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Md. Court Rules Sex Offenders Who Committed Crimes Before 1995 Removed From Registry

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) -- A major and controversial court ruling could strike a quarter of all names off Maryland's sex offender registry. It's now just a question of when.

Investigative reporter Mike Hellgren has more on the fallout.

The offenders who sued argued this is a violation of their rights under Maryland's constitution. But it essentially guts the database, which allowed anyone to know whether a sex offender is living next to them. And it's unlikely there will be further appeals at the federal level.

Thousands of sex offenders will be wiped from Maryland's online, searchable registry after the state's highest court took issue with laws the General Assembly enacted in recent years.

They include making those convicted of sex offenses before the database started in 1995 retroactively register and making those who were only supposed to be on the registry for a few years register for life.

The court believes that violates Maryland's constitution--punishing people again for the same crime.

"We just can't trust the registry as the primary line of defense for us," said Lisae Jordan, executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Jordan was on the losing side of that battle, advocating for victims of sex crimes.

"Most sex offenders are not on the registry. What this decision does is it makes it even worse," Jordan said.

It means those convicted before October 1995 must be removed.

There's now a push for a solution. That could include making a registry that's only accessible to law enforcement and not the general public.

Right now, there are around 8,000 names on the registry. The ruling impacts almost 2,000 of them.

"This is a wake-up call. We can't rely on the registry," Jordan said.

Nancy Forster is on the other side, representing two sex offenders who say their constitutional rights were violated.

"They believe it's like being on probation for a lifetime, and it's a shaming," Forster said. "Folks started calling me and sitting across from me and breaking my heart with how it's affecting their lives."

The state must now decide when they're going to start removing the names--themselves.

It is unclear whether that will be automatic or if offenders must request being scrubbed from the list. It could result in more lawsuits.

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