In Koe v. Commissioner of Probation, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that G.L. c.276, §100A(6), which prohibits a former level two sex offender from sealing a criminal record, violates state rights to due process and is therefore unconstitutional as applied under the circumstances present in this case.
The background was as follows. “In 1995, … Koe was found guilty by a Superior Court jury of one count of rape and abuse of a child … and one count of indecent assault and battery on a child under age fourteen…. The offenses occurred in 1990, when Koe was twenty-two years old…. As a result of her convictions, SORB recommended, and Koe accepted, a classification as a level two sex offender…. Her obligation to register as such commenced in 2003. In 2013, Koe petitioned a SORB hearing panel for reclassification and relief from the obligation to register. The panel heard evidence (1) that “Koe accepted responsibility for her sex offenses”; (2) that Koe had received sex offender therapy and completed a relapse prevention plan; (3) that she was assessed by a psychologist as having “‘no deviant interests in children of any age’”; and (4) that, according to research on the subject, there is “an ‘extremely low’ reoffense rate among female sex offenders.” “[T]he hearing panel concluded that Koe ‘present[ed] no cognizable risk to reoffend and no cognizable degree of dangerousness.’” Nonetheless, “the panel determined that, because Koe had been convicted of a ‘sexually violent offense,’ G.L. c.6, §178C, she was not eligible, as a matter of law, for relief from the obligation to register, see G.L. c.6, §178K(2)(d). Accordingly, it ordered her to register as a level one sex offender.” Koe appealed to the Superior Court pursuant to G.L. c.30A and a judge “grant[ed] Koe permanent relief” from the registration requirement, on the basis of the SORB hearing panel’s “conclusions regarding Koe’s lack of dangerousness…. “
Koe then filed a petition with the Commissioner of Probation to seal her criminal record, pursuant to G.L. c.276, §100A, and related provisions. Section 100A contains a particular subsection that governs the sealing of sex offenses. It provides: ‘Sex offenses, as defined in [G.L. c.6, §178C], shall not be eligible for sealing for [fifteen] years following their disposition …; provided, however, that any sex offender who has at any time been classified as a level [two] or level [three] sex offender, pursuant to [G.L. c.6, §178K], shall not be eligible for sealing of sex offenses’ (emphases added). G.L. c.276, §100A(6).” In light of the statutory language “prohibit[ing] the sealing of sex offenses by someone who has ever been classified as a level two or level three sex offender,” “the [Commissioner of Probation] responded that Koe was ineligible to seal her sex offenses because she was once classified as a level two sex offender…. Koe challenged the commissioner’s response … by way of a complaint in the county court seeking declaratory, injunctive, and extraordinary relief. Without decision, the single justice reserved and reported the case to the full [SJC].” Continue reading →