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Law & Justice

Judge Says Idaho Can't Force 2 Men To Register As Sex Offenders For 'Crimes Against Nature'

The front of the Idaho District Court building.
Roam Yochum
/
Boise State Public Radio
The James A. McClure federal building in Boise, which houses the Idaho District Court.

A federal judge said the state of Idaho has “no legitimate interest” in forcing two men to register as sex offenders for life due to the state’s “crime against nature” law and will bar officials from doing so.

Idaho District Court Judge Lynn Winmill issued a preliminary injunction against the state Wednesday to prevent Randall Menges and an unnamed man identified only as John Doe from having to register.

“Doe and Menges are harmed daily by being required to register as sex offenders and the violation of their constitutional rights,” Winmill wrote in his 47-page opinion.

“I’m grateful to the court for putting an end to my nightmare,” Menges said in a statement.

Those on the sex offender registry are limited in where they can live, what jobs they can hold and who they can interact with.

The injunction from Winmill suggests the men are “likely” to win their case in court and blocks the state from enforcing the law as litigation continues.

Idaho’s “crime against nature” law historically criminalized anal and oral sex, as well as bestiality. It’s considered a felony and brings with it a minimum five-year prison stay, with no maximum sentence.

The 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Lawrence v. Texas, found such laws banning private, consensual sex between adults to be unconstitutional. Just last year, the Idaho Supreme Court interpreted the law to comply with that ruling.

Doe originally filed the lawsuit last September and Menges joined the case in December. The two challenged several pieces of the law, including that it violates their constitutional rights to due process and equal treatment under the law.

Doe was convicted under another state’s “crime against nature” statute for performing oral sex on his wife. Winmill said no documentation shows the act wasn’t consensual.

Idaho’s sex offender registry law forces anyone to sign up if they’ve been convicted of a crime in another state that’s “substantially similar” to an Idaho law requiring registration.

The opinion blasted the state’s process for determining whether Doe’s past conviction requires him to register. State officials determined that administratively. They gave Doe 28 days to appeal that decision to a state court instead of holding a hearing and letting him challenge any evidence that might be presented.

Winmill said the state didn’t notify him of its decision until it had already been made and told Doe he must register within two days or face “substantial legal penalties.”

“Thus, he has no opportunity to challenge the [Idaho State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s] determination until it is too late,” he wrote.

Menges was convicted in Idaho in 1994 for having consensual sex with two 16-year-old boys shortly after he turned 18. An 18-year-old man who had consensual sex with a 16-year-old girl at the time wouldn’t have had to register as a sex offender.

“Simply put, there is no rational basis for forcing Menges to register as a sex offender” if the minors in his situation were female, Winmill said.

Doe and Menges also challenged Idaho’s law as being “unconstitutionally vague,” something Winmill rejected because legal precedent requires him to determine whether the state supreme court has adequately outlined what the law means. It has done so several times over the past century.

However, in a footnote, Winmill decried that legal precedent, calling it “perhaps one of the most pernicious forms of legal fiction.”

“In 2021, a person of common intelligence is more likely to interpret the ‘infamous crime against nature’ as littering, poaching, or perhaps unpermitted discharge of pollutants, instead of sodomy,” he wrote.

“If the Court were working from a blank slate, it would easily find the statute void for vagueness. But, the Court is not free to ignore precedent.”

As of December, 41 people are still on Idaho’s sex offender registry for “crimes against nature,” according to Idaho State Police, which oversees the program. A spokesperson said an updated figure wasn’t immediately available.

The spokesperson referred questions to the Idaho Attorney General’s office about whether ISP would apply the preliminary injunction to other registrants in similar situations. The AG’s office declined to comment.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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