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Case Update: Homeless Man on the Registry Fights His Incarceration

Jan 1, 2012 | J Freely

Post by Attorney Jean Maclean Snyder

When sex offenders are released from prison, they face the intimidating task of complying with the Illinois Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA). Now a federal trial court judge has issued a decision that offers hope for one of the difficulties with registration.

John Saiger arrived in Chicago in March 2013 upon his release from prison. His effort to register under SORA was complicated by the fact that he could not find housing. SORA requires sex offenders who lack permanent housing to report to police headquarters every week and explain where they have lived for the previous seven days. When Saiger did that, a police officer told him he must first obtain a state identification card with an address acceptable under SORA. Saiger couldn’t do that – he was homeless – and so the officer refused to allow him to register. But failing to register is a crime, so Saiger was arrested, charged with a felony, and sent to jail to await trial.

While in jail, Saiger filed a lawsuit. His suit charges that the City of Chicago has an unwritten policy of denying homeless people the right to register under SORA, and that this policy explained the run-around the police officer had sent him on. The suit charges that the policy violates procedural due process and other constitutional rights.

The City moved to dismiss Saiger’s lawsuit, arguing that even if his claim was true, the officer’s actions weren’t unlawful. In response to Saiger’s charge that the policy had violated his procedural due process rights, the City said that Saiger had adequate remedies available, because he could challenge the City’s action by filing a lawsuit or by raising the issue in his criminal case.

The judge didn’t buy it. Ruling last month, U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly said that a homeless person likely wouldn’t have “a ghost of a chance” of being able to file a lawsuit before he had been charged, and that challenging the refusal afterwards wasn’t a sufficient remedy. Thus, he concluded that Saiger had presented a viable procedural due process claim. (Judge Kennelly dismissed other claims that Saiger had brought, as well as his claim against the individual officer.)

Now it’s up to Saiger to show that his turn-down was part of a City policy denying registration to homeless people. Meanwhile, Saiger resides in Cook County Jail awaiting trial on his felony case.

Jean Maclean Snyder

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