District To Post Sex Case Offenders
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District To Post Sex Case Offenders

Judge Limits List, Citing Privacy Suit

By Bill Miller
Washington Post Staff Writer
The Washington Post
Thursday, March 1, 2001; Page B01

The D.C. police department is on the verge of posting the names of sex offenders on a government Web site and making the information available at police stations throughout the city, following the lead of Virginia and 26 other states, officials said yesterday.

But a federal judge yesterday limited the amount of information the public will get.

Acting on a lawsuit filed by the D.C. Public Defender Service, U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle issued a temporary restraining order barring police from posting the names and photographs of all but the most serious offenders. She said she wanted more time to analyze arguments that a 1999 D.C. law violates privacy rights of those to be named and subjects them to unfair punishment on top of their sentences.

Lisa Bell, a lawyer with the D.C. corporation counsel's office, said officials now must revise the information that was to be posted online. The original list had 263 names, registry officials said, predicting half will be stricken for now. Bell said she was unable to say when the Web site will be launched.

Although much of the information comes from court records and other public sources, Huvelle was concerned that the Web site would disperse it far beyond the community it is meant to protect -- going "worldwide," as she put it.

Police officials have visited neighborhoods throughout the city in recent months to talk about how they plan to carry out the D.C. version of "Megan's Law," which creates a registry of people who were convicted or found not guilty by reason of insanity of sex offenses and certain sex-related crimes. The law is named for a 7-year-old New Jersey girl who was raped and murdered in 1994.

Since the D.C. law's passage in July 1999, police and court officials have compiled the registry. Those on the list were required to provide personal information and have their photographs taken.

The Web site is to provide the person's name and photograph and details such as the person's home and work addresses by block; age; height, weight and other personal characteristics; court case number, and information about the sex offense. Virginia created a similar Web site in December 1998 that has had 1.6 million visitors. Maryland maintains a registry of sex offenders but does not have a public Web site. The public in Maryland can request information through local police departments.

D.C. police also intend to put the information in books available for review at police districts. In cases involving the most serious offenders, police can also post fliers and call or write neighborhood residents and groups.

The D.C. Public Defender Service filed suit on behalf of five "John Does," who contended they would suffer great harm if information about them became publicly available.

At a hearing before Huvelle yesterday, government lawyers maintained the law did not infringe upon privacy rights and served a legitimate community purpose.

Huvelle noted that several federal appellate courts had upheld laws governing other states, but she expressed concern about some provisions of the D.C. law.

The law, for example, groups offenders according to their offenses. One group, known as "Class A," includes people convicted or found not guilty by reason of insanity of violent sex crimes and serious offenses against minors; these people are to remain on the registry for life. The two other classes include people convicted of offenses such as statutory rape, lewd conduct, obscenity and prostitution.

Until she can fully consider all legal issues, Huvelle ordered that the police Web site be limited to the most serious offenses.

Officials said more than 100 offenders are on the Class A list.

Huvelle also said she intended to prevent police from listing people convicted of sex crimes under the city's Youth Rehabilitation Act, which permits some people younger than 22 to have their convictions erased once they complete their sentences.

2001 The Washington Post Company

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