Doe v. Settle, No. 20-1951 (4th Cir. 2022)
Nature of Case: Plaintiff-Appellant was charged with carnal knowledge of a 14 year old after he was caught, at the age of 18, having sex with his 14 year old girlfriend. He accepted a plea for the lesser charge of indecent liberties. Under Virginia law, however, that lesser charge led to worse treatment under state registry requirements. Plaintiff-Appellant asserts that he was never advised of the implications of his plea on future registry requirements. He is now required to register as a Tier III offender (the highest tier designation under Virginia law) for life. Had he plead guilty to carnal knowledge, he would have been able to take advantage of a “Romeo and Juliet” provision under Virginia law applying to individuals within five years of age to their victim. That provision converts the registry requirement to Tier I and allows for the termination of registry requirements after 15 years. Plaintiff-Appellant brings an Equal Protection claim and an Eighth Amendment claim for cruel and unusual punishment.
Holding: The Fourth Circuit held that Plaintiff-Appellant failed to show that there is no rationale basis for differential treatment between the charges of “carnal knowledge” and “indecent liberties” and that Virginia’s registry scheme does not violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment” because it is not punitive. In so holding, the Court recognized that results under these particular laws “may not make much sense” but stated, “the judiciary is not meant to revise laws because they are clumsy, unwise, or–even in some cosmic sense–unfair.”