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Sex Offender Registry Constitutionally Applied


MADISON - This morning, the Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to the application of Wisconsin's sex offender registry to a person, James W. Smith, who was convicted of falsely imprisoning a minor in Brown County. The case is State v. Smith, and is available on the supreme court's website at  


Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen praised the decision: "Today's decision reaffirms the State's efforts to protect Wisconsin's kids and confirms the legislature's power to develop rational mechanisms to do so."


In 2001, James W. Smith was convicted of false imprisonment of a minor. Under state law, this conviction obligated Smith to comply with the requirements of the sex offender registration law.  Smith failed to do so, and was convicted in 2007 for failing to register.  He appealed his conviction, but it was upheld by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.  He then sought review of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.     


In the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Smith claimed that he could not constitutionally be required to register because his false imprisonment of a minor was motivated by an interest in collecting a drug debt rather than for sexual reasons. 


The Supreme Court disagreed, and affirmed Smith's conviction.  It held that requiring Smith to register is constitutional because it is rationally related to the legitimate government interests of protecting the public and assisting law enforcement.  It noted that: 


  • False imprisonment has been linked to the commission of sexual assault and violent crimes against children; 
  • An offender's sexual motive or intent may be difficult to prove or determine within the context of false imprisonment; 
  • False imprisonment places the minor in a vulnerable position because the offender, rather than the minor, has control over the minor's body and freedom of movement. 


Assistant Attorney General Rebecca St. John represented the state in the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  Brown County Assistant District Attorney Kevin Greene prosecuted Smith.