New Hampshire sex offender registry may see new guidelines

New Hampshire lawmakers heard testimony Tuesday on a bill that would set new guidelines for select sex offenders who petition to get off the state’s offender registry because their convictions predated the registry’s creation in 1994.

The bill, SB 468, would prohibit petitioners from being eligible if they commit any felonies or Class A misdemeanors after their convictions, and requires that they complete all imposed parole and sex offender treatment. It would also require courts to notify victims about any petitions and ensure them a chance to weigh in if they choose.

“Until this legislation or some other piece of legislation passes, offenders can be removed without any vetting, without victim notification, without victim input and without public input,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, the bill’s sponsor, told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It’s incumbent upon us as a body to pass this as quick as possible,” he said.

The proposal stems from a state Supreme Court decision last year that allows offenders convicted before 1994 to petition to be removed from the list if they can prove they are no longer a threat to their communities. Lawmakers have yet to outline that process, however, and trial court judges have been directed in the interim to hold special hearings if the county objects to the petition.

“Without an established process for these cases, potentially dangerous sexual offenders are being removed from the registry without any guidelines for doing so, and in some cases, without any notice to the victim, input from the victim, or even a hearing,” said Lyn Schollett, executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, according to the coalition.

Critics argue that the proposal is overly aggressive, imposing requirements that would be essentially impossible to meet. Gilles Bissonnette, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and counsel in the Supreme Court case, said the law would force petitioners to prove that removal from the public registry “will assist the individual in the individual’s rehabilitation.” He also took aim at prohibiting anyone convicted of an offense, even if it has nothing to do with their sexual assault history.

“This is not only needlessly punitive, but is inconsistent with the (court’s) decision, which focused on whether a registrant is likely to commit a registerable offense in the future,” he said in prepared remarks.

He added that the bill “applies only to registrants who were convicted before 1994 and who have fully served all aspects of their conviction without ever reoffending for over 22 years.”

“As any registrant will tell you, the registration regime impedes the re-entry and reintegration of people who have served their debt to society,” Bissonnette said. “This is an important consideration because, contrary to the popular notion that sexual offenders remain at risk of reoffending through their lifespan, the longer offenders remain offense-free in the community, the less likely they are to reoffend sexually.”


Concord Monitor By JEREMY BLACKMAN

Monitor staff  Tuesday, January 26, 2016
(Published in print: Wednesday, January 27, 2016)