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Massachusetts cannot retroactively post information about thousands of registered Level 2 sex offenders on the Internet, the state's highest court ruled Wednesday.
The unanimous decision came in response to a challenge to a law passed last July that allowed the state to add Level 2 sex offenders to its online database. The state's Sex Offender Registry Board had previously been allowed to make information available on its website only about Level 3 offenders, those considered the most dangerous and most likely to commit new crimes.
The Supreme Judicial Court did not strike down the new law, but ruled that it could not be applied retroactively to sex offenders who had already been classified as Level 2 prior to the date the law took effect. Level 2 offenders are considered to pose a moderate degree of dangerousness to the public.
Shortly after passage of the law, the Committee for Public Counsel Services, representing several Level 2 sex offenders, got a preliminary injunction from a judge blocking the state from posting information about the more than 6,000 individuals who had received Level 2 classifications prior to July 12, 2013.
The justices, in making the injunction permanent, said making the law retroactive "would be unreasonable and inequitable, and therefore unconstitutional as a violation of due process."
Residents can obtain information about Level 1 or Level 2 sex offenders from their local police departments. Defense attorneys have argued that posting names and addresses online hurt their clients' ability to get housing and hold jobs, and can even pose a threat to their personal safety.
The high court, in its ruling, said some sex offenders who were classified as Level 2 prior to the change in the law may have attempted to challenge their designations had they known that their information would be made widely accessible on the Internet.
The SJC said at the time the law was passed, of the 11,171 current registered sex offenders in Massachusetts, information was available online for 2,422 Level 3 offenders. If the law was applied retroactively, that number would increase to 8,496 - or about 76 percent of all registered sex offenders.
"Nothing in this order affects the ability of (the registry) to publish on the Internet the registry information of any individual who was given a final classification as a level two sex offender after July 12, 2013," the SJC said.