A judge has upheld Maine’s sex offender registry law in a challenge by more than a dozen plaintiffs who argued that it is unconstitutional.

Kennebec County Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy rejected claims that Maine’s Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act is unconstitutional on several grounds.

The plaintiffs claimed that it is unconstitutionally retroactive, violates due process and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

The plaintiffs, who maintained their anonymity under the aliases of John Doe, argued that they should not be required to be in the online registry because that requirement came about long after they served their original sentences.

The state’s sex offender registration requirement took effect in 1992 and has gone through various changes since then.

In 2005, the Legislature amended the law so that all sex offenders sentenced as of Jan. 1, 1982, had to register.

Murphy wrote that the state has legitimate reasons for monitoring the whereabouts and activities of sex offenders living in Maine.

She also wrote that “the sting of injustice” felt by the plaintiffs, many of whom were convicted in the 1980s, is understandable.

“However, in the absence of finding retroactive punitiveness or other specific constitutional violation, a regulation made for the public good under the legislature’s police powers must be upheld,” Murphy wrote in her 70-page decision, issued Thursday. “The court owes the legislature that deference under the balance of powers.”

Attorney General William Schneider praised Murphy’s ruling in a statement announcing the decision late Friday.

“This important decision upholds the Legislature’s efforts to reduce incidents of sexual exploitation, violence and abuse in Maine. The sex offender registration and notification provisions … are a necessary mechanism to inform and protect the public,” he said.

The case has its roots in an action brought in 2006 by the first John Doe. Similar cases were consolidated and, at one point, there were as many as 47 John Does.

In 2009, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court found that some portions of the law violated the prohibition on retroactive laws.

The Legislature made changes the next year. Twenty-four of the 47 John Does eventually dismissed their cases.

Some of the remaining plaintiffs joined in the motion for summary judgment that led to Murphy’s decision.

Nine of the John Does qualify for statutory or automatic removal from the registry and six remain on the registry.

Murphy also ruled Thursday that the plaintiffs’ lawyers are not entitled to the more-than $600,000 in attorneys’ fees they requested.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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