The Constitutionality of Strict Liability in Sex Offender Registration Laws

106 Pages Posted: 11 Oct 2005


People are afraid, and it is understandable. One need only hear the heartbreaking account of a child abducted and assaulted, or murdered by a convicted sex offender, to appreciate a community's desire to protect its children from predators living among them. Sex offender registration and notification schemes, which are designed to track the offenders and to protect the community, are motivated by justifiable regulatory intentions; nonetheless, legislators may be guilty of overreaching. This article explores the constitutionality of sex offender registration laws as applied to one specific group of convicted sex offenders - the statutory rapist who has been convicted in one of thirty jurisdictions that employs a strict liability framework. Specifically, this article questions whether strict liability provides a sufficient and constitutional framework for the requirement to register as a sex offender. I draw the distinction between a narrowly constructed sex offender registration system designed to protect the public, and a system marked by a net cast so wide that it captures offenders whose predatory behavior or criminal intent was never proven. This article argues that because of the convergence of several factors, including the recent Supreme Court decisions in Connecticut Department of Public Safety v. Doe and Lawrence v. Texas, the sweeping nature of sex offender registration laws unconstitutionally impacts the strict liability offender.

Keywords: sex offender registration, sex offender notification, criminal law, statutory rape, lawrence v. texas, connecticut department of public safety v. doe, strict liability, sexual predators

Suggested Citation

Carpenter, Catherine L., The Constitutionality of Strict Liability in Sex Offender Registration Laws. Boston University Law Review, Vol. 86, 2006. Available at SSRN:

Catherine L. Carpenter (Contact Author)

Southwestern Law School ( email )

3050 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90010
United States
213-738-6875 (Phone)
213-738-6698 (Fax)

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