(WJLA) - It’s a registry designed to protect the public – but that shield could soon have a significant crack, with the potential for at least 1,200 sex offenders to disappear from Maryland’s registry.
"It's something people need to be aware of,” says Lisae Jordan with the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
The problem started with changes to state law that retroactively added hundreds of offenders to the registry, extending the time that some would spend listed. A Washington County offender then sued the state – and won. He was pulled off the registry, and now others just like him are fighting back.
"I feel like there's nothing set in stone – they can just change the rules as time goes on,” says one unidentified sex offender.
This Montgomery County man, who asked us not to use his name, was convicted in 2003 in a one-time sex crime involving a minor who turned out to be an undercover cop. He was supposed to spend 10 years on the registry, but the law added five more years.
"It's not okay to retroactively make changes and not understand the impact on individuals,” he says.
He adds that offenders have served their time and accepted their punishment, only to have it change after the fact. About 40 offenders have already starting pleading their cases in court.
But survivors of sexual violence have a far less sympathetic ear.
"I can't get better by manipulating the justice system,” says rape survivor Rachel Perry.
Perry was raped at 17 years old, and she is upset and scared that offenders could come off the registry in bulk. She says the trauma that survivors live through sticks with them longer than any prison sentence or registry.
“The rest of my life I'm a survivor of sexual violence...that's not something that goes away,” she says.
The Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault says that only one in 16 offenders is prosecuted – a reminder that no matter what happens with this case in court, the registry is by no means a safety blanket.
"People feel like if they check the registry, I'll be okay, my kids will be okay. But that's just not true. Most sex offenders are not on the registry,” says Lisae Jordan.
Whether that number grows is in the hands of a judge who has until the end of August to make a decision.