Criminal Justice

11th Circuit rules hours after news site writes about 7-year delay

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A federal appeals court ruled against a sex offender Monday, hours after a liberal political news and opinion website published an exclusive story about extraordinary delays in his case.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Atlanta ruled against Michael McGuire of Montgomery, Alabama, who claimed that he was forced to live under a bridge because of his state’s sex-offender registry law, according to Talking Points Memo, the news site that published the exclusive story.

Its prior story on the delay is here via How Appealing.

The case “languished” in the 11th Circuit for seven years, TPM reported. The case was initially filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama 11 years ago.

Multiple appellate lawyers and court clerks told TPM that they never heard of a case pending so long at a federal appeals court. Alabama’s then-Attorney General Luther Strange III appealed to the 11th Circuit in 2015, and the appeals court heard oral arguments in February 2016. The court sought supplemental briefing in 2017 because of changes to the Alabama law.

The judges on the 11th Circuit panel are Judge Ed Carnes, Judge Jill Pryor and Judge Kenneth Ripple, sitting by designation from the 7th Circuit at Chicago. Their per curiam opinion rejected McGuire’s argument that the 2011 Alabama sex-offender registration law imposed retroactive punishment for his crime in violation of the ex post facto clause.

McGuire was convicted in 1986 for the rape of his girlfriend by using a knife and a wine bottle to force submission. He served three years in prison and completed a year of parole. After that, he spent 20 years working as a hair stylist and a jazz musician in the Washington, D.C., area. He moved with his common law wife to Montgomery in 2010 to live with and help his elderly mother.

McGuire learned, however, that he could not live in his mother’s home under the Alabama law because it was too close to a child care center. He resorted to sleeping under an interstate overpass after he couldn’t find housing that complied with the law and had trouble finding musician jobs that were more than 2,000 feet from a school or a child care center.

He later found housing, suffered a psychotic break and received a schizophrenia diagnosis. He began receiving government disability benefits.

To win his ex post facto claim, McGuire had to show that the sex-offender law was criminal in nature. The appeals court said he didn’t succeed.

“Because we conclude that the Alabama legislature intended to enact a civil legislative scheme, we must assess whether Mr. McGuire has shown by ‘the clearest proof’ that [the law’s] challenged provisions are so punitive in purpose or effect as to override the Alabama legislature’s stated intent to enact a civil regulatory scheme,” the 11th Circuit said. “We hold that he has failed to meet that heavy burden.”

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