History of Maryland Sex Offender Registry Laws

In 1994 New Jersey became one of the first states to implement sex offender registry and notification laws. New Jersey enacted what became known as “Megan’s Law,” or the Sex Offender Registration Act, in response to a brutal sexual assault and murder of seven-year-old Megan Kanka by a convicted sex offender who lived across the street from her. Congress responded that same year by implementing their version of Megan’s Law, called the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Program (“Wetterling Act”). Pub.L.No. 103-322, 108 Stat. 1796 (1994), codified at 42 U.S.C. § 14071 (2000). The Wetterling Act, drafted to protect the public from violent sex offenses committed by repeat offenders, developed guidelines for registration, and more recently, community notification, and classified its registrants as “sexually violent offenders” or “sexually violent predators,” the latter of which was forced to comply with heightened registration requirements. Id. at § 14071. See generally, 61 Md. Law Rev. 739, 722-45 (2002). The Wetterling Act also mandates that each State may decide to what extent that information will be made available to the public. See H.R. Rep. No. 104-55 (1986).

The Maryland General Assembly soon followed, motivated both by appalling incidents within its own borders, as well as the federal funding incentive for compliance with the Wetterling Act, and enacted its first sexual offender registration in 1995. These laws were aimed at responding to the high recidivism and danger that sex offenders posed on its citizens. see Md. Fisc. Note, 2005 Sess. H.B. 770; see generally, 61 Md. Law Rev. at 742. Maryland has since amended its laws to maintain compliance with the Federal Act. Sexual offenders are required to register with the Crimes Against Children and Sexual Offender Registry for either a minimum term of ten years, or life, depending on the offense. § 14071. Maryland’s registry is operated by the Sexual Offender Registry unit of Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (“DPSCS”).

Maryland has four categories of persons convicted of sexual offenses: 1) a child sexual offender; 2) an offender; 3) a sexually violent offender; and 4) a sexually violent predator. The first two, child sexual offender, and offender, pertain to a conviction of sexual offense in the fourth degree. The Maryland legislature left the judge with discretion to determine whether persons convicted of this offense should be required to register as a sex offender. §§11-701. Fourth-degree sexual offense is a multipurpose offense, meaning that it is an offense having alternative elements and may be committed in more than one way, any one of which is sufficient for conviction. See § 3-308; Cortex v. State, 656 A.2d 360, 104 (MD 1995). This implies that while some defendants who have been convicted of the sexual offense in the fourth degree have committed a crime in such a way as to warrant registry, this Court can exercise its discretion to determine others convicted need not register.

There is no question that registered sex offenders face the harsh effects of being labeled as one of America’s “irredeemable monsters” should he be required to register as a sex offender. See Liberty Interests in the Preventative State: Procedural Due Process and Sex Offender Community Notification Laws, 89 J. CRIM. L. & Criminology 1167, 1167 (1999).
Federal law requires that registration information include, at a minimum, the offender’s name, current address, current photograph, (14071(b)(1); and that the information be released to the extent necessary to protect the public from the registrants 14071(e)(2). Maryland’s sex offender registration statute, which does not provide for an individualized risk assessment, is more than a registration statute, “it also contains broad, virtually unlimited, community notification provisions.” Young v. State, 806 A.2d 233 (Md. 2002) (Chief Judge Bell, dissent). Under new Maryland laws, Offenders have to register for a minimum of 10 years, and to annually provide supervising authority with not only the items listed above, but also his place of employment, social security number, and a description and location of his offense. See §§11-704-409. The constitutionality of the effects of registration has been challenged, though unsuccessfully. See eg. Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 120 S.Ct. 2348 (2000). The requirement to register “obviously carries substantial societal stigma (People v. Marchand, 98 Cal.App.4th 1056, 1062, 120 CalRptr.2d 687, 692 (2002)), as well as community ostracism, harassment, loss of employment, and discrimination in housing. See also Doe v. Attorney General, 426 Mass. 136, 144, 686 N.E. 2d 1007, 1013 (1997).

As the law is constantly changing, please contact the Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin & White for further information.

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