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R.I. High Court Challenges Part of Sex Offender Law

June 2, 2009

newsblog.projo.com (Providence Journal) : RI High Court Challenges Part of Sex Offender Law.

The R.I. Supreme Court Tuesday ruled that part of the state’s sex-offender law violates the offender’s constitutional right to due process, in some cases.

The state’s highest court ruled that part of a state law gives the Superior Court discretion to deny a sex offender the “right to a meaningful hearing” during an appeal.

The court said this “cannot be reconciled” with the constitutional right to due process.

The court, in its 62-page opinion, said the provisions of the challenged law means a court can limit witnesses and cross examination during the hearings held when a sex offender appeals the classification.

Some officials testified at legislative hearings this year that offenders with highest risk of re-offense — Level III classification — often seek to have their classification downgraded in appeals that last for months. Level III status triggers a wide range of public notification about the person’s identity, address and sex-crime convictions. There is some public notification about Level II offenders as well. Level 1 offenders, considered low risk to re-offend, do not have public notification.

The high court, however, was not persuaded in the underlying appeal to overturn an Oct. 3, 2005, Superior Court decision that upheld the Level III classification of Thomas Germane. The opinion state that the Superior Court gave Germane a “meaningful hearing” during his appeal of his classification. The Supereme Court also denied Germane’s other assertions, including that his due process rights were violated.

And the court also stated “we are not convinced” that people have “a fundamental right” to be free of sex offender registration and public notification requirements in the state’s law governing such matters, “even if those requirements are intrusive and remain in place indefinitely.”

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