Sunday, September 30, 2007

Maine Court puts needed halt on sex offender hysteria

Internet registries can punish sex offenders but may do little to protect children.

Pillory was the name of a punishment device used in Colonial times. Usually made from two hinged boards with holes cut for the head and hands, this technical upgrade to the stocks was used to expose convicts to public scorn.

In his novel, "The Scarlet Letter," Nathaniel Hawthorne described one of the machines, and said, "There can be no outrage, methinks ... more flagrant than to forbid the culprit to hide his face for shame."

In our times, "pillory" has become a verb meaning "to lay open to ridicule, public shame and abuse." It is a word that could be used to describe what happens to a person whose name and photograph appears on an Internet sex offender registry.

In an important ruling this week, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court opened Maine's sex offender registry law to legal challenge. This opinion should force the public and all levels of government to reconsider the effectiveness of online registries as a weapon against sexual violence.


The unanimous court found that restrictions on where a sex offender can live and work flow from public notification. That makes the registry a form of punishment that should be imposed selectively as part of a criminal sentence, and not applied indiscriminately through civil law.

The Legislature's Criminal Justice Committee will meet next month to review the law in light of the court's opinion. The lawmakers should realize what two of the judges found: Amendments to the Sex Offender Registry and Notification Act made over the last seven years have turned a reasonable law- enforcement tool into a vindictive weapon against one class of criminal.

Lawmakers should especially reconsider their decision to make the mandatory registration retroactive, applying it in some cases to people who have lived quiet, law-abiding lives for years since completing their sentences.

This is not about being nice to sex offenders or ignoring the often-lifelong damage caused by their crimes. It is about justice and public safety.

Maine's online registry, and others like it in almost every state, does little to protect children and others from abuse because it can drive offenders underground, making them harder to track. Most sex crimes against children are committed within households, and a public registry does not provide information that would protect many of those victims. In fact, it could give their parents a false sense of security.

The main purpose of the online registries appears to be punitive. While the criminal justice system imposes punishment, the state should also focus attention on education and other areas that could prevent crime.

Maine passed its notification law in 1995. At that time, it required people convicted of gross sexual assault when the victim was under the age of 16 to register as part of their sentence. By law, the information was given to "certain police agencies and to members of the public who the department determines appropriate to ensure public safety."


Subsequent amendments to the law have been driven by federal programs that tie changes to the registry to access to federal crime-fighting dollars.

In 2001, the law was made retroactive for people sentenced for crimes committed as far back as 1992. Registrants had to report every 90 days to a local police station for fingerprinting.

A 2003 amendment put the information online, including the registrant's address, place of employment and photograph. In 2005, the registry was made retroactive to crimes committed as far back as 1982.

Stephen Marshall, a deranged Nova Scotia man, used the state's Web site to target the two Maine registrants he murdered on Easter Sunday 2006.

Shortly after those killings, a man known in court papers as "John Doe" challenged his order to register.

He had been convicted of unlawful sexual contact with a 12- year-old relative more than 20 years earlier, and had no subsequent sexual offenses. Doe said his wife would leave him to protect her children if his name and address appeared on the registry. He was also afraid he would lose his job and his neighbors would force him to move away.

All of this would be imposed without any evidence other than his conviction that he would pose a threat to another child.

His case was dismissed because a pair of court decisions, one from the U.S. Supreme Court and one from Maine's, appeared to have settled the issue in favor of the registry.

But in its ruling this week, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court said the registration law had been so drastically changed through its amendments, it has become something entirely different. The opinion sends the Doe case back to the Superior Court.


In the meantime, lawmakers should consider what the registry has become over the last 12 years. Rogues' galleries on the Internet perpetuate myths about sex abuse, and do little to protect victims from the real dangers.

If public notification is a form of punishment it should be viewed that way and made part of a sentence.

Lawmakers should also consider if it isn't a type of punishment, like the pillory, that we put aside long ago.

You really don't have to go far beyond the comments on this article to understand that the general populace sees through the pretense that these laws aren't additional punishments -- and supports the pretense. However, it's highly likely that these very same folks will be the ones squealing the loudest when the denial of liberty and privacy to others that they supported gets applied to them. And there are so many agendas out there, it will.

Friday, September 07, 2007

A disaster waiting to happen

Absolutely incredible. Parents abdicating ALL responsibility:

Zina Linnik's neighbors demand change

TACOMA - Dozens of residents in the city's hilltop neighborhood gathered at Peace Lutheran Church on Thursday to demand that all sex offenders be swept out of the community.


"I don't think we have to watch our kids everyday. When I was growing up, they didn't have to watch me everyday, " said Oscar Freeman, a parent. "The police should be up here, doing more patrolling."


