BALTIMORE - The Maryland Court of Appeals on Monday decided that sex offenders whose crimes took place before the registry was created in 1995 should not have to register, and the decision could have widespread implications for hundreds of others on the list.
The case of Sarah Foxwell, an 11-year-old girl found raped and slain on the Eastern Shore in December 2010 sparked outrage and increased efforts to tighten restrictions on Maryland sex offenders.
"It's enabled all of us statewide to have a conversation about the fact that this really is a problem. It really does happen and it can happen anywhere, whether it's on the Eastern Shore or it's right here in Baltimore City," said Adam Rosenberg, the executive director of the Baltimore Child Abuse Center.
Much of the conversation has focused on the sex offender registry, which was placed front and center in the Maryland Court of Appeals on Monday.
In the case presented to the court, a Washington County teacher who went by the name John Doe was convicted in 2006 of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old student in 1983. Doe argued that he should not have to register as a sex offender because the registry didn't exist until 12 years after the crime.
"He's saying when I did what I did, there was not a sex offender registry in place, therefore you can't put me on the sex offender registry for doing what I did," explained Baltimore criminal defense attorney Christopher Wheatcroft, of the firm Alperstein & Diener, P.A.
The Maryland Court of Appeals agreed in a ruling that sets new precedent in the state and has the potential to remove hundreds of sex offenders from the registry.
Wheatcroft called the decision fair but acknowledged that the future will at least partly depend on how the Legislature and the Department of Public Safety react to the ruling.
"Long-term, I don't know how many people will be off the registry, and I don't know what process they're going to have to follow to make that happen if it remains an opportunity for them," Wheatcroft said.
Rosenberg said regardless of what happens, the registry is only one part of the solution.
"It's great to be able to know who is in your neighborhood that has been convicted of being a sex offender, but that doesn't solve the entire problem," he said. "There are many more people who could be committing a sex offense that we don't know of, and that is preventable."
- Preventable how exactly? And what about knowing all the other ex-felons who live in our neighborhood, like murderers, gang members, drug dealers / users, DUI offenders, thieves, etc?
Details written in the judgment show that the court was somewhat divided in determining its ruling. Legal experts said the issue still has a long road and will likely make its way to the Supreme Court.