The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Council, the state’s supreme court, has ruled in favor of registrants who were trying either to terminate their duty to register or to change the tier level on which they were situated. In doing so, the Court recognized that there are significant challenges facing registrants including stigma and legal restrictions that make it more difficult to find stable housing or employment. The Court also recognized that the effects of registration are “continuing, intrusive, and humiliating” and could lead to threats of physical harm. Further, the Court recognized that dissemination of a registrant’s personal information and photo on the internet magnifies these effects.
“The Court’s rulings in these two cases are truly monumental,” stated ACSOL Executive Director Janice Bellucci. “They speak the truth that so many courts have avoided.”
In addition to its recognition that the requirement to register causes harm to registrants, the Court determined that registrants have a right to counsel in court hearings when they seek either to have their requirement to register terminated or reclassification to a lower tier. The Court also determined that the government, not the registrant, bears the burden of proving that a registrant poses a current risk of re-offense as well as a degree of dangerousness by “clear and convincing” evidence.
“This is a tougher standard than the ordinary preponderance of evidence applied in ordinary civil cases,” stated ACSOL Board Member and recently retired law professor Ira Ellman.
In its decision, the Court noted that over classification of registrants into higher than necessary tiers “strains public resources.” In the State of Massachusetts, a total of 38 factors are considered in order to determine whether a registrant is required to continue registering. By comparison, the widely used Static-99 uses only 10 factors.
Both of the Court’s decisions were issued on the same day. Separate links to both cases follows below.