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Md. man sues over retroactive sex offender registration order

A Maryland man who was required to register as a sex offender for an incident that took place prior to the registration law’s effective date has filed a civil rights suit against the state.

Mark Anthony Harding alleges he was required to retroactively register as sex offender, which a 2013 Court of Appeals opinion struck down as an ex post facto punishment. He was not informed he was being removed from the registry until 2015, after the state was contacted by Harding’s lawyer.

The registration requirement “resulted in a significant intrusion upon the Plaintiff’s rights under the federal and state constitutions,” according to the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore Friday.

Harding was indicted in 1996 on sex offense and child abuse counts for an August 1995 incident, meaning it predated the 1995 registration law. He pleaded guilty to child abuse in 1997, with the prosecutor acknowledging Harding would not have to register as a sex offender.

Harding was incarcerated for several probation violations after the conviction but was released each time with no requirement he register as a sex offender. But in 2005, after serving four years in prison for a drug crime, his case manager required him to register before he would be released.

Harding did so and was told his registration period was for 10 years, which was later increased to 15 years and then eventually to life with registration every three months, according to the complaint.

In August 2015, Harding was informed of his removal from the registry and the suspension of any future requirements due to the Court of Appeals decision in Doe v. Department of Public Safety & Corrections.

Harding is represented by Breon Lamar Johnson of Forster, Johnson & LeCompte in Baltimore. Johnson’s firm represented the plaintiff in Doe and also brought a class-action suit in 2015 over the retroactive increases to the length of times people had to remain on the registry and other restrictions. The Court of Special Appeals ultimately ruled in a separate case that changes to registry requirements are not unconstitutional.

Johnson declined to comment on Harding’s case Wednesday.

Harding alleges in his lawsuit he should not ever have been classified as a child sex offender under the act because his conviction was for child abuse not of a sexual nature. He objected to the registration requirement in 2005 and “each time thereafter” but was directed to register under threat of arrest or incarceration, according to the lawsuit.

The decade he was required to register as a sex offender led to constant supervision by “hostile law enforcement officers,” limitations on where Harding could live and work, difficulty maintaining normal family relationships, and “being subjected to a vast array of state-imposed restrictions that encompass virtually every facet of his life,” the complaint states.

The conduct of the named defendants, including the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and Secretary Stephen T. Moyer, violated Harding’s right to be free from retroactive punishment, according to the lawsuit.

A department spokesman declined to comment Wednesday on the lawsuit.

Harding is seeking damages for violations of his state and federal constitutional rights, including due process and liberty interests, deprivation of his right to privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The case is Mark Anthony Harding v. Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services et al., 1:17-cv-03838.

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