Monday, October 19, 2015

Rep. Jones’ Proposal Limiting Sex Offenders’ Ability to Stay Their Final Classification on an Appeal Now on Governor’s Desk

A proposal by House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading) to limit the amount of time sex offenders can secure a stay of final classification pending a court appeal is one step closer to becoming law, following its passage today in a modified form by the House of Representatives and state Senate.

Representative Jones first offered the proposed changes during the House debate on the Fiscal Year 2016 state budget in April.  Governor Charlie Baker later returned the proposal with some slight modifications designed to ensure that the changes would not violate the separation of powers doctrine of the state Constitution.  The Legislature approved the governor’s recommendations today.

In addition to prohibiting the state’s Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB) from granting a stay of final classification for longer than 60 days, the state’s courts would be restricted from granting a similar stay on appeal for more than 60 days, unless accompanied by written findings showing good cause for extending the stay.  All court appeals related to SORB classification would be subject to an expedited hearing process whenever a stay is granted.

Representative Jones said these changes will help to ensure that the public is protected from dangerous individuals who are considered to pose a high risk of re-offending.

“If an individual is required to register as a sex offender, they have a right to appeal their classification, but they should not be able to manipulate the system in an attempt to escape scrutiny for their crimes,” said Representative Jones.  “The public has a right to know if there is a dangerous sex offender living or working in their neighborhood, and limiting a stay of final classification will help preserve the public’s ability to access this information.”

There are currently three levels of sex offender classification in Massachusetts.  Level 1 sex offenders are considered to represent a low risk of re-offending and therefore are not deemed dangerous enough to warrant the release of their personal information to the public.  As a result, this information is made available only to certain local, state and federal agencies, including the Department of Correction, county correctional facilities, the Department of Youth Services, the Department of Social Services, the Parole Board, the Department of Probation and the Department of Mental Health, as well as all city and town police departments and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for law enforcement purposes.

Level 2 sex offenders are considered to be a moderate risk of re-offending, while Level 3 sex offenders are deemed to pose a high risk of re-offending.  Due to public safety concerns, information on both Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders is readily accessible to the public through the local police department and the SORB.

Under current law, a sex offender who has been classified by the SORB can seek what is referred to as a 30A judicial review through the court system.  A stay of the classification is typically granted pending the appeal, which results in the sex offender essentially becoming declassified.  When this happens, the police cannot disclose information on these individuals to the public because they technically are no longer designated as a Level 2 or Level 3 offender.

“The prospect of a sex offender being able to delay their classification status indefinitely is completely unacceptable, given the serious nature of these types of crimes,” said Representative Jones.  “The changes approved today will provide important protections for the public by tightening the current sex offender law and upholding the public’s right to know.”

The sex offender classification changes are now on Governor Baker’s desk awaiting his signature.