Maryland high court says sex offender registry is punishment

By Steve Lash . . . 

BALTIMORE, MD — A sharply divided Maryland high court ruled Tuesday that a convict’s placement on the Sex Offender Registry qualifies as “punishment” for a sex offense, meaning that all elements of the crime required for placement – such as the victim’s age – must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt at trial or conceded in a plea agreement before his or her name can be placed.

The 4-3 ruling marked the first time the Court of Appeals has held registration to be a punishment of the criminal rather than merely a post-conviction administrative act by a state official to alert the public to a convicted child sex abuser in their midst.

The Court of Appeals rendered its decision in holding that convicted human trafficker Jimmie Rogers’ name may not be placed on the Sex Offender Registry because he had not stated in his plea agreement that his victim was a minor. The high court said the head of the Maryland Sex Offender Registry had wrongfully added Rogers’ name, ruling that such a function rests with judges.

In its decision, the majority cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2000 Apprendi v. New Jersey ruling that the constitutional guarantee of due process requires that any fact that would increase a defendant’s punishment be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Court of Appeals deemed registration a punishment based on the “affirmative disability and restraint” it places on sex offenders, including the stigma of being on the public registry. These disabilities and restraints also include the “plethora of personal information” registrants must provide, such as every address where they live or habitually reside and all their email addresses, computer log-in names and instant-messaging identities, the court said.

The court also noted the “punishment” of being on the registry for 25 years, which is generally longer than the prison sentence for the underlying sexual offense.

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