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South Carolina Sex Offender Registry is Unconstitutional

South Carolina Sex Offender Registry is Unconstitutional

On June 9, 2021, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the state’s lifelong sex offender registry is unconstitutional without any form of the review process. The justices said the ruling must be implemented within 12 months, giving state lawmakers enough time to properly address the issue.

The state’s highest court called South Carolina’s Sex Offender Registration Act “the most stringent in the country.” The law requires most offenders to check in with law enforcement officials either twice or four times a year. Furthermore, in order to be removed from the registry, the person’s offense must be overturned, reversed, or vacated on appeal.”

The case stems from a 2016 lawsuit that was filed by Dennis Powell, who was convicted of criminal solicitation of a minor in 2010 and sentenced to imprisonment for two years, and ordered to register as a sex offender for life, according to South Carolina law.

After serving his time and probation, as well as registering as a sex offender for a decade, Powell filed a petition with the Circuit Court, stating that lifetime registration was excessive and deprived him of due process and equal protection. While the lower court agreed with him, the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) appealed the ruling, sending the case to the South Carolina Supreme Court.

The state’s Supreme Court said that it is not constitutional to require offenders to register for a lifetime without an opportunity to determine if they are a high risk to re-offend. Two doctors said Powell was low risk for re-offending.

Additionally, the Circuit Court said that the 1994 sex offender law prohibited the publishing of the registry on the internet. However, the Supreme Court ruled that SLED can still post the registry online.

The judicial review process would need to consider an offender’s risk of re-offending and determine if they should remain on the registry for the rest of his/her life. Powell was immediately removed from the state’s registry following the ruling.

We offer fee-based phone or in-office consultations for those interested in discussing sex offender registry removal with the attorney. Since sex offender removal does not involve a new or pending criminal case, free consultations are not offered. 


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