By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) - A federal appeals court said Indiana's sex and violent offender registry unconstitutionally violated the due process rights of thousands of registrants because it did not give them a chance to fix mistakes.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago rejected arguments by the Indiana Department of Correction that it was not directly responsible for errors in the registry, which contains about 24,000 names, and that registrants had other procedures to challenge mistakes.
Concluding that erroneous labeling as a "sexually violent predator" implicated a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause, the 7th Circuit noted that Indiana had recently begun letting current prisoners challenge pending registry listings, but gave other registrants no such opportunity.
"The policy provides no process whatsoever to an entire class of registrants -- those who are not incarcerated," and is therefore "constitutionally insufficient," Circuit Judge Diane Wood wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel.
Tuesday's decision reversed a December 2011 ruling by U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt in Indianapolis. The 7th Circuit sent the case back to that court, and encouraged the parties to agree on procedures to fix registry errors.
The office of Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, which represented the Department of Correction, is reviewing the decision, spokesman Bryan Corbin said.
State legislators this month began hearings on possible changes to the registry, after the Indiana Supreme Court had in 2009 found some restrictions unconstitutional, he added.