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West Michigan

SORA: Everything You Need To Know

In a stunning move that will have a huge impact on criminal law in Michigan, a federal district court ordered Michigan lawmakers 90 days to update and make changes to the sex offender registry law known as SORA. SORA was ruled unconstitutional by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. The ACLU and a law program affiliated with the University of Michigan filed a class-action lawsuit last June against SORA.

According to The Detroit Free Press,

  • “A U.S. district court judge is giving Michigan lawmakers 90 days to change the state’s sex offender registry law, almost three years after it was first ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals court.”

Judge Robert H. Cleland Dropped The Hammer

U.S. District Judge Robert H. Cleland issued an order that the law must be changed on Thursday.

The ruling stems from an August 2016 decision by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati which found that Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry Act (SORA) was unconstitutional.

Under Michigan’s law:

  • Offenders have been prohibited from living, working or even standing within 1,000 feet of a school.
  • They must immediately register email address or vehicles, plus report to the police as often as four times a year.


The rules currently apply to all offenders on the registry — even if they’ve gone decades without committing and crimes. 

Michigan's SORA Law Is Unconstitutional

The appeals court found the law in violation of constitutional protections against increasing penalties for a crime after its commission and adjudication.

The state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case — effectively upholding the 6th Circuit ruling. 

But the state has kept the law in place. It argued that the rulings only applied to the specific plaintiffs who brought them — because the appeals court decision came in civil cases instead of class-action lawsuits.

In essence, whether or not offenders needed to completely comply with the act depended on if they’d been able to successfully plead for their individual case in court. The ACLU, the University of Michigan Clinical Law Program and the Oliver Law Group filed a class-action lawsuit last June that asked that the appeals court to apply the ruling to all Michigan registrants.

“Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry is not just unconstitutional, but it’s also counter­productive and actually makes our communities less safe,” Miriam Aukerman, ACLU senior staff attorney, said in a statement. 

“We need and deserve effective public-safety measures that protect our kids and families, rather than a bloated and ineffective registration scheme that in fact puts them at greater risk. Legislators should seize on this opportunity to protect the public by replacing Michigan’s failed registry with policies and programs that have proven successful in preventing sexual offending.”


In a news release, the ACLU of Michigan said research shows sexual violence and the harm it causes are effectively reduced by prevention programs.

Sen. Peter J. Lucido (R-Shelby Township), chairman of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee told the Free Press discussions with the state police, as well as the ACLU of Michigan have been ongoing, and he sees this as an opportunity to take another look at whether or not SORA is doing the job it was intended to do.”

If you have any questions relating to SORA, please feel free to contact Attorney Shawn Haff at 616-438-6719. The call is free. Will you be? 

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