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Massachusetts Appellate Court Decides Sex-Crimes Case With No Sexual Offense

Massachusetts Appellate Court Decides Sex-Crimes Case With No Sexual Offense

Is it possible to be labeled as a sex offender when no sexual assault ever occurred? The Massachusetts Court of Appeals decided this question in the case of John Doe v. Sex Offender Registry Board.

What happened in the Doe case?

This case arises from a sex offender who believes that his level three classification was an unfair classification.

In Massachusetts, any person convicted of kidnapping a child must register as a sex offender, whether or not any sexual assault happened during the kidnapping. Plaintiff, in this case, challenged the constitutionality of this law under the Fourteenth Amendment.

At the time of the incident, Plaintiff was in a relationship with a woman who lived with a ten-year-old girl. On April 27th, 2010, Plaintiff left his girlfriend’s apartment after the two fought. As Plaintiff walked through the apartment, he encountered the ten-year-old girl in a stairwell while she was walking to her grandmother’s apartment in the same complex. The two had never spoken but recognized each other. Plaintiff, without warning, suddenly blocked the girl from the door and punched her in the face, knocking her backward and causing her to bleed from the mouth. He continued to batter the girl on the back of the head and told her that if she didn’t stop screaming, he would “break her neck.” He dragged her down the stairs of the apartment, and the girl was able to escape and find a security guard in the lobby of the building. Plaintiff was arrested shortly after. Plaintiff plead guilty to kidnapping a child and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.

Because he was charged with kidnapping a child, Plaintiff was required to register as a sex offender. He was sentenced from six to eight years in prison on the charge of kidnapping a child with a five-year probationary period.

The sex offender registry board does have some discretion, and the board may find that the offender has no duty to register. It determines this by examining the circumstances of the offense in conjunction with the offender’s criminal history to┬ádecide whether there is a risk of reoffense that poses a danger to the public. Plaintiff was required to register in 2014 as a level three sex offender, the highest level. Plaintiff challenged the board’s decision, and in 2017 the board held an evidentiary classification hearing.

Additionally, Plaintiff sought to exclude evidence of a past rape of a child charge that he ultimately was not convicted of. That case involved similar facts, as the victim was his former girlfriend’s daughter. The eight-year-old told police that Plaintiff sexually assaulted her. The board heard this evidence despite Plaintiff’s attempts to suppress it.

Plaintiff argued that the sex offender registration for the beating of the ten-year-old girl was unconstitutional because the specific incident he was charged with did not have a sexual component.

Because this constitutional challenge did not involve any fundamental right, rational basis review applies. Under rational basis review, a statute must bear a reasonable relation to the state’s objective.

The primary purpose of the sex offender registration law is to protect vulnerable members of the community from sexual offenders. Plaintiff did not challenge the basis of the law but argues that requiring him to register as a sex offender even though the crime at issue did not have a sexual component is not reasonably related to the statute’s objective.

The appellate court surveyed the legislative history behind the statute and disagreed with Plaintiff’s reasoning. The origins of the sex offender registry were created by Congress with the purpose of preventing repeat sex offenders. Congress was concerned about recidivism not only among sex offenders but also among persons previously convicted of crimes against children, including crimes other than sex offenses, and it concluded that a registry of such persons would facilitate locating them quickly for purposes of investigation when a child is abducted or otherwise victimized.

Congress was also concerned with statistics showing that a high percentage of child abductions also involve sexual assaults, and the two crimes often overlapped. Based on these statistics, Congress rationally concluded that a person previously convicted of kidnapping a child should be required to register as a sex offender because that person may have intended a sexual assault and poses a risk of repeating the same behavior in the future.

Although the kidnapping itself had no sexual component, there is no way to know that the offender didn’t intend for a sexual assault to occur, and instead, the victim escaped, or the offender was stopped in some way. When a child is cut off from the safety of everyday surroundings and others, the child is vulnerable to sexual abuse even if sexual desires are not the motive of the crime. Kidnappers often have plans to prostitute children as well.

Based on the legislative history of the sex offender registry, the appellate court found that the sex offender registration law is not unconstitutional as applied to Plaintiff.

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