A federal judge is commanding state authorities to stop enforcing rules under the Michigan Sex Offender Registry Act during the coronavirus pandemic.
According to an interim order U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland issued Monday, officials are “preliminarily enjoined from enforcing registration, verification, school zone, and fee violations of (the act) that occurred or may occur from February 14, 2020, until the current crisis has ended, and thereafter until registrants are notified of what duties they have under SORA going forward.”
On Valentine’s Day, Cleland declared the act unconstitutional and urged the state Legislature to move to bring the law into compliance.
Under the February decision offenders would still have had to report to their local law enforcement agency or state police post through mid-May, while orders encompassing Cleland’s ruling were drafted by the parties. After that, unless the state Legislature acts, the Sex Offender Registry Act would no longer be enforceable against those who offended before 2011.
The ruling, which involved a lawsuit by a class of plaintiffs who complained their rights were violated through the law, was scheduled to be effective within 60 days of a final judgment.
However, the COVID-19 crisis is “severely restricting the abilities of government and making it virtually impossible for the Michigan State Police (MSP) Sex Offender Registration (SOR) Unit to complete the steps necessary to implement a final judgment,” Cleland wrote.
The judge noted the state police sex offender registration unit would be unable to timely send notices to the estimated 44,000 offenders on the registry since its employees “are required to work from home, and lack access to certain computing infrastructure and input from senior decision-makers and state employees in other departments (e.g., Technology, Management and Budget) necessary to implement the court’s order.”
Many registrants who tried to report in person have been turned away following a Feb. 21 memorandum from state police “sent to law enforcement agencies instructing them not to take actions such as verifying registration unless the agency could confirm that the registrant’s offense occurred after April 11, 2011,” Cleland wrote.
"The widespread closure of police stations to the public in response to the COVID-19 pandemic makes in-person compliance with SORA effectively impossible for registrants, and would in any event be inconsistent with current physical isolation directives.”
A final judgment will be suspended until there is no longer an operative federal or state executive order or legislative act declaring a state of emergency, or "when the Court determines that the conditions giving rise to the need for this Interim Order no longer apply," Cleland wrote.
The state has 17,221 confirmed cases of the virus, according to data released Monday afternoon by the Department of Health and Human Services. The number of COVID-19 deaths in Michigan jumped by 110 Monday to 727, the largest 24-hour increase the state has reported yet.
Michigan's first case was confirmed on March 10.
Some medical experts continue to predict the peak for cases here may not arrive until early May.