Monday, December 11, 2006

Sex Offender Mania:

It's always dangerous to proclaim, "This is the dumbest thing you'll read today" ... especially where politicians are involved, and double-especially where John McCain is involved.

Having said that, this is the dumbest thing you'll read today:
New York Democrat Charles E. Schumer and Arizona Republican John McCain, in a press release, said they planned to introduce a bill at the beginning of the 110th Congress in January that would require registered sex offenders to submit their active email addresses to law enforcement.

The legislation would enable social networking sites like MySpace to cross-check new members against a database of registered sex offenders and ensure that predators are unable to sign up for the service.

Under the proposed legislation, any sex offender who submits a fraudulent email could face prison.
And what, pray tell, is a "fraudulent" email? I have three perfectly functioning email accounts just for this blog. Which one would be the "legitimate" email account and which ones would be "fraudulent"?

Let's go back to basics: Two of the fundamental purposes of criminal law are deterrence and rehabilitation. Is a "fiendish" and "recidivist" sexual predator going to be deterred by this law? Of course not. And as for recidivism, wouldn't it make sense to give the truly compulsive sexual predator a zero-risk outlet for their compulsion? Isn't it better for a serial rapist to be obsessed with a porno magazine than an actual victim? Isn't surfing MySpace less dangerous than surfing a classroom or playground? The problem, at its core, is not perverts who surf MySpace, but perverts who use MySpace to hunt for real-time victims. The two groups are not the same. Why criminalize "use of MySpace" instead of "abuse of MySpace"?

Under the planned legislation, registered sex offenders would be required to log an e-mail address with their probation or parole officers," according to McCain's press release. "Any offender caught using an unregistered email address would be in violation of probation or parole terms and face a return to prison."
Just one problem: what if the offender isn't on parole or probation? As 27B Stroke 6 points out, the people least likely to be on probation or parole will actually be the worst offenders -- the ones who were denied probation or parole and had to serve out their entire sentence.

And what about the First Amendment? -- Any law that forbids an otherwise law-abiding person to access the Internet (a form of speech) faces a significant hurdle. If MySpace (private property) wants to kick off child molesters, then that's their business and more power to them. But the government should not brandish its public sledge hammer for what really requires a private scalpel.

We should also remember that "sex offender" and "child molester" are not synonymous. Furthermore, different states define the term "sex offender" differently, meaning that similarly situated people in different states will be treated differently under this federal law. Which is itself a potential constitutional problem.

For now, that is. It appears inevitable that we will have a federal sex offender registry in one form or another at some point. There are just too many eager federal politicians for it not to happen. On the other hand, it also appears inevitable that some of the more torch-and-pitchfork provisions of some registries and red-lining programs are headed for due process challenges in court.

Stay tuned...


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