Supreme Court rules sex offender can work as landscaper, hire minor

CONCORD — A sex offender who hired a 16-year-old to work for his landscaping business did not violate a state law that prohibits registered offenders from engaging in work that would likely put them in contact with children, the state Supreme Court has ruled.

Edward Proctor of Deerfield was previously convicted of a sexual assault and, at the time of his arrest in 2016, was listed on the state’s sex offender registry. However, he no longer appears on the list.

State law prohibits registered offenders from “undertak(ing) employment or volunteer service involving the care, instruction or guidance of minor children.” It references positions like teaching, school counseling or coaching as prohibited work.

Proctor argued that “undertaking employment … is universally understood to mean accepting employment, not providing it,” according to court records. The court did not rule on that aspect of the appeal.

But the majority did agree with Proctor’s argument that landscaping, unlike teaching or childcare, does not inherently involve close contact with minors.

“We conclude that the statute does not preclude a person with a qualifying conviction from knowingly undertaking employment as a landscaper because landscaping is not a service that ‘by (its) nature provide(s) access to children,’” Chief Justice Robert Lynn wrote in his majority opinion.

Proctor first hired the 16-year-old in February 2016 to clear the driveway of a neighbor’s house. In May, he hired the boy for other jobs, picking him up at home and driving him to work sites in Deerfield and Newfield.

When the boy’s mother learned that Proctor was a sex offender at the end of May, she ordered her son to stop working for him. Deerfield police arrested Proctor on June 16, 2016, and he was later convicted by a Rockingham County jury.

In his decision, Lynn acknowledged that the state’s interpretation of the law “arguably advances the goal of the statute — to prevent child exploitation and abuse — to a greater extent than our construction.”

But accepting that interpretation would have required the court to ignore the specific language of the law.

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