More work will need to be done before members of the state’s Sentencing Commission give their stamp of approval to legislation that would provide a path to move some people off the state’s sex offender registry.
“The question is how granular do you get on this?”Judge Robert Devlin said Wednesday. “Should it be retroactive or prospective and what should the contours be? Should it include a professional assessment?”
The Collateral Consequences Subcommittee of the Commission has been working on the proposal for months trying to determine how to allow people to get on with their lives without the stigma of the registry while also considering the needs of their victims.
But previous attempts at changing the registry with legislation failed to make it out of the Judiciary Committee – so this time commission members are hoping to craft something that is likely to pass.
Connecticut is one of 15 states that has no mechanism for allowing people to be removed from the registry. There is a law enforcement sex offender registry that is used for people who committed crimes against family members in order to protect their identity, Devlin said.
The number of people on the law enforcement registry is much smaller than the number of people on the public registry. The public registry does not indicate which people are at low or high risk for re-offending and there is no mechanism to incentivize registrants to comply with all the requirements, members said.
The commission will fine tune the proposal before recommending legislation during the next legislative session starting in February.
Devlin said there are a number of points that need to be addressed before the commission could put forth the legislation.
The first proposal under consideration would allow lifetime registrants to petition the Superior Court to be removed from the public registry after 10 years. The court would hold a hearing for victims and prosecutors to provide input and the registrant would have to prove that they met all the requirements of their probation or parole and treatment during their time on the registry.
This option would allow people a means to be moved from the public registry completely or moved to the law enforcement registry, which can only be accessed by police and other criminal justice officials. The registrant and the state’s attorney would have the right to appeal the court’s decision.
But some members of the commission, including State Victim Advocate Natasha Pierre, are concerned that victims who were promised that their abuser would remain on the registry would feel betrayed. “We told them they would be on the registry, so here we are yet again changing the terms of what their sentence was,” Pierre said.
She said there would be no way to determine if a registrant’s behavior had changed.
That proposal also would expand the court’s authority to exempt registration requirements for people convicted of misdemeanors, the draft document said.
A second proposal would allow people who were “grandfathered” onto the registry when it was created in 1998 to seek a hearing to be removed. This group of people was automatically placed on the registry even though when they were convicted or pleaded guilty, it didn’t exist.
It would also allow those who were placed on the registry after June 2022 to request removal after they have been on the registry for 10 years. But as the proposal is written now, individuals placed on the registry between 1998 and next year can only seek removal to the law enforcement registry.
The constitutionality of the prospective proposal could likely be challenged since it doesn’t allow people who have committed the same crime the day before the law goes into effect in 2022 to petition to be removed, said Deputy State’s Attorney Kevin Lawlor.
“If we came to the conclusion we’re walking down a constitutional sinkhole we should avoid that,” Devlin said.
There’s also the issue of whether judges would want a professional opinion when making a decision about removing someone, Chief Public Defender Christine Rapillo said. “I think you would be hard pressed to find a judge who would agree to removal without some type of professional opinion.”
But Rapillo didn’t want to see a situation where her office would be required to foot the bill for an evaluation for people who were represented in their bid to get removed from the registry by a public defender.
The bottom line is that before the next legislative session starts, the proposal has to be crafted in a reasonable way that doesn’t appear too “liberal” otherwise it won’t pass, Devlin said.
“We have to keep it real here,” he said. “This thing is hard to get through the legislature anyway, so the more sort of liberal it gets the less it has the ability to attract the support we need to make it happen. That’s a factor we have to consider.”