PORTLAND – A case challenging the constitutionality of Maine’s sex offender registry was back before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday, with an emphasis on the retroactive nature of the law.

Fewer sex offenders are now involved in the case, which has its roots in a 2006 lawsuit and at one point had as many as 47 plaintiffs. The appeal now involves 15 sex offenders, who retain their anonymity with numbered “John Doe” aliases.

The remaining sex offenders were required to register long after they had served time and gone years without any additional offenses, said James Mitchell, the lawyer for 13 John Does.

“They didn’t get any hearings. They weren’t allowed to say, ‘But we’re not dangerous. Look, we’ve lived 20 years without doing anything.’” Mitchell said.

The state argues that changes the Legislature made to the law in response to a 2009 Supreme Court decision resolved any problems with retroactive punishment.

The change affected people convicted of sex offenses in the period from Jan. 1, 1982, to June 30, 1992, who met certain requirements, including having no subsequent felony offenses.

Assistant Attorney General Paul Stern told the justices that, from the perspective of the Legislature, it’s appropriate to allow public access to information on the registry.

“These are people who have not just violated the law just once. They are criminal and sex offender recidivists,” Stern said in oral arguments.

The justices did not clearly signal through their questions how they would rule.

Sex offenders have been required to register with the state since 1999. The registry became more accessible when it went online in 2003.

The case before the Supreme Court was originally filed by John Doe I in 2006.

In April 2006, he was notified that he had to register with the state as a sex offender. The next week, a Canadian man randomly killed two Maine sex offender registrants. John Doe I filed his lawsuit soon after the killings.

Additional John Does joined the case as similar cases were consolidated. Some dropped out as the law changed.

The case went before the Supreme Court in 2007, when the court directed the John Does to develop information about the impact the registry law had on them. A 2009 case led to a ruling that the justices would look at the law itself.

Last year, Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy rejected the claims of the John Does that the law is unconstitutional on various grounds.

 

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

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