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People v. Knox

February 17, 2009

THE PEOPLE & C., RESPONDENT,
v.
JUDY KNOX, APPELLANT.
THE PEOPLE & C., RESPONDENT,
v.
ELIEZER CINTRON, APPELLANT.
THE PEOPLE & C., RESPONDENT,
v.
FRANCIS JACKSON, APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Smith, J.

Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431.

This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the Official Reports.

Defendants in these three cases committed, or attempted to commit, kidnaping and unlawful imprisonment. Their victims were children, and defendants were not their victims' parents. We hold that the State did not violate defendants' constitutional rights by compelling them to register as "sex offenders," even though there was no proof that their crimes involved any sexual act or sexual motive.

I.

Judy Knox approached a group of children in a park, grabbed the arm of an eight year old girl and tried to pull her away; her motive, as far as it can be inferred from the record, was to replace one of her own children, of whom she had lost custody. Knox pleaded guilty to attempted kidnaping.

Eliezer Cintron became angry when his girlfriend asked him to leave her apartment, and locked the girlfriend in that apartment, with her one and two-year old children, for several days. Cintron was convicted, among other things, of the unlawful imprisonment of each of the children.

Tyrone Jackson was the employer of a prostitute who tried to quit her job; he reacted by abducting the woman's son and telling her he would kill the child if she did not continue to work for him. Jackson pleaded guilty to attempted kidnaping.

Supreme Court required all three defendants to register under the Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) (Correction Law § 168-a et seq.), despite their protests that they were not sex offenders as that term is commonly understood, and so could not constitutionally be subjected to sex offender registration. The Appellate Division affirmed Supreme Court's orders. Defendants appeal to us as of right, pursuant to CPLR 5601 (b) (1), and we now affirm.

II.

SORA defines "sex offender" to include "any person who is convicted of" any of a number of crimes listed in the statute (Correction Law § 168-a [1]). Among the listed crimes are unlawful imprisonment (Penal Law §§ 135.05, 135.10) and kidnaping (Penal Law §§ 135.20, 135.25), "provided the victim of such . . . offense is less than seventeen years old and the offender is not the parent of the victim" (Correction Law S 168-a [2] [a] [i]). It is not disputed that these three defendants are within the definition of "sex offender" as the statute is written.

SORA requires all people included in this definition to register as sex offenders with the Division of Criminal Justice Services. Among the consequences of registration are: the registrant's name, address, photograph and fingerprints remain on file with the Division (Correction Law § 168-b [1]); the registrant must verify his address annually to the Division, and must appear periodically at a law enforcement agency to provide a current photograph (Correction Law § 168-f [2]); local law enforcement agencies are notified when a registrant moves into their jurisdiction (Correction Law § 168-j); and any caller inquiring about a named individual will be told if that person is a registered sex offender (Correction Law § 168-p). In addition, registrants found to be at "moderate" or "high" risk of reoffending are listed in a directory available on the internet, containing, among other information, their photographs, addresses, places of employment, and the nature of their crimes (Correction Law §§ 168-l [6], 168-q ).

Defendants claim that their rights to due process of law and equal protection of the laws under the federal and state constitutions (US Const, Amendment XIV; NY Const, art I, §§ 6, 11) are violated by requiring them to register under SORA, because the crimes underlying their registration involve no actual, intended or threatened sexual misconduct. The People acknowledge that there is no evidence of sexual misconduct in any of these cases; they say that the possibility of a sexual motive, or threatened sexual misconduct, cannot be ruled out. But even on the contrary assumption on the assumption that there was no actual or potential sexual aspect in any of these crimes we hold that defendants' constitutional rights have not been violated. We find their equal protection claims to be obviously lacking in merit, and we analyze only the due process issues.

Defendants' principal claim is, in essence, that the State has denied them substantive due process by officially attaching to them a label that is false or misleading. Defendants do not dispute that they have committed crimes which warrant finding them a danger to the public, and specifically to children; nor do they dispute that the State could constitutionally require them to register, to keep law enforcement authorities aware of their locations, to be identified to the public as dangerous, and to suffer the other statutory consequences of sex offender registration, apart from the name "sex offender." Defendants assert that registrants under SORA are sometimes subjected to parole or other conditions that are inappropriate for those guilty of no sexual misconduct; for example, they say that some registrants are required to undergo therapy for psychosexual disorders. But the statute itself does not impose such requirements, and defendants do not complain of any parole conditions that were actually imposed on them. Their complaint is with the name under which they are registered. If the State required them to register, for example, as "child predators," they would concededly have no constitutional complaint.

Thus, the interest defendants assert is in not having their admittedly serious crimes mischaracterized in a way that is arguably even more stigmatizing, or more frightening to the community, than a correct designation would be. We do not hold this interest to be constitutionally insignificant. On the contrary, we assume that defendants have a constitutionally-protected liberty interest, applicable in a substantive due process context, in not being required to register under an incorrect label (see Paul v Davis, 424 US 693, 701-710, 710 n 5 [1976] [in a procedural due process case, government-imposed stigma may be an infringement of liberty when more tangible interests are also affected]; Branch v Collier, 2004 WL 942194 *5 - *6 [ND Tex 2004] [in a procedural due process case, liberty interest in not being included in sex offender ...


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