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Moot Court to Argue Connecticut Dept. of Public Safety v. Doe, Dec. 9

The Morris Tyler Moot Court of Appeals at Yale Law School will hold its final round of oral arguments on Monday, December 9, 2002, at 4:00 p.m. in Levinson Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.


The stakes in Monday's arguments in front of the Morris Tyler Moot Court of Appeals are prizes, not actual matters of law. But the case is one currently pending in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Connecticut Department of Public Safety v. Doe was argued before the Supreme Court on November 13. The outcome of the case, along with a companion case argued the same day, could affect the "Megan's Laws" adopted by all 50 states.

Megan's Laws generally require states to maintain lists of convicted sex offenders and to publish the lists in some public forum. The first such law was instituted in New Jersey, in response to the kidnapping, rape and murder of a young girl, Megan Kanka, by a previously convicted sex offender who had moved into her neighborhood.

Connecticut's version, the Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA), requires that convicted sex offenders register their current address with the state Department of Public Safety, which then made this information available on a website, as well as through the department's office. John Doe, the pseudonym of the respondent in this case, brought suit to have the list eliminated, arguing that the Connecticut law constituted an ex post facto punishment (since he had been convicted before the law was passed) and that it deprived him of substantial liberty without due process.

The two questions the moot court lawyers will argue are: "Does the SORA violate a registrant's right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment?" and "Does application of the SORA to individuals convicted before its enactment violate the Ex Post Facto Clause?"

The attorneys for the petitioners (Connecticut) are Jud Mathews '04 and Alison Chase '03; and the attorneys for the respondents (Doe) are Michael Pieja '04 and Jonathan Kravis '04. These four are the finalists in a process that began early in the fall term. First they each prepared briefs for a separate case and made oral arguments in the preliminary round of competition. The winners of this round made oral arguments again in a semifinal round, which narrowed the field to the four finalists. They then had to research, write briefs, and prepare for arguments on Connecticut Department of Public Safety v. Doe.

The briefs are substantial pieces of work. Fifty pages long and duly footnoted and formatted, they consider all relevant state, federal, and constitutional law.

In their brief, the petitioners, Mathews and Chase, argue that the Connecticut statute "promotes public safety without condemning individuals by creating a clearinghouse for true and accurate information." The information that could be deemed stigmatizing on the sex offender registry website was only what was already contained in open court records. "The Registry does not impose a stigma, which must be not only defamatory, but also false," they argue.

In addition, Mathews and Chase argue that Doe is not subject to ex post facto punishment based on the Connecticut law's "light procedural duties." They continue, "The intent was to impose a regulatory burden, not an additional punishment on sex offenders."

The respondents, Pieja and Kravis, counter with the argument that the public list of sex offenders does defame Doe, and thus violates his due process rights, because it implies that, after serving his prison sentence, he continues to be a danger to the community. "Because the recidivism rates for the crimes enumerated in the SORA vary tremendously, an individualized hearing is necessary to determine whether this assertion is true."

They also claim that elements of the law do constitute ex post facto punishment. For instance, the highly public nature of an internet listing is "closely parallel to traditional shaming punishments such as the stocks or the pillory."

The decision of the moot case and of the prizes (the Thurman Arnold Prize for best oral argument and the Potter Stewart Prize for best overall performance by a team will both be given out) will be up to three judges: Patrick E. Higginbotham, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals; Barrington D. Parker, Second Circuit Court of Appeals; and Diane P. Wood, Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Though the outcome won't be real, with federal appeals court judges, months of preparation, and a large audience watching, the moot attorneys will face a real challenge.