PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday upheld the law that requires information about people convicted of sex crimes before 1999 to be listed on the Maine Sex Offender Registry.
In a rare 4-3 decision, Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley and Associate Justices Jon Levy, Andrew Mead and Susan Gorman agreed that the law is constitutional. Associate Justices Donald Alexander, Warren Silver and Joseph Jabar dissented.
“We conclude that SORNA [Maine's Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act] of 1999 is nonpunitive,” Mead wrote for the majority in a 39-page opinion.
Silver in the 13-page dissent said that the requirements of the law “are punishment to those who have completed their sentences and paid back society long ago.”
More than a dozen sex offenders appealed a 2011 decision by Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy. The men, identified only as John Does in court documents, were seeking to have their names removed from the registry because they had completed their sentences prior to 1999.
The case the justices ruled on Tuesday dates back to 2006, when the plaintiffs filed suit in Kennebec County Superior Court challenging the state’s 1999 sex offender registry law and seeking to remove their names from the registry. Lawmakers amended the law in 2005 so it would apply retroactively and require all sex offenders to register who had committed crimes after Jan. 1, 1982.
The chief plaintiff, known in court documents as John Doe I, was convicted in 1985 of unlawful sexual contact with a family member and was sentenced to five years in prison with all but 60 days suspended and two years’ probation. He has not been convicted of any sex offenses since. He argued that the retroactive application of the sex offender registration law violated his constitutional rights.
The primary challenge to Maine’s Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act was that it violated the rights of plaintiffs who were convicted before the law requiring them to register as sex offenders existed.
Maine’s sex offender registry has gone through a number of changes since it was created in 1992. It attracted national attention when, on April 16, 2006, a 20-year-old Canadian man killed two sex offenders in Maine before killing himself after getting their names from the state’s online registry.
The current case stems from a court case filed less than two weeks later challenging the law. Over time, several dozen John Does joined the case, but a number of them later dropped out after the Legislature amended the law in 2009 to allow some sex offenders to be removed from the registry if they had completed their sentences, committed no additional crimes and met other standards.
BDN reporter Matthew Stone contributed to this report