SOURCE: The Statesman

[FAC NOTE: Kudos to our friend, TX Attorney Richard Gladden for his role in this legal effort]

At least four sex offenders in Texas have floated a new argument that has earned early legal victories.

When the Beaumont police detective called him in 2014, Curtis wondered what the officer might want. His only run-in with the law had been half a lifetime ago.

In 1985, he had been charged with indecency with a child, his stepdaughter. Curtis, then 34, struck a deal with prosecutors: He would plead guilty — but, if after 10 years he kept out of trouble, the conviction would go away. He paid his fees, performed his community service and attended sex offender counseling. The charge was dismissed in 1996.

Curtis said his crime stayed with him: “It never leaves me; it’s always in front of me.” (The paper is not using his last name, because he is fighting to keep it private and it does not appear in court documents.) He kept a low, steady profile. Over the next three decades, he raised his three boys in the house in which he’s always lived. He worked at a nearby chemical plant until his retirement in 2009.

So, the news from the detective was alarming. Despite the deal he’d cut with the state of Texas 30 years ago, Curtis was dismayed to learn that he now would have to register as a sex offender. His name and photo and details of the crime would appear on the state’s public website. He would need to check in with police regularly. The new rules, the detective informed Curtis, applied for the rest of his life.

Donnie Miller had struck a similar deal with Travis County prosecutors. In 1993, when he was 23, the Wimberley native was charged with sexual assault against a woman outside Exposé, a gentleman’s club on South Congress Avenue. “I was young, and I was stupid, and I was drunk,” he said.

At his trial, the jury couldn’t agree on a verdict. Facing a second trial and owing more than $20,000 in legal fees from the first one, Miller, like Curtis, signed a deal with prosecutors.

In exchange for a guilty plea, his record would be cleaned if he stayed out of trouble for 10 years. Although he’d have to register as a sex offender for that decade, he said the lawyers assured him that his name would be removed after he successfully completed his probation.

With his plan to become a licensed paramedic derailed by his sex offender status, Miller built a career in sales. Court records show he did well enough that he was granted permission to exit probation early.

So, he, too, was surprised to receive a phone call a year later informing him that, contrary to the terms of the deal he’d made a decade earlier, Texas had changed the rules. Whatever he had agreed to then was irrelevant. He would now be on the sex offender registry for life.

“If I’d known, why would I have taken a plea deal?” said Miller, now 48. “I would have borrowed the money for the retrial.”

Over the past 20 years, state and federal lawmakers have passed ever-stricter laws for sex offenses that require more people to be listed on public sex offender registries — typically for life. In some cases, the new laws have reached back to include those whose crimes occurred years before the statutes were enacted, and counter the deals they struck with prosecutors.

The U.S. Constitution prohibits new laws that pile additional punishments onto old crimes. In the past, government lawyers have successfully sidestepped that by arguing that retroactively requiring sex offenders to register for decades-old crimes is not really a punishment. Instead, they contended, it is merely a regulation that promotes public safety.

Now, however, at least four older sex offenders in Texas have floated a new argument that has earned early legal victories. They say the deals they agreed to in the past were essentially contracts between them and the state.

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