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Keep offenders on registry, say most Utahns

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Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff says a parent's right to know about convicted sex offenders living in their community outweighs an offender's ability to have themselves removed from the list after serving their debt to society.

According to a new Deseret News/KSL Dan Jones poll, while 69 percent of Utah residents polled said some sex offenders are a greater threat to the community than others, 54 percent said convicted sex offenders definitely should not have a right to a court hearing to determine if they are a danger to the community and thus have their names taken off the public list.

Shurtleff said he's not surprised by the poll numbers.

"It's nice to have some validation," Shurtleff said. "You had your hearing when you were convicted of the crime. When you balance the potential of some future harm to the community against a parent's right to know, the courts have always sided with the parent's right to know."

The Utah Supreme Court is currently mulling an appeal brought by a convicted sex offender who claims the Utah Sex Offender Registry violates his constitutional right to due process.

Steven Arthur Briggs was convicted of sexually abusing a 9-year-old girl in 1986 and sentenced to serve 15 years in prison. Having served his time, Briggs was told by prison officials in 2002 that he would have to register as a sex offender and be listed on the Utah Sex Offender Registry, which can be accessed by the public. The registry lists the names, photos, addresses of sex offenders as well as the offense they committed.

Briggs refused to sign the paperwork. He was later charged with failing to register as a sex offender between 2003 and 2005. The court sentenced Briggs to two consecutive years in jail, with all but 61 days credit for time served.

In his appeal, Briggs argues the registry stigmatizes all sex offenders as sexual predators, even those who have no history of repeat offenses. He also claims the registry publicly shames offenders, many of whom have served their debt to society.

Briggs says he should have a right to seek a court hearing to prove that he is not a danger to the community and thus should not be placed on the registry.

The state argues that the registry simply states facts about a person's convictions and that a parent's right to know who lives near their children outweighs an offender's interests.

Shurtleff said he recently added his support to a U.S. Supreme Court brief stating that parents have a right to know about sex offenders and that this interest outweighs a sex offender's right to have him or herself removed from the registry. Two cases from two federal circuit appellate courts are currently being considered by the nation's top court.

"People feel strongly that they have a right to know so they can protect their kids," Shurtleff said.

If the Utah Supreme Court sides with Briggs, Shurtleff said he probably will take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

E-mail: gfattah@desnews.com