The Sex Offender Classification Process In Massachusetts
The difference between the different levels of registration can mean the difference between getting or keeping a job, losing an apartment, or being publicly identified as a sex offender, to both your community and the world via the Internet.
Under Massachusetts law people convicted of certain sex offenses are required to provide their home and work address to the Sex Offender Registry. Failure to do this is a criminal offense and can result in a conviction which carries a possible sentence to county jail or state prison, along with the possibility of other severe and debilitating restrictions, including community parole supervision for life and the use of GPS monitoring.
This information cannot be disseminated to the public until that sex offender has a classification hearing to determine at what level they will be or waives their right to such a hearing. One has a right to be represented by an attorney at the classification hearing. Your classification is very important and you a have right to contest the states opinion of your level.
Preliminary Classification And The ‘30 Day Letter’ Stage
After an unclassified sex offender registers with the Sex Offender Registry Board, he or she is assigned for classification review. The offender is given thirty (30) days to submit information to the Sex Offender Registry Board regarding their classification, including any sex offender specific treatment history, current lifestyle, employment and living situation, any alcohol or drug treatment, and a host of other information that the individual wishes to have the Board consider in making a pre-classification determination. The Board itself also requests and gathers case information, such as victim impact statements, police reports, court records, probation and parole records, state and national criminal records, and other criminal justice records that identify the details of the individual’s past behaviors and criminal activities.
After these materials have been submitted, a single Sex Offender Registry Board member examines all of the above described materials obtained and considers a number of factors in the decision-making process. These factors are defined in the Sex Offender Registry Law and include a review of the individual’s criminal history, any sex offender treatment, the present home and work situation, any substance or alcohol treatment, parole and probation records, and other information.
These sex offender registry factors serve as a guide in assessing the current dangerousness and risk of reoffense presented by each offender. The Board member then issues a preliminary classification level, recommending that the offender have to register as a Level 1 (low risk), Level 2 (moderate risk), or Level 3 (high risk) offender.
The preliminary classification level is not accessible to victims or the public as it is not yet a final level.
Preliminary Classification Decisions: What To Do Next?
The individual is then notified in writing of the Sex Offender Registry Board’s preliminary classification decision and he or she has twenty (20) days either to:
- 1) Accept the preliminary classification and waive his right to a hearing and an appeal, or
- 2) Request a hearing to challenge the preliminary classification.
By accepting the decision in writing or a failure to respond on time makes a preliminary classification a final classification.
The individual may reject the Board’s recommendation by requesting a de novo hearing, which provides the individual with a new opportunity to make a case for a lower classification level. The matter then proceeds to a second stage in the classification process wherein the Sex Offender Registry Board provides the petitioner with an individualized hearing, at which all relevant evidence is evaluated anew by a different Hearing Examiner.
In requesting the hearing and rejecting the Sex Offender Registry Board’s initial recommendation, and to ensure that the sex offender is provided an additional opportunity to present any relevant evidence bearing on his obligation to register and classification level, the Hearing Examiner is not bound by the Board’s initial classification recommendation. The Hearing Examiner, instead, will base his or her decision on the totality of all the relevant evidence introduced at the offender’s individualized hearing pursuant to the standards in the Board’s regulations.
Sex Offender Registry Board Classification Hearings
When an individual requests a classification hearing, the petitioner and his counsel are provided with a copy of all of the materials reviewed as part of the offender’s preliminary classification; this packet of information includes impact statements provided by complainants, police reports, prison and parole records, and any other documents the Sex Offender Registry Board has gathered. Your attorney should also be working to gather as much positive information on your behalf, including character statements from friends and family, sex offender treatment or medical reports, work histories, and other beneficial information that can be submitted to the Board in an effort to secure your reduced classification level. These materials may include securing character witnesses or working with an expert to give an experienced opinion of your offense history and risk of recidivism.
After these materials have been submitted, the classification hearing is conducted by a single hearing examiner, who may also be a Board member. The hearing examiner reviews all of the materials submitted, considers any witness testimony, and applies the Sex Offender Registry Board’s classification factors. Unlike trials, the Sex Offender Registry Board hearing is not open to the public, including victims, and is conducted by rules that are not as stringent as those of a criminal proceeding.
Final Classification Decisions
After the classification hearing, the hearing examiner will issue a written decision determining the individual’s: (1) duty to register as a sex offender, and (2) the current risk level he or she poses to the public. The Sex Offender Registry Board notifies the individual in writing of his final classification level. The offender then must register with the Board as a Level 1 (low risk) or with the police as a Level 2 (moderate risk) or Level 3 (high risk). The offender has the right to appeal the final classification level within thirty (30) days in superior court. The offender may also seek a court order to prevent the dissemination of his or her information to the public pending the appeal.