Law Court to Review Constitutionality of Sex Offender Registry

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
February 9, 2009 12:00 am

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The state’s highest court will hear arguments Tuesday, Feb. 10 on the question of whether the increasingly strict rules in Maine’s sex offender registry can be applied retroactively.

In the case to be heard Tuesday, the State is appealing from a Lewiston District Court ruling which said the guidelines in the sex offender registry could not be used retroactively against Eric Letalien, who was convicted of gross sexual assault in 1996, when earlier regulations were in place. The District Court said that retroactive application of those guidelines would violate the state Constitution. That court also accepted the findings of a psychologist that Letalien was at “the lowest possible risk” to re-offend.

“Being listed on the sex offender registry and the consequences that flow from it are clearly forms of punishment,” said Ron Schneider of Bernstein Shur, a cooperating attorney with the Maine Civil Liberties Union Foundation which filed an Amicus brief in the case. “Our Constitution is clear that the government cannot create a new law to punish people for their past misconduct but that is what Maine is trying to do to Mr. Letalien and others in his situation.”

Eric Letalien has been forced to comply with rules that have become more strict in the years since his conviction for an incident that occurred when he was 19. Letalien now faces a permanent listing on the registry, but under rules in effect in 1996, he would have been listed for only fifteen years, and could have applied for a waiver.

“We think the Lewiston Court ruling was correct, because Maine’s Constitution forbids the creation of new punishment after an offense has taken place,” said Zachary Heiden, Legal Director of the MCLU.

In its Amicus brief to the Law Court in the case, the MCLU points out that Maine’s sex offender registry does not make any attempt to distinguish between those offenders who are considered dangerous, and those who are not. The brief also describes the effects on Letalien:

“As a lifetime registrant, Letalien will not be able to see his elementary school-aged daughter in a school play or concert, whether she is the star of the show or not. He cannot attend her open house or go on one of her field trips. He cannot attend parent-teacher conferences, coach her in sports or take her to the local playground. When his daughter grows up and has a child of her own, Letalien will similarly not be able to participate in his grandchild’s elementary school or group.”

Many lawmakers have expressed concerns about Maine’s sex offender registry, and the fact that it does not distinguish between those at high risk to re-offend and those who are not. These concerns were highlighted when two men listed on the registry were murdered in 2006.

Arguments in the Law Court case will be heard at 1:45 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 10 at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland.

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