Dangerous sex offenders are being removed from the online database that allows the public to track them because of a controversial high court decision that one judge is calling an “administrative nightmare.”
The Sex Offender Registry Board hearings to determine the risk that offenders pose have also come to a halt in the wake of a state Supreme Judicial Court ruling last month. The SJC ordered a higher burden of proof to be used in ranking the likelihood sex offenders will strike again.
Hundreds of cases could be affected, forcing SORB to warn families.
“As soon as the (board) learned of the SJC’s decision, we began notifying victims and victims’ families for the purposes of safety planning,” SORB Chairman Kevin Hayden told the Herald last night.
The SJC order has also caused lower court judges to kick cases back to the board.
In those situations, the SORB is required to remove sex offenders from its online registry pending a new hearing. Some cases, according to court records, include:
–A man who attacked and attempted to rape a 37-year-old woman while she was jogging in Ayer. She screamed for help and her attacker was quickly arrested;
–An offender convicted of sexually assaulting a 9-year-old girl on multiple occasions;
–An assailant who pulled down the pants of an 11-year-old girl and touched her, ordering her not to say anything about the attack;
–And a man convicted of touching a 4-year-old girl as other children watched and as she pleaded for him to stop.
The SJC’s decision, and its ramifications, have frustrated at least one Superior Court judge who has sent four cases back to the SORB for new classification hearings.
“The commonality is they are all Level 3 (the highest ranking). They have been previously determined to have engaged in sexually violent crimes, they have either pled guilty or been convicted by a jury,” said Superior Court Judge Dennis J. Curran.
“There is no question of their guilt, based on their conviction. The only question is: Do we want to warn the public about whether these people are at large and unwatched?”
Curran said he thinks the situation “is creating an administrative nightmare” for the sex offender board.
The new ruling, Hayden said, “places additional administrative strains on the agency and we are in the process of assessing our current staffing requirements.”
He added that the board is working to reclassify offenders affected by the decision “as soon as practically possible.”
The Committee for Public Counsel Services, which represents a number of offenders seeking to have their designation changed on the Sex Offender Registry, hasn’t seen an uptick in cases, but acknowledges that all sides are working to figure out the new landscape dictated by the SJC.
“Right now all of the cases are being remanded back to the SORB, but there haven’t been any hearings, yet. It’s a unique situation,” said Larni Levy, director of CPCS’ Alternative Commitment and Registration Support Unit. “It’s all very new right now.”
Levy said that while some offenders may be removed from the online database, local police still have their information, and they are required to inform the SORB if they plan on changing their addresses.
Hayden said the SJC ruling “will have a significant impact” on the board’s operations.
“SORB has stopped classifying sex offenders while we work through the administrative process of scheduling new remanded hearings in conjunction with our current caseload in the most fair and equitable manner, while making public safety a priority,” Hayden added.
The SORB will be posting a notice on its website in the coming days to tell people how their communities will be affected.
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