The state of Montana has no valid reason to require a man to register as a sex offender based on his conviction for having gay sex in Idaho in 1993, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen on Tuesday prevented the state from requiring Randall Menges, of Butte, to register as a sex offender under Idaho’s Crimes Against Nature law. He had consensual gay sex when he was 18 years old in Southwest Idaho.
“None of the governmental interests in maintaining a sexual offender registry are served by Menges’ inclusion,” Christensen wrote. “Engagement in intimate sexual contact with a person of the same sex, without more, cannot be said to render someone a threat to the public safety.”
Menges was arrested after police found that he and two 16-year-old boys had “engaged in sexual activity with each other.” Police reports from the investigation reflect that the sex was consensual.
He served about seven years in Idaho state prison as well as additional years on probation. He moved to Montana after he discharged his sentence. He was required to register as a sex offender.
The state was wrong in not allowing Menges to challenge the registration requirement even though his conviction in Idaho was for actions that are now constitutionally protected, the judge found.
“I guess I’m just grateful, honestly, that the judge actually listened and was fair because for the last few years of my life .... I don’t feel like anything’s been fair,” Menges said Wednesday.
Christensen ordered the state to remove Menges from the registry on or before May 21, expunge any records indicating he was ever subject to registration, and alert all agencies that may have been provided information about Menges’ registration.
The attorney general’s office is appealing the ruling, arguing that it weakens the state’s sex offender registry law and opens it up to additional challenges from out-of-state lawyers “who are more interested in politics than the safety of Montana children,” spokesperson Emilee Cantrell said in a statement.
“You don’t violate someone’s constitutional rights to strengthen your own laws,” Menges said after hearing the state’s reason for appealing the decision.
Montana’s sexual offender registry law states that if people are required to register in another state, they are required to register in Montana.
Menges, 45, filed the lawsuit in December, arguing the registration requirement violated his constitutional rights. His complaint also said the registration requirements were hurting his ability to find employment and housing.
“This case involves the lingering effects of centuries of homophobic ‘sodomy’ prohibitions,” his attorney Matthew Strugar wrote in the original complaint.
After hearing arguments on the case, Christensen found the registration requirement was an ongoing violation of Menges’ rights to due process, equal protection and privacy.
“Montana is imposing adverse legal consequences on Menges for engaging in the sort of conduct constitutionally protected by Montana’s right of privacy,” the judge wrote.
In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court found that sodomy laws, which typically ban oral and anal sex, are unconstitutional.
Strugar and the American Civil Liberties Union are suing Idaho over its law that criminalizes oral and anal sex. Menges, who served seven years in prison for his 1994 conviction, is a plaintiff in that case as well.
The Missoulian and the Idaho Statesman contributed.