Judge upholds sex-offender registration

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AUGUSTA – A Superior Court judge refused on Thursday to block the state from registering a convicted sex offender identified as John Doe in the Maine Public Safety Department’s listing of sex offenders.

In his ruling, Justice S. Kirk Studstrup rejected a Kennebec County man’s request for a temporary restraining order, saying that public safety considerations outweighed the plaintiff’s personal concerns.

The judge did not rule on a separate challenge of the sex-offender registry’s constitutionality in Doe’s lawsuit.

John Doe is identified in the court decision as a man who was convicted of a sex offense between 1982 and 1986. At the time of his conviction, there was no requirement that he register with the state as a sex offender, but the law was changed last year to cover convictions back to 1982.

Doe claims to have been law-abiding since his conviction but has resisted a requirement that he register. In asking the court to lift the requirement that he register, Doe suggested that being listed could negatively affect his family life, employment and personal safety.

“The court understands the plaintiff’s concern about the possible consequences of registration and would not wish those results on him or anyone else,” Studstrup wrote. “However, (the registration law) is an expression of the public interest and a legislative product of strong arguments in favor of compelled registration.”

The judge said the courts must be “particularly careful” about blocking a law “designed specifically to protect the public welfare.”

The suit named Kennebec County District Attorney Evert Fowle and Maine State Police Chief Craig Poulin as defendants.

The legal action was filed less than a month after the Easter Sunday slayings of two men in Milo and Corinth who were listed in Maine’s online sex offender registry. A state police investigation revealed that the killer tracked the victims to their homes through Maine’s registry.

Police also discovered that the killer, 20-year-old Stephen Marshall of North Sydney, Nova Scotia, viewed sex offender registries in New Hampshire and Vermont and the national registry. Marshall got information on 34 sex offenders from Maine’s online registry, then created his own list of 29 offenders, Poulin told a legislative panel last month.

Since the murders of Joseph Gray, 57, of Milo and William Elliott, 24, of Corinth, several sex offenders have said they live in fear of physical harm because of being listed.

State Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, who heads the committee that has been reviewing the registry law since the April killings, said he was pleased with Studstrup’s ruling.

Diamond said the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee considers the sex-offender registry to be “a useful and necessary tool for the public. However, there are concerns that the committee will address at additional meetings over this summer.”

Attorney General Steven Rowe, who represented Fowle and Poulin in the suit, has said the law requiring sex offenders to register is constitutionally sound.

While Studstrup did not rule on the law’s constitutionality on Thursday, he said that the plaintiffs had failed to legally buttress their arguments that the Legislature cannot enact a registry law. Cases cited by John Doe “seem to hold to the contrary,” Studstrup wrote.

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