N.H. sex offender fights new registry requirements
The New Hampshire Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the constitutionality of sex offender registry requirements for convicts whose crimes were committed before the Legislature imposed more stringent rules.
Lawyers for “John Doe” contend the registry requirements – which have been overhauled numerous times since 1998 – amount to new layers of punishment that weren’t in place when he was convicted in 1987 of sexually assaulting his 14-year-old stepdaughter.
Lawyers for the state acknowledge the information required from sex offenders and the frequency of their reports to the police have increased, but they maintain the requirements are regulatory and not punitive.
The Supreme Court ruled 20 years ago that the state’s sex offender requirements do not punish sex offenders, but the registry requirements have expanded significantly since then, lawyers involved in the case say.
“It seems that every legislative session, lawmakers came in and upped the ante to add more requirements to the law,” said attorney Bill Chapman, who represents Doe.
When the Supreme Court reviewed the registry requirements in 1994, sex offenders were required to register with law enforcement once a year and the list was not made public.
In 1998, the legislature made information on sex offenders public and stripped away a provision that kept convicts’ identities confidential if they could convince a judge there was little risk they would offend again.
In 2002, the legislature authorized the state police to post the identities and photographs of sex offenders on the Department of Safety’s website.
Now, convicted sex offenders have to report to the police every three months, face at least two surprise home visits a year, report any social media and email addresses they maintain, and inform landlords and employers of their convicted status, among other things.
Doe’s conviction predates the 1992 inception of the sex offender registry in New Hampshire.
Doe is now in his 60s, lives in a Manchester boarding house and is disabled after a severe abdominal aorta rupture. He received a suspended sentence for his crimes and completed two years of sex offender treatment. In 1990, a judge deemed him rehabilitated and terminated his probation.
The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union sued on Doe’s behalf in 2011, challenging the registry requirements as they pertain to him. But if the Supreme Court were to issue a ruling on due process grounds, based on the lack of opportunity for sex offenders to show they pose little to no risk to the community, a broad range of sex offenders could be affected, Chapman said.
A Merrimack County Superior Court judge ruled against Doe in June 2013, prompting his appeal.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 2003 ruling in a case from Alaska, said the state’s registry requirements were neither punitive nor akin to public shaming.
Doe’s lawyers say he fears harassment by neighbors who learn of his sex offender status and faces problems finding housing to accommodate his disabilities.
In documents filed with the court, lawyers for the state contend most of the registry requirements pose no burden to Doe because he doesn’t have a job or attend school, doesn’t have a computer or online presence, and doesn’t own a passport or a car.
“He is as free to marry, move, work and travel as any other citizen is,” wrote Dianne Martin, assistant attorney general.
“Any damage to his reputation occurred as a result of the conviction and the sexual assault on a child – not the inclusion in the registry,” she said.
The justices will hear arguments in the case Thursday.