Smith v. Doe

Facts of the Case

The Alaska Sex Offender Registration Act (Act), 1994 Alaska Sess. Laws 41, required the offenders to register with the state, to provide a wide range of personal information such as their appearance, location, employment, and circumstances of conviction, and to notify the state of any changes in the registration information. Respondents, who were previously convicted of aggravated sex offenses, contended that the Act was punitive in nature, and thus constituted retroactive punishment in violation of the Ex Post Facto Clause, but the petitioner officials argued that the Act was a non-punitive regulatory scheme enacted for the protection of the public. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of petitioners. On appeal, the appellate court held that the Act violated the ex post facto prohibition in Art I, 10, cl 1, as applied to offenders whose crimes had been committed before the statute’s enactment. According to the appellate court, even though the Alaska legislature had intended that the Act would provide a non-punitive and civil regulatory scheme, the statute’s effects were punitive.


Does the Ex Post Facto Clause of Article I Section 10 prohibit the Alaska Sex Offender Registration Act’s registration requirement as a retroactive punishment?


No. In a 6-3 opinion delivered by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the Court held that the Alaska Sex Offender Registration Act’s retroactive application does not violate the Ex Post Facto Clause because the act is nonpunitive. The Court reasoned that the act was clearly intended as a civil, non-punitive means of identifying previous offenders for the protection of the public. The Court also found that the stigma, which could result from registration, did not render the act effectively punitive, since the dissemination of the registration information did not constitute the imposition of any significant affirmative disability or restraint. Dissenting, Justice John Paul Stevens argued that the act could only cover those convicted of offenses committed after the effective date of the act without violating the Ex Post Facto Clause. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, dissented, arguing that the act was ambiguous in intent and punitive in effect and that its retroactive application was incompatible with the Ex Post Facto Clause.

Case Information

  • Citation: 538 US 84 (2003)
  • Argued: Nov 13, 2002
  • Decided Mar 5, 2003