PORTLAND, Maine — Maine’s highest court on Tuesday upheld a lower court ruling that a 1999 law requiring certain sex offenders to be placed on a sex offender registry for life cannot be applied retroactively.
In its ruling, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court gave the Legislature until March 31 to revise the law.
The case was brought by Eric Letalien, a Dixfield man who was 19 when he was convicted of rape in 1996 for having sex with a 13-year-old girl. At the time, he was required to register as a sex offender for 15 years, but was also allowed to seek a waiver from the registry after five years.
Under changes to the law in 1999, he was required to register as a sex offender every 90 days for the rest of his life. The updated law also took away his right to ask for a waiver.
In its ruling, the court said it was unconstitutional to apply those changes retroactively.
David Sanders, Letalien’s attorney, said the ruling was a victory for his client. He contends his client and others among the 3,000 people on the registry are not at risk of repeating their sex offenses.
“If this was truly administrative, wanting to protect society from individuals, then you have to find that the individual in question who’s going to be ostracized, who’s going to be humiliated, who’s going to be shamed, is in fact a risk to society. A mere conviction doesn’t prove that,” he said.
Attorney General Janet Mills said the justices did away with the more punitive aspects of law as they are applied retroactively while affirming the state’s interest in having an Internet sex offender registry.
It’s now up to the Legislature to make the changes the court is seeking, she said.
“We’re comfortable the court has given us guidance,” she said.
Sanders said his client did his time and had counseling. He’s now 35, is married, and has a daughter and stepchildren.
“He just wants to get on with his life and that ought to be allowed,” Sanders said.
The sex offender registry has gone through a number of changes since it was created in 1992.
It attracted national attention in 2006 when a 20-year-old Canadian man killed two sex offenders in Maine after randomly getting their names from the state’s online registry.
One of the murdered men, Joseph L. Gray, 57, of Milo was on the registry as the result of a 1991 conviction in Massachusetts. As a result of the court’s decision Tuesday, Gray’s name most likely would be removed had he not been killed.
Last year, lawmakers allowed some registered sex offenders to be removed from the registry, upon their request, provided they complete their sentences, commit no additional crimes and meet other standards. In November, the state announced that 100 names of people convicted of offenses that happened between 1982 and 1992 had been removed from the list.
Associated Press writer David Sharp and Bangor Daily News writer Judy Harrison contributed to this report.