LAS VEGAS (AP) - A federal judge on Monday ordered a last-minute
delay to enforcement of a Nevada state sex crime classification law, saying he wants time to consider constitutional challenges before it goes into effect.
U.S. District Court Judge James Mahan said he was concerned that
if the state law went into effect as planned on Tuesday, and convicted low-level sex offenders are publicly identified as top-level Tier III offenders, there would be no way to "restore their privacy" if the law is found to be flawed.
"It seems to me that it's a matter of due process and ... fairness," Mahan said as he granted an immediate preliminary injunction to the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada. "The appropriate thing to do is grant the (delay) and give everyone a chance to sort this out."
Lawyers representing Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, state police officials, the Clark County and Washoe County sheriffs and police chiefs of Henderson and North Las Vegas protested that they weren't properly served with the lawsuit and weren't given required notice about Monday's hearing.
Binu Palal, a deputy Nevada state attorney general, argued that Mahan was "frustrating the will of the people" and rewarding the ACLU for waiting until last Tuesday to file suit on behalf of 12 unnamed plaintiffs against a law that the state Legislature passed last year.
Mahan acknowledged Palal's argument, and said law enforcers in Las Vegas, Reno and statewide had a right to a quick decision in the case. He set an accelerated schedule leading to a hearing on Aug. 26.
That will be three days before an Aug. 29 hearing by a Nevada state judge who last Thursday instructed Clark County authorities to hold off on enforcing the law until he could hear a separate constitutional challenge.
"What are our law enforcement officers supposed to do?" asked Nick Crosby, a Las Vegas lawyer representing the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.
Mahan said current state sex offender laws would remain in effect while he considers the ACLU challenge.
ACLU lawyer Margaret McLetchie told Mahan that the state court case, filed on behalf of two convicted sex offenders, was more narrow in scope than the federal challenge filed by the ACLU.
Both lawsuits challenge the state law, Assembly Bill 579, which reclassifies thousands of sex offenders according to the type of
crime for which they were convicted, instead of their risk of re-offending.
The law put Nevada in line with federal legislation passed in 2006 calling on states to categorize sex offenders in the same way.
Las Vegas lawyer Robert Langford, representing seven plaintiffs in the federal case, said his clients didn't receive notice about how the law would affect them until May.
Langford said the measure will dramatically increase the number of top-tier sex offenders in the state, from fewer than 140 to more than 2,000, and stretch the ability of police to list, track and enforce stricter regulations on where offenders can live, work and play.
"This is a radical and drastic change in how we handle registered sex offenders," Langford said outside court.
McLetchie said the ACLU also was concerned that expanding the list of Tier III sex offenders and posting names on the Internet could put low-risk offenders and their families in danger of threats and violence.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)