There's a clinical word likely to be applied to the Freeman children.

It's "victim."

A win for "ex post facto"

Longtime blog readers know that I am very down on the "ex post facto" element of many of the sex-offender laws being passed, and why not? If the government can encroach on somebody's rights after the crime, well, then that right was never really there to begin with and what was taken away from one for whatever person can be taken from another for another purpose.

If governments can dictate today where some people cannot live, based on a prior conviction, it's really a very small step to dictate where they CAN live. (And you can bet it will always be Not In My Back Yard.) There are many people living today who have seen this happen before -- it's just a matter of against whom the hue & cry is being raised. And if the outsiders are made unpopular enough... well, I see signs that maybe it's not going to go that far in this country.

In any event Ohio, which has lately been on the forefront of "beat up the sex offenders" (who've done their time, and federal judicial stats say a significant number will never re-offend at all, much less with a sex offense), got slapped back a little according to this report.

Don't get me wrong -- two strikes are two too many, and if you've got a prosecutor more ethical than Nifong I'm not going to quibble about what you get for a sentence. But all the exclusion zones, branding, Mr Yuck license plates and all the rest, it's all lazy and sleazy politicians with no concern for their constituency grabbing for the easy issues. And so what if it increases recidivism, causes more crimes? It can't be laid directly to their account.

CLEVELAND (AP) — A federal judge struck down part of a law barring convicted sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, saying offenders can remain in their homes if their crimes were committed before the law went into effect.

In a decision Tuesday, Judge James S. Gwin in Akron ruled that the law cannot be applied to anyone who committed a crime before July 31, 2003, the effective date of the Ohio Legislature's ban.


Douglas Powley, chief city prosecutor in Akron, said Wednesday he hopes lawmakers can craft a law that can withstand a constitutional challenge.

Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh plans to appeal the ruling.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Sex Offenders VS Child Safety

Shirley Lowery

September 3, 2007

The laws enacted to monitor and control sex offenders are extraordinary. I think we can all agree to that. The general public believes these extraordinary laws are justified. The faces of murdered children, killed by sexual predators, are flashed on the TV urging us to "consider the children." And who could resist? Who would want to? Surely it is justified to face the threats to our children.

But what are those threats really? Is there a way to know?

Actually, yes...

- U.S. Department of Justice, National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Throwaway Children.

This report states that in 2002 an estimated 1,325,600 kids went missing. 797,500 were reported as missing.

628,900 of these children were identified as runaway/throwaway kids.

Of the other 528,100 children their parents didn't even bother to file a report.

Yet the we hear the constant scream of "if it saves one child". Oh, there are so many more than that who need to be saved so let’s look at where the danger lies.

Out of 1,315,600 missing kids 115 were snatched in the sense that everybody is worried about. And that includes kids that were snatched for ransom, and kids that were snatched by a disturbed or distraught person who wanted a child of their own, so how many are left that were snatched and killed by the sex offenders that are hiding behind every tree? That's what we're really worried about, right? Actually, the report tells us that number is 40 but let’s be generous and use the entire 115 who were snatched out of the 1.3 million who went missing.

You will find that less than 1/100th of 1% were snatched but the number that people care about and are willing to spend our resources on is much lower. To qualify for an outcry there must be a combination of sex, violence and death.

Page 11 of the report states that "…40 missing children who were stereotypically kidnapped and killed (an estimated 35) or were still missing (approximately 5) at the time of the study." Yes, that is too many. But are we going to ignore all the others to concentrate on less than 1/200th of 1%?

Now, it is a sad fact that there are more children who die each year than just these 40. Many more. How many more and how are they dying?

Center for Disease Control

A quick look at Top Ten deaths in minors in 2002 shows that there were 17,759 kids who died (excluding infant mortality).

Of those:

1296 were shot to death by someone,

145 were stabbed to death,

89 were strangled,

37 were burned alive,

17 were poisoned,

603 shot themselves,

559 hung themselves, and

6132 were killed in traffic accidents.

This tells us that in 2002:

Your child was 1400% more likely to hang themselves than be snatched and killed by a sex offender.

Your child was 1500% more likely to shoot themselves than be snatched and killed by a sex offender

Your child was 3200% more likely to be murdered by firearm by someone besides a sex offender.

Your child was 4000% more likely to be shot, stabbed, strangled, burned alive or poisoned than snatched and killed by a sex offender.

Your child was 15300% more likely to be killed in a car crash than snatched and killed by a sex offender.

We find more information here.

The American Journal of Psychiatry

- Among children under age 5 years in the United States who were murdered in the last quarter of the 20th century, 61% were killed by their own parents: 30% were killed by their mothers, and 31% by their fathers