Max Simmons
Max Simmons ()

Dwight Dickerson attended Yale University, earning his degree the same time he was working full time at Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. He supported two children in the process.

Despite those achievements, Dickerson carries a stigma. He’s a registered sex offender, stemming from a 1994 second-degree sexual assault conviction. In an attempt to free himself from the state’s registry, he took his case to the state Appellate Court. In a decision released in July, the judges ruled that Dickerson must remain a registered sex offender for the rest of his life.

Dickerson’s lawyer says his client’s status stops him from obtaining jobs commensurate with his Ivy League education.

“We’re seeing some of the long-term effects of a lot of these sex offender laws that were put into effect by the Legislature a number of years ago,” said Dickerson’s appellate lawyer, Max Simmons, of the Law Offices of Polan and Simmons in New Haven. “Now the consequences of those are becoming more apparent, at the same time the benefit of those laws to the public is becoming less obvious.”

In 1991, Dickerson, while working as a nighttime counselor at a Department of Mental Retardation facility, was accused of performing oral sex on a female patient. The state’s first attempt at a conviction resulted in a mistrial. The following year, Dickerson was arrested again, this time for two counts of fourth-degree sexual assault for massaging two adult females at a mental health facility.

Simmons, who asserts that Dickerson was sexually molested as a child by a family member, said his client acknowledged he had problems with appropriate boundaries and pleaded guilty in 1994 to all three charges.

Dickerson was sentenced to four years in prison, but was released after two. He was by all accounts a model inmate, taking sex offender classes, a life-planning course and religion courses. He even took two classes offered by Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield, and taught a math course at Osborn Correctional Institution.

Dickerson then completed five years of probation and five years of sex offender treatment. From 1997 to 2003, he worked as a machinist at a number of companies. In 2003, he joined Sikorsky Aircraft as a multimachine specialist; in 2009, he became a final assembly mechanical inspector, inspecting helicopters before they are delivered to military or civilian customers. He has had no disciplinary issues at work and has been highly recommended by his supervisor, according to Simmons.

In January 2004, he began taking classes at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, where he had a 3.7 GPA. In 2005, he became a nondegree student at Yale. After one year, he was admitted to the sociology degree program. He attended Yale while working full time at Sikorsky.

In the fall of 2011, Dickerson began a master’s program in sociology at Southern Connecticut State University while continuing to work full time. He also plays keyboards and trumpet in his church’s band and is an active musician in the community, giving volunteer performances at Emergency Shelter Management Services in New Haven and at the Seacrest Retirement Center in West Haven.

Dickerson is also the founder and CEO of Tri-Cord, an organization dedicated to providing tools to formerly incarcerated people to help them become successful. He does motivational speaking based on his own challenges and successes.

In short, said his lawyer, Dickerson has lived “a perfect life” since his conviction.

In 2012, Dickerson asked a Superior Court judge for an exemption from the sex offender registry, but the judge denied the motion. So Simmons appealed to the Appellate Court.

Simmons explained that second-degree sexual assault is a charge brought against those who use violence in their attacks, whose victims were minors and who assault people with mental disabilities, as was the case with Dickerson.

While violent offenders must register as sex offenders for life, those committing crimes against minors stay on the registry for only 10 years. Simmons said it’s unfair for his client to be lumped in with the violent offenders when he committed no violent acts during his sexual misdeeds. “That was the thrust of our argument that Mr. Dickerson was being treated as a violent offender even though he wasn’t a violent offender,” said Simmons.

The sex offense registry was launched in 1994. But it wasn’t until 1999 that lifetime registration requirements were required of those with second-degree assault convictions. The law was enacted so as to retroactively include past offenders. Simmons notes that at the time his client pleaded guilty, there was no lifetime registration requirement.

The state Appellate Court ultimately upheld the lower court’s ruling.

“Requiring lifetime sex offender registration for those who have been convicted of violent second-degree sexual assaults is rationally related to the government’s legitimate interest in protecting the public from sex offenders whose actions demonstrate a willingness to use force or the threat of force to overcome the will of victims who have not expressed consent to engage in sexual intercourse—and in this case, a victim who was not even capable of expressing such consent by reason of mental defect,” wrote Appellate Judge Michael Sheldon.

Simmons said his client was disappointed with the decision but not particularly surprised. “He’s been struggling with this issue for so long he may be at a point where he’s just going to make the best of the cards that he’s been dealt,” said Simmons.

Simmons believes lawmakers should revisit the issue and create a process—perhaps one that includes some sort of judicial review—that would allow those on the sex offender registry to ask that their names be removed. “There needs to be a legislative resolution to this,” said Simmons, “but no elected official wants to be seen as soft on crime, much less coddling to sex offenders.” •