Sex offender registration requirement challenged

Corrections officials are refusing to remove a sex offender's name from the state's public database, defying a court order and setting off a legal battle that his lawyer says could affect scores of others convicted of sex crimes.

Robert Merle Haines Jr., a man identified in court filings only as "John Doe," pleaded guilty in 2006 to a count of child sex abuse committed in 1984, when he was a junior high school teacher in Washington County.

The Court of Appeals ruled in March that Haines, 53, should not be named on the sex offender registry because the database did not exist at the time of his crime and registration would be a form of retroactive punishment, which the Maryland Constitution doesn't allow.

Corrections officials say federal sex offender registration requirements prevent them from complying with the ruling. But Haines asked a Washington County judge last week to hold the agency in contempt of court.

Nancy S. Forster, Haines' lawyer and Maryland's former chief public defender, argued in a petition that the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services is violating her client's rights. Along with the department, the document also names its secretary Gary D. Maynard.

Forster said being on the registry has proven to be additional punishment.

"He struggles to find employment," she said. "The only employment that he can find is usually something very menial, and even then, once they discover he's on the registry, he loses that job as well."

Advocates for more-forgiving sex offender laws say the court ruling should affect other ex-convicts with similar legal circumstances as Haines. If the state followed the ruling, they argue, these people could petition to remove themselves from the registry and find jobs and housing more easily as they re-integrate into society.

A contempt finding would put further pressure on state officials to comply with the ruling, Forster said.

State officials said they are reviewing the petition and researching how many people it might affect.

The corrections department and Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler's office, which is representing the agency, declined to comment further. The U.S. Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking, which works with the state on such laws, declined to comment as well.

Haines received permission in 2009 from an Anne Arundel circuit judge to file the suit under "John Doe." Forster said she has sought to protect her client, who she acknowledged is Haines, from being further ostracized and treated as a pariah.

Haines pleaded guilty in June 2006 to one count of child sexual abuse. According to the statement of charges in the case, Haines was a 24-year-old Boonsboro Middle School teacher during the 1983-1984 school year, when Maryland State Police allege he had sexual contact with several female students, exposed himself to them and encouraged them to touch him.

Police alleged that Haines followed one 13-year-old student into a room and raped her. The Washington County Board of Education investigated a report of indecent exposure and inappropriate touching, but no allegations were reported to police at the time, according to court records.

It wasn't until the victim was a college senior that she disclosed the alleged sexual assault to a teacher and mentor. The victim contacted police in 2005, and a police investigator obtained past clinical notes, which showed the victim did disclose the rape to mental health professionals. Three other former students also came forward, accusing Haines of molesting them during the same school year, the police report said.

Asked why the initial victim reported the rape two decades later, she told police, "I don't want another child to go through this."

Haines accepted a plea deal in 2006 that dropped a second-degree rape charge and other sex offense charges. He declined to comment through Forster.

He was sentenced to a 10-year prison term with all but 41/2 years suspended. He also received three years of probation. And the court ordered Haines to register as a child sexual offender.

In October 2006, Haines filed a motion disputing the registration order because his crime occurred well before 1995, when the Maryland registry was created. A judge ruled in favor of Haines. He was released from prison in 2008.

In 2009 legislators expanded its registry parameters, and Haines was again ordered to register as a child sex offender, this time for 10 years. He sued to keep his name off the list, but a circuit judge rejected his claim.

While his name remained on the registry, his case was appealed to Maryland's highest court.

In March the Court of Appeals ruled that forcing Haines to register violated the state constitution.

The court said registering is another form of punishment because of the public "shaming" involved with being on the registry and having police make periodic house checks. Haines should not receive retroactive punishment, the ruling said.

In a motion filed earlier this month, the state attorney general's office argued Haines is not entitled to be removed from the registry because the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act requires him to be on it "irrespective of whether he can be obligated to register under Maryland law."

The federal law was created when the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act passed in 2006. It spells out "minimum standards" for sex offender registration and notification across the United States, according to the Department of Justice.

The law expanded the range of offenses that require registration, forced sex offenders to make periodic in-person appearances at law enforcement agencies and "makes changes in the required minimum duration of registration for sex offenders," according to the justice department.

The state attorney general's office argued that Congress wanted to create a "nationwide public safety system" to ensure all sex offenders register.

But according to Brenda Jones, executive director of Families Advocating Intelligent Registries, the law does not, in her opinion, supersede state law.

"It's bogus. It's totally bogus," Jones said. "There's nothing in the federal law that requires Maryland to put anyone on the registry."

If state law or court ruling limits implementation of the federal act, the law says, the state attorney general can work with the U.S. attorney general to determine whether the state has done all it can to comply.

The state will get an opportunity to respond to her request to hold the corrections department in contempt of court, Forster said. Then a hearing could take place.

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