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MA: Court to weigh in on sex offense law.

November 9, 2000

AGAWAM Sex offenders are not currently being registered by the state's Sex Offender Registry Board.

But the board hopes to again begin doing so starting early next year, provided the state's Supreme Judicial Court rules in the state's favor.

"We feel confident we're going to win it," Robert W. Baker, the board's director of operations, said last night.

Baker expressed his comments during a public meeting about the registry board held at the Agawam Police Station. The meeting was the first such public meeting ever held by the board in the state, according to Stephen L. DiNatale, the board's director of training and community services. Seven residents attended the meeting.

The board was created in September 1999, three years after the state Legislature passed a law in August 1996 requiring sex offenders to register with police departments and make the information available to residents.

State officials have estimated that 17,000 people would be required to register. An estimated 2,700 sex offenders live in Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin and Berkshire counties, Baker said.

Sex offenders are classified into three categories, ranging from low risk, Level 1 offenders to high risk, Level 3 offenders. Information about Level 1 offenders is not available to the public. As for Level 2 and 3 offenders, residents can obtain the names of such people who live "anywhere that you're likely to go or where your children are likely to go," DiNatale said.

Sex offenders can request a hearing challenging their classification. But perhaps more important, police departments statewide have been barred from releasing the names of sex offenders since last summer due to a series of legal challenges.

"You can't release anything now," Agawam police Sgt. Richard B. Curry said.

The current legal battle is being waged in the state's highest court. Attorneys for a group of sex offenders told the state's Supreme Judicial Court they believe a hearing should be required before their clients must mail in information about themselves to the state's sex-offender registry.

Last summer, the Supreme Judicial Court expressed concerns that sex offenders' rights were being violated by the registry law. In response, the Legislature enacted a bill in September 1999 allowing sex offenders to register by mailing in a postcard, rather than registering in person at the police station.

Source: Union-News, By Kenn Ross.