Monday, March 17, 2008

Laws aim to bolster sex-offender registry

Annapolis (Map, News) - The man who sexually assaulted Shawn Burke when she was a teenager is expected to be released from prison in December.

But because the crime happened nearly 25 years ago in Washington County, the man won’t have to register in the state’s sex offender registry, Burke said.

“What makes this even worse is, due to a legal loophole, he will escape the sex offender registry when he is released from prison,” Burke told a Senate committee Wednesday.

Lawmakers are considering a measure aimed at closing that loophole, forcing those who committed crimes before October 1995 to register.

“We need to go back in time,” said Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Harford County Republican, who is sponsoring the bill.

Jacob’s measure was one of several measures before the committee aimed at improving the sex offender registry.

In 2001, the General Assembly agreed to require offenders who committed a crime before 1995 to register if they were in custody in October 2001, according to Lisae Jordan, director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Sex crimes are often reported and go to trial years after they occurred, and a gap in the law allows offenders to evade registration, she said.

A version of the same bill passed the House last week.

Sen. Brian Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat, is also pushing changes to the registry through a measure that would require certain juvenile sex offenders to register upon turning 21, if it is determined the person will likely commit another offense.

The bill, which Frosh also introduced last year, was prompted by a case with a mother, Michele Hunter, whose young sons were abused by a babysitter.

Because the babysitter was 13 to 15 years old at the time, he will not have register as a sex offender as an adult, Hunter said in written testimony.

The state Office of the Public Defender opposed the measure, saying it treated juveniles the same as adults, and juveniles “rarely re-offend and are highly amenable to treatment.”

The Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault suggested the bill be amended to include a range of options, such as monitoring and counseling.

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