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Doe No:8725 v Sex Offender Registry Bd

3-14-2008 Massachusetts:

Doe No:8725 v Sex Offender Registry Bd

On September 13, 1979, the plaintiff, John Doe, then twenty-two years of age, tendered an Alford plea, see North Carolina v. Alford,400 U.S. 25 (1970), to a charge of rape. G. L. c. 265, § 22.1 He was sentenced to a two-year term of probation which he completed without incident on September 9, 1981. Twenty-two years later, on November 10, 2003, the Sex Offender Registry Board (board) notified Doe that pursuant to G. L. c. 6, §§ 178C-178Q, the sex offender registration law (registration law),2 it was reviewing his case to make a recommendation regarding his duty to register with the board and his classification level. See G. L. c. 6, § 178L (1); 803 Code Mass. Regs. § 1.01 (2002).

Doe was given thirty days to submit documentary evidence "relative to his risk of reoffense, the degree of dangerousness posed to the public and his duty to register." 803 Code Mass. Regs. § 1.05(1) (2002). Doe submitted documentary evidence to the board to the effect that he had established a stable life in the community, with a strong network of family and friends, and that he had been married for twenty-one years, had raised three accomplished children, and had maintained steady employment with increasing levels of responsibility over the years. Doe had not been convicted of any crime since his 1981 discharge from probation.

On December 31, 2003, the board recommended that Doe be required to register as a level one sex offender. A level one classification is the classification given to sex offenders whose risk of reoffense is low.3 Doe was informed of his right to request an evidentiary hearing to challenge his classification and registration obligation. See G. L. c. 6, § 178L (1); 803 Code Mass. Regs. §§ 1.06(1), 1.07(1) (2002). On January 11, 2004, Doe requested a hearing, and the matter was assigned to a hearing examiner.

Conclusion. When considering the retroactive application of civil statutes, we balance "opposing considerations." Leibovich v. Antonellis, supra at 577, quoting American Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Commissioner of Ins., supra at 189-190. Here, the requirements the registration law would impose on Doe are extensive and permanent. Moreover, if Doe can establish that he poses neither a risk of reoffense nor a danger to the communities the law was intended to protect, the imposition of the registration law's requirements on him would not further the law's substantial and important purposes.

Consequently, the retroactive imposition of the registration requirement without an opportunity to overcome the conclusive presumption of dangerousness that flows solely from Doe's conviction, violates his right to due process under the Massachusetts Constitution. Doe must be granted the hearing he has requested, in accordance with the procedure set forth in G. L. c. 6, § 178L, where he will have the opportunity to demonstrate that he neither poses a risk of reoffense nor is a current danger to vulnerable members of our communities. The Superior Court decision is vacated. The case is remanded to the board for an evidentiary hearing. Article: SJC says low-level sex offenders have right to hearing

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