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Internet Publication of Massachusetts Sex Offender Information Enjoined

On March 26, 2014, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court enjoined the retrospective application of a law requiring Internet publication of level two sex offender registry information.

In 1999, Massachusetts established a sex offender registration law (SORL), which classified sex offenders “into one of three ‘levels of notification depending on the degree of re-offense and the degree of dangerousness posed to the public by the sex offender.” Level one offenders are the lowest risk. Level three are the highest.

The 1999 law did not allow Internet publication of any sex offender information.

“Internet publication of registry information was first required through” a 2003 amendment “but was limited to ... level three offenders. The 2003 amendment specifically prohibited Internet publication of registry information of level two offenders.”

On July 5, 2013, the Legislature passed an amendment, requiring Internet publication of level two sex offenders. Before the Governor signed it into law on July 12, 2013, a group of level two sex offenders filed a suit, seeking to enjoin the amendment’s application.

On July 25, 2013, the court preliminarily enjoined Internet publication of level two sex offender registry information, pending resolution of the suit.

Internet publication previously applied to only “the 2,422 level three offenders, a group that comprises approximately 21.7 percent of’ the State’s 11,171 registered sex offenders, the Court found. That number “would rise to 8,496, approximately 76.1 percent of the” state’s registered sex offenders, under the 2013 amendment.

“Implicit in the earlier prohibition against Internet publication of the registry information of level two offenders,” the Court found, “is the recognition ... that public identification of a sex offender poses a risk of serious adverse consequences to that offender.”

Following Landgraf v. USI Film Prods., 511 U.S. 244 (1994), the Court ultimately concluded “that retroactive application of the amendments to persons finally classified as level two offenders on or before July 12,2013, would be unreasonable and inequitable, and therefore unconstitutional as a violation of due process.” Therefore, the Court permanently enjoined the Internet publishing of “the registry information of any individual who was finally classified as a level two sex offender on or before July 12, 2013, unless the individual is subsequently reclassified a level two or level three sex offender.” The Court allowed prospective application to those individuals “given a final classification as a level two sex offender after July 12, 2013.” See: Moe v. Sex Offender Registry Board,444 Mass. 1009 (2005).

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