September 7, 2008

ME- John Doe cases are challenge to registry Sex offenders from years past file lawsuit to prevent public disclosure of their names

9-7-2008 Maine:

For the past 24 years, John Doe, who lives in Augusta, says he has led a blameless life as far the Maine judicial system is concerned.

But his 1984 conviction for gross sexual assault triggered a letter from the state in June warning him he had five days to register as a convicted sex offender.

Instead, he consulted an lawyer, who filed a lawsuit in Kennebec County seeking to keep Doe's real name off the public registry and, consequently, off the Internet.

Doe is not alone in fighting what they sex offenders say is an unfair additional punishment for sentences served long ago.

In separate cases, 25 sex offenders from across the state, all filing under the pseudonym John Doe, also are challenging the state's Sex Offender Registration Notification Act, seeking the ability to retain their relative anonymity. The files were made available for public view this week.

Their cases have been consolidated in Kennebec County Superior Court, assigned to Justice Michaela Murphy. The John Doe cases are in the discovery phase with the plaintiffs scheduled to give documents to the court and to the state.

Convicted of sex offenses between Jan. 1, 1982, and 1992, they maintain that registration under the state's sex offender law violates their constitutional rights and puts an additional criminal penalty on crimes committed up to 26 years ago.

In 2005, the state law was expanded to encompass those convicted of sex offenses since 1982. Prior to that, it reached back to 1992.

Most of the John Does say they've lived lives free of sex offense convictions for the past 16 to 26 years, and ask why they're now viewed as threats to society.

"Almost 26 years after being convicted of a sex offense, (John Doe II) receives correspondence from the Maine State Police, State Bureau of Identification, saying he's classified as a lifetime registrant," attorney Darrick Banda said in court documents.

Sex offenders who have registered say the notoriety -- fostered by public access to their records through the Internet and occasionally by posting their photos and offenses in municipal buildings -- has cost them jobs, work, housing and opened them to public scorn and shunning.

In two cases, it's cost them more. In April 2006, two sex offenders on the state's registry were murdered by a Canadian man who targeted sex offenders. Police said he had used a computer to search for sex offenders in Maine and other states.

The first John Doe lawsuit challenging the registration was filed in Kennebec County in 2006, and made its way to the Maine Supreme Court. The lawsuit was sent back to the superior court for more fact-finding. Since then, at least 23 more challenges were filed.

Eleven of the men are already listed on the registry, 12 are unregistered, and the status of the remaining men is unclear in court documents.

Personal information identifying the men has been removed from the court file, which contains thousands of pages.

In her most recent ruling, Murphy allowed one defendant -- John Doe XXIV, of Androscoggin County, convicted in 1990 of unlawful sexual contact with a 13-year-old -- to refrain temporarily from registering as a sex offender.

In rulings over the past few months, the judge has allowed a handful of others to remain unregistered until the issue is resolved.

"Neighbors will try to get me to leave the neighborhood. I feel violence against my person if my name is paced on the sex offender registry," one man wrote in a July 28 affidavit accompanying the complaint.

He also said the registration could affect his family's plans to adopt a baby.

"Probate Court (which handles adoptions) will have my full criminal record whether or not I am a registered sex offender, but we fear that my appearance on the registry will cause us to lose the opportunity to adopt," he said.

James Mitchell, who represents 14 of the John Does, wrote to the judge in August saying that while the consolidated case is being conducted under pseudonyms, eight of his clients have their names posted on the Internet through the registry.

"Those who disobeyed the law and refused to register are now, ironically, entirely anonymous, while those who complied with a law that is almost certainly unconstitutional are proceeding anonymously in court while suffering daily the indignities this case is designed to avoid," he said.

The Does' attorneys say the consequences of registering are numerous.

One John Doe "is a productive member of society who worked almost continuously from 1985 until he went on the registry," his attorney, James Mitchell wrote in court documents.

After registering, the man lost his job and has been unable to find full-time unemployment, according to Mitchell.

"He has suffered indignities such as being shouted at and called a pervert when he greeted a former friend while shopping with his wife in a Hannaford store. At a gas station, someone drove by and spit on his window, shouting an epithet as he drove off. An unknown woman in a Kmart store pulled her child out of the aisle, exclaiming to the child not to go near people like 'him.'"

Another plaintiff, who lives in Androscoggin County, says that, in addition to having his information posted on the state registry and the Internet, local police put his identification in the newspaper twice a year and come to his home once a month to check on him.

"Within 30 days of the first publication, his construction business diminished significantly, his income was cut in half and he is unable to take his children to school, movies or the park," Mitchell said.

The state, through Deputy Attorney General Paul Stern, maintains all the convicted sex offenders should follow the law and register.

"The primary dispute here appears to be whether public information regarding almost 3,000 sex offenders in the state can be made more accessible to the public via the Internet, or whether these offenders shall remain anonymous except to those able to expend additional time and resources to obtain information by other available means," he wrote to the court.

"If the Maine courts decide to enjoin the operation of the Registry or the Internet posting of registrants, then Maine will stand alone in the entire country, making Maine the refuge for countless sex offenders who wish to conceal their criminal pasts from neighbors, landlords, employers, and potential future victims."

He said "the linchpin of this case is the retroactive application of the provision of (the law) that requires the state Bureau of Identification to maintain a publicly accessible Internet site" with information about convicted and registered sex offenders.

Stern's filing's noted vast public interest in the site, which he said has chalked up some 13 million views of offenders.

The Maine Supreme Court, meanwhile, is looking at an appeal of a June decision by a district court judge who found that the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act of 1999 is unconstitutional.

In a criminal case in Lewiston District Court, Judge Valerie Stanfill ruled in favor of Eric Letalien and dismissed a complaint brought by the state against him for failing to register under that statute.

Letalien, 33, was convicted of gross sexual assault in 1996.

In her ruling, Stanfill said the law "violates the ex post facto clauses of the Constitutions of the United States and of the State of Maine."

She ruled that the effect of the law was punitive rather than civil.

Mitchell said a ruling in the appeal could affect the John Doe cases.

"If the law court says she is wrong, that doesn't necessarily mean that the whole statute is wrong," he said. "If the law court says she is right, it doesn't mean that the whole statute is unconstitutional." ..News Source.. by BETTY ADAMS, Staff Writer

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