Montana v. Hinman, No. 20-0197 (Mont. 2023)
In 1994, Defendant pled guilty to sexual assault and received a twelve-year criminal sentence. Based on his plea, Defendant was subjected to a ten year registration requirement pursuant to Montana’s then sex offense registration law “SVORA”.
In the years following Defendant’s conviction, the Montana Legislature significantly amended the SVORA scheme, removing the 10-year automatic expiration of the registration period and adding more onerous steps to the process of registration, applied retroactively to previously-convicted individuals.
In a 2003 decision, State v. Mount, the Montana Supreme Court issued a decision concluding that the retroactive application of SVORA’s amendments was not unconstitutional because the intent and effect of SVORA was not to punish people convicted of sexual offenses but instead to serve as a regulatory scheme collecting and disseminating information meant to reduce recidivism and help the public mitigate potential harms. 78 P.3d 829 (Mont. 2003).
In 2019, Defendant was charged with failure-to-register. Defendant challenged this charge on the grounds that the Montana Supreme Court’s earlier reasoning about the nonpunitive nature of SVORA no longer holds true today. Defendant cites a growing body of caselaw in other jurisdictions regarding the constitutionality of applying similar laws retroactively, and points to the breadth of collateral consequences for SVORA registrants that are apparent today but did not exist or were not well understood in 2003.
Holding: The Montana Supreme Court held that amendments to SVORA imposed affirmative restraint or disability and therefore were punitive in nature, so that under state constitutional prohibition of ex post facto laws, amendments could not be applied retroactively. In so holding, the Court noted the increased burdens imposed by SVORA in its current form, including in-person reporting requirements and residency restrictions.