The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled Monday that a man convicted of child sex abuse did not have to register as a sex offender because it would violate the state constitution's provisions against retroactive punishments.
The ruling was split, with a plurality of three of the court's seven judges agreeing on one interpretation of the law, while others had different opinions and one dissented from the opinion.
The man, identified only as John Doe in his appeal, was convicted in 2006 of child sex abuse stemming from an incident in the early 1980s when he was a middle school teacher in Washington County and the 13-year-old child was his student, according to the ruling. The man's 41/2 -year prison sentence required him to register as a sex offender upon his release.
In the man's appeal, he argued that the state's 1995 sex offender law applied retroactively to crimes that took place before 1995 only if the person was in custody as of 2001 and that he should not be required to register. The Circuit Court agreed.
In both 2009 and 2010, the sex offender registry law was revised in a way that would require Doe to register, and he did so against the advice of his attorney, according to the ruling. His name will now be removed from the registry.
A key sticking point that split the judges was whether requiring the man to register as a sex offender was a punishment in and of itself. The state and U.S. constitutions forbid retroactive punishments, but allow for retroactive changes to some civil laws. Some of the judges agreed registration was a punishment, while others were not so sure.
It is unclear what effect the court's ruling will have on other sex offender cases. The court declined to offer an opinion on whether its ruling would extend to other people required to register as sex offenders, and declined to offer a formal opinion on whether the registration was "a valid form of punishment."