In 1996, Eric Letalien pleaded guilty to the gross sexual assault of a thirteen year-old girl, an offense he committed when he was nineteen years old. At the time of his sentencing in August of 1996, Letalien was subject to Maine’s Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act of 1995 (SORNA of 1995). Pursuant to SORNA of 1995, Letalien was required to register his address with the State Bureau of Identification (SBI) and update his address in the event he moved. This registration requirement was to be in effect for fifteen years from the time he was released from incarceration. After five years, however, Letalien would be eligible to petition for a waiver from the Superior Court if he could show that the registration requirement was no longer necessary. In 1999, the Maine Legislature passed a more stringent version of the SORNA law (SORNA of 1999). In 2001, the Legislature once again amended SORNA of 1999 so that it applied retroactively to offenses committed on or after June 30, 1992. As a result of the 2001 amendment, Letalien was subject to the reporting requirements of SORNA of 1999. Under the amended law, instead of being required to register as a sex offender for fifteen years, with the possibility of obtaining a waiver after five years, Letalien was required to register for the rest of his life without the possibility of ever obtaining a waiver. In addition, SORNA of 1999 required him to report in person to his local law enforcement agency every ninety days in order to verify his address and place of employment, to be fingerprinted, and to have his photograph taken. In 2003, the Legislature once again amended SORNA of 1999 to require the SBI to maintain an Internet website posting this information. When Letalien was arrested in 2007 for failure to comply with the SORNA of 1999 registration requirements, he challenged SORNA of 1999, asserting that its retroactive application against him violated the Ex Post Facto Clauses of both the Maine Constitution and the United States Constitution. Letalien argued that the Maine Constitution’s ban on ex post facto laws afforded a greater level of protection than the minimum standard secured by the Federal Constitution, and that the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, should utilize an analysis independent of federal courts’ analyses of ex post facto challenges. The Law Court held that the Ex Post Facto Clauses of the Maine and Federal Constitutions are coextensive, and evaluated the law consistent with the United States Supreme Court’s analysis of ex post facto laws, ultimately concluding that the retroactive application of SORNA of 1999 was a violation of the Ex Post Facto Clauses of both constitutions. Justice Silver concurred in the judgment, and argued that Maine’s Constitution provides a higher level of protection against ex post facto laws than the United States Constitution. His concurrence focused on the location of the Ex Post Facto Clause in the Declaration of Rights article in the Maine Constitution, as compared with the location of the clause in the legislative powers article of the Federal Constitution. Justice Silver argued that the respective placement of the clauses indicated that the Maine Constitution “declares that the right to be free of ex post facto laws as a personal right, and not simply a limitation of legislative power, as it is in the United States Constitution.” This Note will explore the Law Court’s conclusion that the Ex Post Facto provisions of the Maine Constitution and the United States Constitution are coextensive, and thus require the same analysis when determining whether a law violates the respective clauses. Part II will discuss the Law Court’s analysis of the retroactive application of SORNA of 1999 in Letalien, and explore the legal context surrounding ex post facto jurisprudence in general. Part III will examine the Law Court’s history of conducting state constitutional analyses independent of federal courts’ analyses under the United States Constitution. Finally, in Part IV, this Note will discuss whether Letalien required the Law Court to address the question of co-extensiveness with regard to ex post facto challenges, and also whether public policy in Maine demands an independent analysis of laws under the Ex Post Facto Clause of the Maine Constitution. This Note will argue that Maine’s public policy objectives are better served by using a balancing approach to the retroactive application of SORNA, where the court weighs the interests of the individual affected by the law against the State’s interests in promoting public safety.
Maine's Sex Offender Registry and the Ex Post Facto Clause: An Examination of the Law Court's Unwillingness to Use Independent Constitutional Analysis in State v. Letalien,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol63/iss1/12