Sex offenders file suit to get $100 registration fee waived
BY FRANK MAIN Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org November 7, 2012 12:08PM
Sex offender Tommy Johnson. | Provided photo
Updated: December 9, 2012 7:27PM
Sex offenders have filed a lawsuit in federal court saying the city should waive a $100 registration fee because they’re too poor to pay.
David Johnson and Tommy Johnson — in a lawsuit against the city — claim the Chicago Police Department unfairly refused to waive their fees. One female sex offender alleged a Chicago Police officer waived her fee because of financial hardship, but then he creepily called her to ask for a date.
They and other plaintiffs are seeking to have their lawsuit certified as a class-action case.
Sex offenders face jail time if they don’t pay the fee. Under the law, police may waive the state-imposed fee if a person is deemed indigent and unable to pay.
Tommy Johnson, 45, said in court papers he’s in jail for failing to register because he couldn’t pay the fee. The city countered that he couldn’t register because he didn’t present proper identification. He’s been in jail since March on a charge of failing to register as a habitual child sex offender.
David A. Johnson said he borrowed money to pay the annual fee in 2011, but can’t afford to pay the fee this year before a Nov. 15 deadline.
Another plaintiff, Melissa Coughlin, claimed in court papers that an officer waived her fee when she said she couldn’t pay — but then called her to ask for a date. The thought of returning to police headquarters to register again “causes me great fear,” she said.
The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction until their lawsuit is resolved. They’re asking the court to bar the city from denying registration to sex offenders who ask for a fee waiver because of financial hardship.
The $100 annual fee may seem like “strong medicine,” but the state decided sex offenders would substantially subsidize the registration process and the law has been repeatedly upheld as constitutional, the city countered.
The lawsuit claims the city doesn’t have a procedure to determine whether a fee waiver is appropriate, which the city is denying.
Since the lawsuit was filed, according to the city, the police department has improved the way a person’s ability to pay is evaluated. That process will be applied to the plaintiffs when their annual registration renewal comes due, the city said.