A Minnesota law requiring people to register as a sex offender even though they have not been convicted of a sex crime was upheld yesterday by a federal appeals court. However, Judge C. Arlen Beam said that the law and state courts’ interpretation of it of “turn reason and fairness on its head.”
Brian Gunderson was charged in 1998 with first-degree criminal sexual conduct after a woman he met in a bar accused him of rape. Gunderson denied raping her but admitted they had a “physical altercation.” Tests supported his version of events, and the rape charge was dismissed. In a plea deal, Gunderson admitted to third-degree assault and was put on probation. Later, imprisoned on a probation violation, he ws told to register as a sex offender under law requiring it whenever someone is convicted of a sex offense “or another offense arising out of the same set of circumstances.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit decided that the registration law is regulatory, not punitive, and that it serves a legitimate state interest to keep track of known potential sex offenders. Minneapolis defense attorney Fred Bruno said the decision surprised him because for years attorneys have asked to have new complaints drawn up in plea agreements to avoid forcing their clients who were not convicted of a sex crime to register.