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Top Massachusetts court decides due process now demands heightened proof standard for sex offender classification

12-13-2015 Massachusetts:

A helpful reader alerted me to a notable new procedural ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court this past week. In Doe, Sex Offender Registry Bd. No. 380316 v. Sex Offender Registry Board, SJC-11823 (Mass. Dec. 11, 2015) (available here), the top Massachusetts court decided that the preponderance standard of proof is inadequate for sex offender classification. Here is how the opinion starts:
We are asked in this case to consider anew the standard of proof that the Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB) must satisfy in order to classify a convicted sex offender under the provisions of the sex offender registry law, G. L. c. 6, §§ 178C-178Q.

The plaintiff, John Doe No. 380316 (Doe), is a convicted sex offender who was classified by a preponderance of the evidence as having a moderate risk of reoffense. In Doe, Sex Offender Registry Bd. No. 972 v. Sex Offender Registry Bd., 428 Mass. 90, 91 (1998) (Doe No. 972), we held that SORB need only prove the appropriateness of a sex offender's risk classification by a preponderance of the evidence.

In light of amendments to the sex offender registry law and other developments since our decision in that case, however, Doe contends that the preponderance standard no longer adequately protects his due process rights. We agree.

For the reasons stated below, we hold that SORB is constitutionally required to prove the appropriateness of an offender's risk classification by clear and convincing evidence.
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