By Erin Smith
The state’s most dangerous sex predators ran up a $1.2 million taxpayer-funded legal tab last year by quietly using an obscure provision in state law that lets them hire public defenders to go behind closed doors and argue to keep their identities and whereabouts secret, a Herald review found.
Since 2003, when the state ordered the most dangerous, or Level 3, sex offenders be posted on a public website, convicts have flooded the Committee for Public Counsel Services with requests for lower, laxer classification. Since then, the public defenders’ office has had to shell out skyrocketing sums for lawyers to take those cases before the Sex Offenders Registry Board.
Last year alone, the bill to represent indigent convicts cost taxpayers $1,228,065. That’s up a hundredfold from $11,293 in 2002.
“These sex offenders have already been criminally convicted in court. Now we’re handing them taxpayer-funded lawyers so they can attack our laws? It’s ludicrous,” said Laurie Myers, a longtime advocate for tougher laws for the state’s roughly 11,100 sex offenders. “This is an administrative hearing. If you get a traffic ticket, no one gives you a free lawyer.”
- Everybody is entitled to free legal counsel if they cannot afford it, based on the bill of rights! That is part of the Miranda rights.
What’s more, the legal tab could rise even higher under a bill filed recently by state Rep. Brian Mannal. The Barnstable Democrat wants the registry board to contact all sex offenders requesting reclassification or removal from the online registry and inform them of their right to a hearing and a free, taxpayer-funded lawyer if they’re deemed indigent.
The classification system is key to public safety — making the difference between “high-risk” Level 3 offenders who must have their names, mug shots, crimes and addresses posted on the Web; “moderate-risk” Level 2 offenders, whose names are available only upon request from the board or local police departments, and “low-risk” Level 1 sex offenders, whose identities are available only to law enforcement and certain state agencies.
- The public registry (hit-list) should be taken offline and used by police only for all tier levels. It's nothing more than a phone book for vigilantes to use to look up, harass and in some cases murder ex-sex offenders or an innocent person.
Unlike parole hearings for second-degree murderers, critics point out, hearings before the Sex Offender Registry Board are held behind closed doors and without notice, or input, from victims or their families.
The board does not report how many Level 3 offenders successfully got their classification knocked down to Level 2, nor how many Level 2 offenders got reclassified as Level 1. As a result, it’s impossible to determine how many of these sexual predators have gone on to commit new crimes.
- Sex offender does not equal sexual predator!
The Committee for Public Counsel Services said they’re just following the law by representing convicts in their classification appeals.
“The Legislature obviously recognized that this was an important enabling issue. This isn’t something that CPCS has unilaterally decided is a good idea,” said Lisa Hewitt, general counsel at CPCS.
Rep. Mannal, a criminal defense attorney, defended his bill, saying, “I think for the folks that go through this process — while it’s not a criminal proceeding — it will have a lasting impact on their lives. Someone who doesn’t have a legal background could find themselves unmatched in this environment.”
Meanwhile, state Rep. Brad Jones (R-North Reading) has filed a bill to get taxpayers off the hook for paying convicted sex offenders’ legal fees.
“After you’ve been convicted and the taxpayer has paid for your incarceration, now we’re going to have the taxpayer pay to say you’re not at risk of re-offending?” Jones said. “I think that’s an unjustifiable expense and it’s something that’s ballooned exponentially.”
- Herald: State loophole protecting Level 3 sex offenders
- Large legal bill for sex offenders (Video Below)