The highest court in Massachusetts ruled today that all sex offenders are entitled to a hearing before they are listed under the state's sex offender registry law.
The impact of the Supreme Judicial Court ruling would be a "complete shutdown" of the registry, said Larni Levy, a lawyer at the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the state's public defender agency. The Sex Offender Registry Board will "have to cease--and police departments will have to cease--giving out any names to the public for any offenders," she said.
Alice Moore, chief of the government bureau in Attorney General Thomas Reilly's office, said she was disappointed by the ruling.
"It further delays bringing information about sex offenders to parents who may want that information to take necessary steps to protect their children," she said.
The challenge to the sex offender registry law was brought by a man who was found delinquent as a juvenile in 1993 because of a child rape conviction. The man, referred to in the opinion as "John Doe," challenged attempts to require him to register as a sex offender.
The court decreed that the man was not required to register until a hearing was held.
Both the attorney general's office and the public defenders interpreted the ruling to mean that hearings were required for people convicted of all of the various crimes for which the law requires registration.
The sex offender registry law became effective on Oct. 1, 1996. The idea was to protect the public from sex offenders living in their midst and to aid police in catching them.
Under the law, people convicted of certain offenses were required to register with their local police departments. Their names could be made available to people inquiring at the department, and, for more dangerous offenders, police were to take steps to actively notify people in the community.
The decision came on the same day that the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and death sentence for Jesse Timmendequas, 37, who raped and killed 7-year-old Megan Kanka. Her death prompted the national movement to keep track of sex offenders.
In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the man whose case led to a Florida law expanding public access to information on convicted sexual predators was convicted of murdering two young sisters.
Howard Steven Ault, 33, was found guilty of first-degree murder in the 1996 strangulation deaths of DeAnn Mu'min, 11, and her sister, Alicia Jones, 7, after raping the older girl. He could face the death penalty.