Advisory opinion supports offender notification law
MASSACHUSETTS–The state’s high court has given the legislature the constitutional nod on a proposed law designed to warn communities about released sex offenders who move into their neighborhoods.
In a mid-July advisory opinion, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts found that the legislation modeled on New Jersey’s “Megan’s Law” does not violate the state and U.S. constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection and prohibitions against double punishment.
Nearly every state has enacted laws requiring sex offenders to register their presence with local authorities, and a handful have enacted laws requiring that communities be notified, as well. New Jersey passed its law in 1994 after the death of 7-year-old Megan Kanka, who was kidnapped, raped and killed by a released sex offender.
The Massachusetts legislature in late May asked the Supreme Court to examine whether the proposed notification requirement would violate the offenders’ rights to due process and equal protection under the law or violate constitutional prohibitions against ex post facto application of punishment and double jeopardy.
The court answered each of those questions in the negative, finding the notification requirements were not “on their face so severely burdensome relative to the urgency of [the statute’s] purpose that they must be counted as punishment.”
Moreover, the court concluded that the proposed law’s procedure to allow offenders to contest an official decision to notify communities provided adequate due process under the Constitution, and that equal protection arguments of would-be challengers to the law would likely fail because such “unequal” treatment of offenders was justified. (Advisory Opinion, SJC-07224)