In New York, individuals who are released from prison after completing their sentences for sex offenses must register with the Division of Criminal Justice Services. Registration is also required for individuals placed on probation after committing what are generally considered to be less serious crimes with a sexual component. In connection with this registration process, judges hold hearings ["SORA hearings"] to assess the offender’s risk of re-offense. The court’s determination may subject the individual to life-long rigorous reporting obligations and disclosure of extensive personal information on the internet, including home addresses and photographs. Public exposure carries serious consequences to the offender, including not only stigma but, at the highest risk level, restrictions on the individual’s access to housing and public services.
Courts have recognized the difficulty of making a reliable calculation that an individual has a high risk of re-offending. See Doe v. Pataki, 3 F. Supp. 2d 456, 469 (S.D.N.Y. 1998). For that reason, individuals have a right to counsel at these challenging risk assessment hearings.
Beginning in 2011, the Center for Appellate Litigation began representing clients at these post-conviction hearings. In preparation for these hearings, CAL lawyers meet with clients to assess their situation. Then, at regular team meetings, CAL lawyers and litigation assistants work together to assemble information and identify any legal arguments supporting a low risk of re-offense. CAL’s experience with our Re-entry Program allows us to connect clients to services that may reinforce their stability and low risk of re-offense.
CAL also represents clients on any appeals that follow these risk assessment hearings. Additionally, the law permits individuals with a previously imposed high risk classification to ask the court to modify the risk assessment. CAL attorneys work with individuals who have successfully changed their lives to request relief from the most severe reporting requirements.
Molly Schindler coordinates CAL’s SORA Project.