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A legal battle between the state’s public counsel group and the attorney general has stopped Massachusetts officials from adding criminals to the Sex Offender Registry. The roadblock involves a challenge to the requirement that all convicted sex offenders must register by mail. The Committee for Public Counsel last fall filled a Superior Court action challenging the registration of sex offenders by mail before they have had hearings to determine whether they pose a risk. Superior Court Judge John M. Xifaras granted the committee’s motion for preliminary injunction, essentially enjoining the state and the 10-month-old Sex Offender Registry Board from requiring offenders to register without first holding individualized hearings. Attorney General Thomas Reilly’s office challenged Judge Xifaras’ ruling on Nov. 29, 1999 � Roe v. Reilly, Suffolk Superior Court, C.A. No. 99-5029A. The attorney general argues that immediate registration is necessary to assist the police in their efforts to investigate and combat sexual abuse, said Peter Sacks, deputy chief of the attorney general’s government bureau. “We hope that the Superior Court is wrong in its analysis,” said Sacks. Referring to a hoped-for agreement from the SJC, he said, “That kind of decision will free the board up to require immediate registration and begin classification.” Larni S. Levy, an appellate lawyer for the Public Counsel Committee, said that the public defenders’ challenge is one of fundamental fairness and common sense. A person, who poses no threat to the community “should not have to bear the humiliation of registering” before being afforded a hearing, she said. September is the earliest the SJC could take up the challenge, Sacks said. The sex offender registry statute became law on Sept. 10, 1999, and set forth procedures for sex offenders to register with local police departments. The statute also established the Sex Offender Registry Board, which conducts classification (degree of dangerousness) hearings on sex offenders. Those classifications accompany offenders’ registration. Anyone can examine the registry by going to a police station. With the mail registration issue before the SJC, it has been difficult for the registry board to contact convicts about classification hearings, said Ann M. Dawley, the Sex Offender Registry Board’s chairwoman. “The practical effect is that without imposing a duty on sex offenders to register, it’s difficult to find them,” she said. The board has been using tools the Legislature included in the law, such as access to the Department of Revenue and Registry of Motor Vehicles databases, to find sex offenders’ addresses, she said. Although it has taken some time to get the seven-member board to the point of drafting regulations and holding classification hearings, the board’s members are ready to move forward, Dawley said. Prosecutors also express relief that the state is closer to registering offenders. “A registry isn’t going to end recidivism,” said David A. Angier, a Hampshire County prosecutor, who has put pedophiles and other sex offenders behind bars, “but it might cause enough pressure to curb their antisocial activity.” Essex County prosecutor William E. Fallon agrees, noting that a registry is not going to provide complete protection from the repeat acts of sex offenders. He said that the law provides “some kind of prevention for families and their children.” The Massachusetts registration requirement is different from those established by other states because it is retroactive to 1981. That means the number of sex offenders required to register could be 15,000 to 17,000, according to state statistics. Most states numbers don’t come close to that. Boston attorney James M. Doyle, who represented a juvenile offender in an earlier challenge to the registry, said that the Legislature might have bitten off more than it could chew when it created the sex offender registry. Rather than creating a system with a retroactive date of 1981, which causes processing delays, it might have made more sense to require that only more recent offenders register, he notes.

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