sex offenders and the danger notification poses to individual offenders, and outlines recent cases applying the Mathews standard to assess the constitutionality of SORAs. She then evaluates available procedural protections and current notification mechanisms for their compliance with the requirements of Mathews. She concludes that an individualized, fact-specific assessment must be made in every case and that the proceedings must be narrowly geared to the legitimate aim of SORAs-community protection-in order not to infringe on the individual’s interests any more than is necessary to achieve that aim.