BOSTON - The state's highest court on Wednesday overturned the classification of a former escort service manager as a low-level sex offender, finding that the state's Sex Offender Registry Board should have considered research showing women are less likely than men to commit new sex offenses (Ruling).
The woman, who wasn't identified in the court's ruling, pleaded guilty in 2006 to federal charges stemming from her management of an escort service from 2000 to 2002, including one count of transporting a minor to engage in prostitution and one count of sex trafficking of children. She served 17 months in prison while awaiting trial before pleading guilty.
In 2008, the woman requested funds to hire an expert witness, arguing that the board's guidelines didn't encompass scientific research on female sex offenders. Her request was rejected by the board.
A hearing officer eventually found that she should be classified as a level one sex offender, the lowest level of offender, considered the least likely to reoffend and the least dangerous.
She appealed that decision, but a Superior Court judge upheld the board's ruling. The Supreme Judicial Court granted the woman's request for direct review.
In its ruling Wednesday, the SJC agreed with the woman that the hearing examiner abused his discretion by denying her request for funds for an expert witness who could testify on the subject of how infrequently female sex offenders commit new crimes when compared with men.
"We conclude that it was arbitrary and capricious for (the board) to classify Doe's risk of re-offense and degree of dangerousness without considering the substantial evidence presented at the hearing concerning the effect of gender on recidivism," Justice Barbara Lenk wrote for the court.
The court sent the case back to the board.
Catherine Hinton, the woman's lawyer, said the ruling means the board can now either grant the woman's request for expert witness funds and a new hearing or relieve her of the requirement to register as a sex offender.
"Our position is that she should not have to register as a sex offender at all," Hinton said.
"She was arrested nearly three years after she had voluntarily ceased the criminal conduct at issue. She had already addressed her substance abuse problems and had already left the prostitution business," she said.
In a statement, the board said it will comply with the court's order.
The court also said the board is required to ensure that its guidelines are based on "the available literature."
"We do not purport to suggest a frequency with which the guidelines must be updated, but caution that guidelines that fail to heed growing scientific consensus in an area may undercut the individualized nature of the hearing to which a sex offender is entitled, an important due process right," Lenk wrote.