Thursday, October 05, 2006

Jessica's Law is revenge says Lunsford

Score one for truthfulness, if not wisdom:

Nov. 7 vote unlikely final word on state sex-offender law
The Press-Enterprise, Inland Southern California, Oct 5, 2006

SACRAMENTO - In the 1 ½ years since the kidnap, rape and slaying of Florida 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, almost 20 states have passed laws in her name toughening penalties on sex offenders.

On Nov. 7, California voters will have their say.

Prop. 83, dubbed Jessica's Law by supporters, proposes the toughest sex-offender rules in the country. It would go well beyond the first Jessica's Law passed by Florida lawmakers in the months after authorities say sex offender John Evander Couey killed Lunsford in March 2005. Couey is scheduled to stand trial in Miami in February. He has pleaded not guilty.

All signs point to the initiative easily being approved. But opponents promise lawsuits challenging some provisions as unconstitutional.

Like laws approved in other states, Prop. 83 would increase penalties, reduce good-time credits and create new categories of sex crimes. Paroles would be lengthened for certain types of criminals, such as habitual sex offenders.

Some of those provisions were part of legislation pushed by Democrats to undercut Prop. 83's momentum. Gov. Schwarzenegger signed that bill, SB 1128, last month.

But Prop. 83 would go much further, imposing broad new rules for the state's estimated 90,000 registered sex offenders, almost 7,500 of whom live in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Felony offenders who served prison time -- the vast majority of those required to register -- would have to wear satellite-tracking devices.

In addition, the law would prohibit all registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or a park where children gather, effectively excluding a Connecticut-sized piece of the state.

At least 40 percent of the Inland area, from Ontario to Palm Springs, would become off-limits. In Riverside, for example, much of the heavily populated Ramona and Magnolia Center neighborhoods would be exclusion zones -- and much of what remained outside lacks housing.

A review of more than 1,600 sex offender registrants in San Bernardino County found that 57 percent of them live within what could become restricted areas if Prop. 83 passes.

An August poll by the nonpartisan Field Institute showed three-quarters of likely voters backed the initiative, with only 11 percent opposed.

Underscoring the initiative's political potency, Schwarzenegger and his Democratic opponent in the election, Treasurer Phil Angelides, have lined up behind Prop. 83. So have the Republican and Democratic candidates for attorney general, as well as both major political parties.

There have been no television commercials or radio ads. The Yes-on-83 campaign has spent little in recent months beyond reimbursing donors who helped qualify the measure for the ballot.

"At this point we're not seeing the need to mount a million-dollar media campaign based on what's happening so far," said state Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster, who helped write the initiative with his wife, Assemblywoman Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster.

Legality Questioned

The November election probably will not be the last word on the initiative.

Opponents promise lawsuits challenging the legality of the residency restrictions.

Critics contend the initiative's exclusion zones would apply not only to future offenders and those still on parole, but also to tens of thousands of registered sex offenders whose convictions were long ago.

Forcing people to move would be an unlawful government taking of private property without compensation, opponents say.

"I think it is almost deceitful for (Prop. 83 supporters) to make the argument that it is not retroactive," said attorney Ted Cassman, a leader of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice. "Had they intended this law only to apply to future convictions, they would have mentioned that."

In 2002, Iowa lawmakers passed residency restrictions for people who committed crimes against children. That law exempted offenders who had lived in their homes since the law took effect.

George Runner and other Prop. 83 supporters say it never was their intent for the initiative to be retroactive. The question might have to be settled in the courts, they acknowledge.

As for challenging any other parts of the law, initiative proponents say that past attempts to overturn major criminal justice laws, such as 1994's three-strikes, haven't succeeded.

Prop. 83 follows years of feuding between Republican lawmakers and Democrat-controlled public safety committees.

Democrats routinely killed GOP sex-offender bills because they said they were too punitive, expensive or unworkable. Republicans accused Democrats of putting public safety at risk.

Initiative Campaign

Last fall, Schwarzenegger, the Runners and other lawmakers announced a new push for a California Jessica's Law.

"It wasn't just a case of looking at Florida. It was more a case of looking at what's taken place in our Legislature," George Runner said.

Democratic leaders called the initiative bad policy that could turn certain parts of the state into dumping grounds for sex offenders. They proposed an alternative, SB 1128.

Among the bill's high-profile supporters was Erin Runnion, the mother of Samantha Runnion, an Orange County girl who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered in 2002 by a Lake Elsinore man.

Jessica's father, Mark Lunsford, has traveled the country to lobby for tougher sex-offender penalties. He supports Prop. 83.

"The idea was to make it very tough and make it very hard on sex offenders," Lunsford said in a recent interview. "It was basically designed to make their lives as miserable as we can because they've made our lives miserable."

Carrying out SB 1128 would cost the state an estimated $200 million a year. The Legislature's non-partisan fiscal analyst estimates that Prop. 83 would cost another $200 million annually.

If Jessica's Law passes, it would be left up to local officials to enforce its provisions. Both San Bernardino and Riverside counties already have created committees to carry out the law.

Some Inland officials have called for passing ordinances to augment Jessica's Law, putting more areas off-limits to sex offenders such as around bus stops and libraries.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department already has started planning its response if Prop. 83 passes, a spokeswoman said.

"The main goal will be to make sure everybody is in compliance," spokesman Arden Wiltshire said.

"It was basically designed to make their lives as miserable as we can because they've made our lives miserable": Sounds like Mark Lunsford, and a whole lot of Californians, want to add new punishments after the punishment supposedly ended.

As this blog has noted before, the end result will be massively higher non-compliance with the registration law, the knowledge by those in non-compliance that they are on the "outs" with society, and thus a greatly increased recidivism rate, not only for sex offenses but for many other offenses (US Dept. of Justice Statistics show that unlike all other offenders, sex offenders who "re-offend" have a significant tendency to commit other kinds of crimes).


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