Man Loses Suit to Keep Identity off Sex Offender Registry

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 12, 2006

John Doe must reveal who he is -- and that he was convicted 12 years ago of incest -- or face arrest for not submitting that information to Virginia's sex-offender registry, a Prince William County judge ruled yesterday.

Circuit Court Judge Frank A. Hoss Jr. dismissed a lawsuit that Doe, an aquatics coach in the Washington area, filed against the county and the state. "It seems to me that the statute is clear: He must register,'' Hoss said.

Doe is trying to block public disclosure of his longtime sexual relationship with his sister, which prosecutors said began when she was in first grade. Doe pleaded guilty at age 18 to misdemeanor incest, when his sister was 14. Authorities said yesterday that Doe, now 31, admitted to 25 sexual encounters with his sister; she says it was 50 to 100, although she has told the court she supports her brother's quest for anonymity.

After the judge's decision, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Sandra R. Sylvester told reporters in a courthouse hallway that an arrest warrant would be issued for Doe within 72 hours if he didn't register with the state. That would mean his name, photo and profession would be posted on the Internet amid the rapists and child molesters there. Virginia's registry has expanded to include nonviolent offenders such as Doe, which led to his lawsuit.

"Is that how you're going to proceed?'' Doe's attorney, Melinda VanLowe, asked Sylvester.

"Your client is in jeopardy at this point,'' Sylvester responded.

The legal defeat means that Doe's identity could be disclosed within hours. All that is publicly known about him so far is that he received degrees in philosophy and psychology from the University of Mary Washington and is an aquatics coach.

Although Hoss allowed Doe to remain anonymous pending a possible appeal, his arrest would place his name in court records. If he registers, his identity will also become known. Doe has 30 days to appeal yesterday's decision to the Virginia Supreme Court. It was unclear whether he would seek an expedited review or an order that blocks his arrest pending an appeal.

VanLowe declined to comment after the hearing.

According to court records, Doe's sister told police that she and her brother had engaged in a variety of sexual acts, including intercourse, for seven years. Doe was sentenced to 90 days in jail, with all of it suspended if he stayed out of trouble and got counseling. In March 1995, Doe fulfilled his obligations and was released from probation.

Although the Virginia registry requirements changed in 2003 to include incest, it wasn't until this year that the information was to be made public online. In July, after receiving a letter saying he must register or face arrest, Doe filed suit.

Before yesterday's decision, county and state officials had predicted that many more nonviolent offenders would challenge the stricter regulation. Since July, Virginia State Police have added the names of about 2,800 nonviolent sex offenders to the online database.

Doe is required to join them, Sylvester told the judge yesterday, and the public has a right to know about his history. "What he wants to do is to have access to children and not have anyone know about his past,'' Sylvester said. "The law is clear. He has to register. He doesn't want to do that. He doesn't even want us to know who he is.''

But VanLowe painted a picture of a changed man who has committed no further crimes. "This was a 1994 conviction,'' she said. "He has had no recidivist activity for 12 years.'' Forcing Doe to register now, she said, would violate his right to privacy and his ability "to maintain employment and his standing in the community.''

"You have to wonder,'' VanLowe added, "what the legitimate government interest is in requiring this plaintiff to register.''

Sylvester said the interest is in protecting the community. "We don't know that he hasn't committed another offense in the last 12 years,'' she said. "We just know that he hasn't been caught.''

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