TX: Sex Offender Label Requires Court Hearing

May 31, 2010

chron.com(TX): Sex offender label requires hearing, court rules.

Austin, TX — Texas has been unconstitutionally designating some prison inmates as sexual criminals without giving them an appropriate hearing, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

The ruling could affect as many as 6,900 prison inmates who have never been convicted of a sex offense although they may be sexual predators.

The lawsuit was brought by Raul Meza, who was convicted in the 1982 murder of a 9-year old girl. He was released from prison in 1993 under the state’s mandatory supervision law and then re-incarcerated until 2002.

At that time the Board of Pardon’s and Paroles listed Meza as a sex offender, a condition that was rescinded in 2005. Meza was not allowed to see the evidence against him or have a hearing before the board. “Meza is no longer required to register as a sex offender,” the court said.

The 5th Circuit noted that in previous cases it has ruled that inmates cannot be designated as a sex offender without a due process hearing.

The 5th Circuit said the state has an interest in rehabilitating sex offenders before they re-enter society, but it said inmates also have a legitimate interest in making certain the record against them is free of errors. But the state at present does not allow inmates to review the record that is used to designate them as sex offenders or to put additional provisions on their parole.

“We conclude that the current procedure provided to parolees who have never been convicted of a sex offense and who face possible sex offender registration and therapy is constitutionally insufficient,” the court said.

“In compiling 6,900 parolee packets, human error will inevitably occur and parolees may be falsely accused of sexually deviant behavior,” the court said. “By simply granting the parolees the right to review his packet, such human errors could be avoided.”

Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said the agency plans to review the ruling next week with the Texas Attorney General’s Office to see what step to take next.

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