STOP SEX OFFENDERS | Supreme Judicial Court hears challenge to Massachusetts sex-offender law
 
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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 constitutional concerns.

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.