Some people convicted of sex crimes prior to the existence of the state's sex offender registry may no longer have to register with the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, according to a ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals.
The split decision, issued Monday, struck a registry requirement, imposed upon the defendant by legislation passed later, on the basis that it violated a clause in the Maryland Declaration of Rights prohibiting retroactive laws. [A copy of the ruling is attached to this story.]
"Registration was imposed, over twenty years later in 2009, under the sex offender registration statute as a direct consequence of petitioner’s commission and conviction for his sex crime. The application of the statute has essentially the same effect upon petitioner’s life as placing him on probation and imposing the punishment of shaming for life, and is, thus, tantamount to imposing an additional sanction for Petitioner’s crime," the court wrote in it's majority opinion.
The ruling stems from a case involving an unnamed person convicted in Washington County of a sex crime that occurred nearly 20 years ago. The sex offender registry was not created until 1995.
The unnamed defendant was a junior high school teacher accused of a sex offense involving a 13-year-old student during the 1983-1984 school year. The defendant was later convicted by guilty plea in 2006.
The crime committed by the unnamed petitioner occurred while in high school. In 2009 and 2010, the General Assembly added a number of requirements including one requiring juvenile sex offenders to register with the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
The 2009 amendment required offenders like the unnamed teacher who committed prior to Oct. 1, 1995 but convicted on or after Oct 1, 1995 to register. The 2010 amendment ultimately required the teacher to register for the rest of his life.
The teacher's lawyer argued that the lifetime registration was not part of the original plea agreement.
But Court of Appeals Judge Glenn Harrell, in a separate opinion wrote law requiring the unnamed teacher to register did not violate the state's Declaration of Rights. Harrell went on to say that the teacher should not be required to register for another reason.
"Instead, I would direct specific performance of Mr. Doe’s guilty plea, not to include requirement of registration as a child sexual offender," Harrell wrote, adding that he found the majority opinion "faulty."
Harrell wrote that "a correct reading of [the Declaration of Rights] and the most relevant cases leads to the conclusion that Doe is not entitled to the relief he seeks on the constitutional arguments he makes."
Harrell said he would order the Washington County Circuit Court to enforce the plea bargain as it was agreed to, which did not include a requirement to register.
In a dissenting opinion, Court of Appeals Judge Mary Ellen Barbera wrote that adding the registration requirement more than a decade later was not a violation of state law.
"The state and the court made no promises in the plea agreement or during the plea hearing that Petitioner would not have to register as a sex offender," Barbera wrote. "Indeed, the plea agreement is silent on the matter, which was acceptable under the law, given the collateral nature of the registration requirement. Because there was no agreement with petitioner that he would not be subject to the collateral consequence of registration as a sex offender, either at the time of the plea or at some future time, it follows that there was no “breach” of the agreement entitling him to the relief he now seeks."