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Massachusetts: Acquittal on Additional Sex Offense Doesn’t Trigger Reevaluation of Sex Offender Classification

Massachusetts: Acquittal on Additional Sex Offense Doesn’t Trigger Reevaluation of Sex Offender Classification

by Matt Clarke

On September 11, 2013, the Massachusetts Supreme Court held that a prisoner who had been convicted of a sex offense, then given a level three classification by the Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB) due to a more serious pending sex charge, was not automatically entitled to be reclassified following his acquittal on the latter charge.

John Soe, a registered sex offender in Massachusetts, was charged with multiple counts of raping, attempting to rape and committing indecent assault and battery on his 11-year-old stepdaughter. While on bail awaiting trial on those charges, he pleaded guilty to sexually touching the 16-year-old daughter of a friend and was placed on probation.

Following that conviction, the SORB notified Soe of its preliminary decision to classify him as a level three sex offender – the most dangerous type of offender with the highest risk of reoffending. He requested an administrative review and asked the review to be stayed until the more serious charges involving his stepdaughter were resolved.

The SORB denied the request, considered a previous interview with his stepdaughter and conducted a hearing. Soe’s attorney told the board that Soe’s lawyer in the criminal case was preserving his Fifth Amendment rights; therefore, he could not testify or present evidence. The hearing examiner found that Soe was a high-risk sex offender and classified him under a level three registration.

The Superior Court affirmed the SORB’s decision, and Soe appealed.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court noted that a sex offender facing a SORB hearing before a trial has taken place on one of the offenses being considered in the hearing has a “difficult” and “strategic” dilemma when choosing between preserving his Fifth Amendment rights and trying to reduce his sex offender classification level, but that alone does not constitute a denial of due process. The board has a public safety interest in obtaining a prompt classification which it has to weigh against an offender’s Fifth Amendment rights, and pending charges do not provide an automatic right to a stay of the hearing.

Soe also was not entitled to automatic reclassification after he was acquitted on the charges involving his stepdaughter, as he could have been acquitted yet still have committed the crimes. “[W]e also recognize that an acquittal on such charges demonstrates only that the Commonwealth failed to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and is insufficient alone to show that the allegations were false or baseless,” the Supreme Court held.

The board may, on its own or the sex offender’s motion, reconsider a classification; however, Soe had not yet made such a motion. Therefore, the judgment of the Superior Court upholding Soe’s level three sex offender classification was affirmed. See: Soe v. Sex Offender Registry Board,466 Mass. 381, 995 N.E.2d 73 (Mass. 2013).


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Related legal case

Soe v. Sex Offender Registry Board