NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

July 3, 2014

Ruling releases sex offenders

SJC justices say state's lifetime parole law is unconstitutional

SALEM — Dozens of sex offenders have been released from custody in the two weeks since the state’s highest court ruled that the state’s lifetime community parole law violates the state constitution, the county’s chief prosecutor said this week.

And District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said he’s concerned that they’re hitting the street with almost no advance notice.

“It’s a dire safety issue for us to have these people on the street with no notice,” said Blodgett, who believes as many as 40 offenders are being released in Essex County as a result of the ruling.

Also not known is the nature of the violation that resulted in the offender’s return to custody on a parole violation.

The Supreme Judicial Court, in a set of decisions released on June 11, concluded that the statute creating lifetime community parole for sex offenders and certain other crimes violates the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government by giving sentencing authority to an executive branch agency (the Parole Board).

The lifetime community parole statute, in addition to providing for supervision of defendants after they have served their sentence, also set out a series of mandatory sentences for violations, ranging up to a year.

Under the state constitution, the SJC held, only judges have the authority to sentence someone.

The ruling paved the way for as many as 300 offenders jailed on community parole violations to seek immediate release, something predicted by the sole dissenting SJC justice, Robert Cordy.

While staff attorneys with the state public defenders office have been providing copies of motions filed on behalf of offenders in advance of hearings, Blodgett said, others, including some of the defendants themselves, are not, leaving some prosecutors unprepared and scrambling.

Blodgett also acknowledged that in many of the cases, offenders originally charged with a subsequent offense of failing to register as a sex offender, a charge that carries a five-year minimum mandatory sentence, were able to plead to a first offense, because both judges and prosecutors felt assured that they would be under supervision after their release.

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