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Despite win, former teacher still on sex offender registry

A man who the state’s top court said should be removed from the sex offender registry has not yet been taken off the list, according to a motion filed in Washington County Circuit Court.

The Court of Appeals ruled in March that “John Doe,” who pleaded guilty in 2006 to sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl in 1984, could not be placed on the registry because it did not exist when he committed his crime.

The man, however, has not yet been taken off the Maryland Sex Offender Registry, according to the motion for contempt.

The motion filed Monday asked the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and its secretary, Gary D. Maynard, to take Doe off the sex offender registry and hold both in civil contempt.

“I think it’s appalling that the officials from the Department of Public Safety are thumbing their noses at Maryland’s highest court,” said the man’s attorney, Nancy S. Forster, a solo practitioner in Towson.

On March 4, the Court of Appeals issued an opinion holding that “retrospective application of the sex offender registration statute to Petitioner is unconstitutional.”

Three judges of the Court of Appeals held that requiring the man to register would violate the state constitution’s ban on the punishment of criminals under laws that were not in effect when they committed the crimes, or ex post facto laws. Two additional judges held that registration in Doe’s case would also violate the federal constitution.

The case was returned to Washington County Circuit Court, which ordered the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services on April 23 to remove Doe’s information from the registry immediately.

The department filed a motion to amend the order, saying it would not remove the man’s name. Judge John H. McDowell denied the motion and affirmed the order on May 14.

“The state just keeps fighting this at every level,” Forster said. “I think they are wrong, just flat out wrong at this point.”

Both the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and the Office of the Maryland Attorney General declined to comment on the case.

Forster said Doe has struggled to find a job and was forced to take a position below his experience level. She said he and his family have been ostracized by neighbors and threatened.

“It really has made a shambles of his life and his family’s life,” Forster said.

Published reports in an earlier phase of the prosecution identified John Doe as Merle Haines, who once taught for Boonsboro Middle School.

In June 2006, Haines pleaded guilty to one count of child sexual abuse after the former student reported the abuse in 2005. Haines was sentenced to 10 years in jail with all but four and a half years suspended and three years of probation.

He was also ordered to register as a sex offender. He filed a motion later that year saying the court lacked authority to order him to register, which the judge upheld.

Haines was released from prison in 2008.

Partially in response to his case, the General Assembly voted in 2009 to amend the sex offender registry laws to apply to those who committed crimes before Oct. 1, 1995. Laws changed again in 2010, which required Haines to register every three months for the rest of his life as a Tier III sexual offender.

Haines filed a complaint in October 2009, but was denied in circuit court. He appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, which affirmed the lower court’s judgment in an unreported opinion in November 2011. Both lower courts said the retroactive registration was allowed because registering as a sex offender is not a punishment, but a consequence or sanction.

“It’s a fairness issue and it’s a constitutional issue,” Forster said.

In the March 4 decision, Judge Clayton Greene Jr., writing for a three-judge plurality, said the Maryland Constitution’s prohibition on ex post facto punishments applied to the state’s sex offender registry.

Two other judges, Sally D. Adkins and Robert N. McDonald, said the compelled registration of pre-1995 sex offenders also violates the federal constitution’s ex post facto ban. The 2009 and 2010 amendments changed the registration requirement “from [one] of civil regulation to an element of the punishment of offenders,” Adkins and McDonald wrote.

Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr., in a separate concurring opinion, said the sex offender registry was not applicable to the case as it was never mentioned in the defendant’s plea agreement with the state.

Judge Mary Ellen Barbera was the sole dissenter. She would have affirmed the Court of Special Appeals’ decision.