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N.H. Supreme Court: Disabled sex offender eligible to get off sex offender registry

Last modified: 2/13/2015 12:56:14 AM
The state Supreme Court ruled today that an aging, disabled sex offender should be excused from the state’s registry if he can prove he no longer poses a criminal threat. However, the justices described his case as unusual, and said the registry is not necessarily overly punishing to those convicted before its creation.

The case centers on “John Doe,” a Manchester man whose identity has been withheld and who was convicted in 1987 of abusing his teenage stepdaughter. He was placed on probation until 1990, during which completed counseling. The state’s sex offender registry was unveiled two years later. Doe is now in his 60s, permanently disabled and living in a single room in a boarding house.

Ten years ago, Doe attempted to move in with his son, but neighbors petitioned and the landlord refused it. He was injured a year later and can only move today with help from a cane or mobility scooter. His doctors have recommended he move into public housing, but the Manchester Housing Authority has denied his application based on his registry status.

Attorney Bill Chapman argued last year that Doe remains subject to harassment and squalid living conditions because of the registry requirement and despite having already served his full criminal sentence.

The court reviewed a similar argument in 1994, but found the existing registry imposed no excessive retroactive punishment. In their order this morning, the justices noted that the registry requirements have evolved over time and today “are significantly different from the act that we considered 20 years ago.”

Under the law, registrants are classified into three tiers. Tier III, under which Doe falls, represents the most serious offenses. Offenders in this category are on the registry for life and must report in person to their local police station four times per year.

The court found that the law today creates undue hardship on Doe, given his serious physical limitations. “We are convinced that the punitive effects clearly outweigh the regulatory intent of the act,” Justice Robert Lynn wrote for the court.

The justices said Doe should be excused if he can prove to a lower court judge that he no longer poses a risk “sufficient to justify continued registration.” The case has been remanded back to Merrimack County Superior Court. A date has not yet been set.

Gilles Bissonnette, a staff attorney at the state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union who also represented Doe, lauded the court’s decision as a “win for fundamental fairness.”

“In 1993, our client was a free man having served his debt to society,” Bissonnette said in a statement. “In 1994, however, he was, without notice, decreed a sexual offender under New Hampshire law and made subject to onerous lifetime restrictions that he couldn’t have foreseen when he was convicted in 1987.”

He added: “The Court recognized that fundamental fairness requires that the petitioner should at least be given the opportunity to show he poses no threat to society.”

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)


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