Supreme Judicial Court (February 14, 2008)
To prove a "knowing" violation of G.L. c. 6, § 178H(a), the Commonwealth must prove that a homeless offender knew the registration information provided was false. Moreover, the Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB) registration form is ambiguous, and it needs to be amended to allow for offenders to clearly identify themselves as homeless.
The defendant, who is homeless, was found guilty of failure to register as a sex offender in violation of G.L. c. 6, § 178H(a). On appeal, the defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction. The SJC heard the appeal on its own initiative and reversed the defendant's conviction.
The defendant, a level 3 sex offender, registered listing the address of the Pine Street Inn as his "permanent address." The Inn has a daily lottery for its beds. The defendant stayed at the Inn sporadically during the 90-day registration period. During this time, the SORB sent mail to the defendant at the Pine Street Inn and it was returned as undeliverable. The SORB concluded that the defendant was in violation and contacted the police, and an arrest warrant was issued.
The SJC concluded that the evidence was insufficient to prove that the defendant "knowingly" provided false information, or that he "knowingly" failed to provide notice of a change in address. While the Commonwealth does not have to prove intent to deceive, it must prove that the defendant knew the information was false. Given that the defendant is homeless, and the Inn provides beds daily using a lottery system, the defendant may have
attempted to stay at the Inn, but had no control over whether he could. There was no evidence that the defendant "knew" he was providing false information, or that he was changing his address.
The SJC found that the SORB's registration form is ambiguous, as it does not designate a place to identify homeless status and list a shelter as a residence. The SJC urged the SORB to amend its form as soon as practicable.