Supreme Judicial Court hears challenge to Massachusetts sex-offender law
September 12, 2000
By Sacha Pfeiffer, Boston Globe
n the latest challenge to the state's embattled sex-offender registry, a
lawyer for a group of convicted sex offenders argued yesterday that a
law requiring offenders to register in any fashion before they have been given
a hearing to determine their degree of dangerousness is unconstitutional.
Under the law, which was temporarily blocked last year by a Superior Court
judge, all convicted sex offenders living or working in Massachusetts must
register by mailing their name, work address, and home address to the
state's Sex Offender Registry Board.
The information must be updated annually or whenever an offender changes
work or home addresses, and offenders face jail time if they fail to comply
with the self-reporting requirement.
Last November, Superior Court Judge John Xifaras temporarily blocked
key provisions of the law, saying it ''violates a protected liberty interest'' of
the state's estimated 16,000 convicted sex offenders. Xifaras's ruling was
made despite efforts by the Legislature to revamp the law to address
Much of yesterday's arguments before the Supreme Judicial Court centered
on a section of the law that allows information submitted by sex offenders to
be turned over to law enforcement agencies. That information, in turn, may
be given to prospective employers if a sex offender seeks a job that would
put him in contact with children or other vulnerable populations.
Asked by Chief Justice Margaret Marshall if it is necessary that the personal
information be disclosed to law enforcement officials, Assistant Attorney
General Jane Willoughby said mail-in registration is needed so state officials
can track offenders' whereabouts.
But Carol Donovan, a public defender who argued the case for the sex
offenders, argued that the registry board can determine offenders' names and
addresses by other means, including tax returns.