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Maine Supreme Judicial Court Reinstates Challenge to Maine SORNA

By Matt Clarke

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has reversed the dismissal of a challenge to the Maine Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), 34-A M.R.S. §§ 11201-11256.
John Doe is the pseudonym of a person convicted after 1982 and before 1986 of a sex offense against a family member who was younger than 14. Doe, who was 19 at the time of the offense, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to less than 70 days incarceration.

On April 5, 2006, Doe received a letter notifying him of his obligation to register under the most recent amendment of SORNA. Doe filed a complaint in state Superior Court against government officials alleging that the retroactive SORNA provisions violate the federal and state constitutional prohibitions against ex post facto laws. Finding that State v. Haskell, 784 A.2d 4 (Maine 2001) controlled, the Superior Court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss. Doe appealed.

The Supreme Court held that post-1999 amendments to SORNA are not covered by Haskell’s controlling precedent. These amendments added the widespread publication via internet of a great deal of Doe’s personal information, and a requirement for Doe to register for life and verify information in person every 90 days. A prohibition against any intentional or incidental contact with children under 14 that effectively banned sex offenders from state and local parks, schools, athletic facilities, entertainment venues and recreation facilities was enacted in 2007, after Doe commenced this action. The possibility of a waiver of registration present in previous SORNA versions was eliminated. The Supreme Court noted Doe would have been a good candidate for waiver under the prior law due to his clean record since 1993.

The Supreme Court held that the legislature’s moving of the SORNA from the criminal statutes to the civil statutes and labeling it a civil law did not shield it from ex post facto scrutiny. However, the record was not well developed on the more recent amendments to SORNA. Because the amendments to SORNA made since Haskell was decided greatly increase the burden SORNA places on sex offenders and have “the capability to be excessive and divergent from the purpose of protecting the public,” the Supreme Court held that “Doe should be given the opportunity to develop the record and to prove, if he can, the excessiveness of SORNA in relationship to its stated goal of protecting the public from potentially dangerous registrants.” Therefore, the Supreme Court vacated the Superior Court’s dismissal and returned the matter to that court for further development of the record. Doe was represented by James E. Mitchell of Augusta.

See: John Doe v. District Attorney, Maine Supreme Judicial Court, 932 A.2d 552, 2007 ME 139 (Me. 2007).

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Related legal case

John Doe v. District Attorney