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New legislation touted as strengthening Nevada's sex-offender laws by preventing the most dangerous offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools, parks and bus stops, will only affect a small portion of the 175 Tier 3 offenders in the state.
According to a news release from Gov. Jim Gibbons, Senate Bill 471 was an attempt to close loopholes in current sex-offender legislation and to tighten the reins on high-level sex offenders.
But a closer look at the law reveals in its wording that the monitoring and restrictions on where offenders can live will only affect the 23 offenders being supervised by the Nevada Division of Parole and Probation. According to numbers from the Central Repository for Nevada Records of Criminal History, 40 others, deemed by the state as most likely to reoffend, are incarcerated, leaving 112 with no additional supervision or restrictions.
The law creates, what Gibbons said in a press release were, "safety zones prohibiting Tier 3 offenders from living near or being in places that are frequently visited by children," such as schools, bus stops, day care centers, video arcades, movies theaters and athletic fields.
The distance requirements were originally in another bill pushed by Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas.
However, according to the final draft of the legislation, only sex offenders on parole, probation, lifetime supervision or a suspended sentence are prevented from living within 1,000 feet of places frequented by children. Parole and probation officers will now have the discretion to order a supervised Tier 3 offender to wear a global positioning anklet that can monitor their whereabouts at all times.
"We really looked at the bill, and in reality what we are looking at are people under our supervision," said Mark Woods, Division of Parole and Probation.
Woods said parole and probation officers would enforce a distance requirement on their own despite there being no law against where supervised offenders could live.
Titus could not be reached Friday, but last week left a voicemail message in which she said, "That is not accurate. (This bill) was drafted so that any Tier 3 sex offender is prohibited from living or loitering within those distances. We picked Tier 3 because that's the most serious. It's not just those under current supervision, or surveillance. It's all of them. That's the way it was intended, and that's the way I understand it to be interpreted."
But there's little room to interpret the bill any other way than that it only affects offenders on state supervision, said Risa Lang, chief deputy Legislative Counsel.
"When I look at it, it looks like you need to have the three things for this restriction to apply - it says you have to be a Tier 3 offender and either under probation, suspended sentence, parole or lifetime supervision and have committed an offense against a child under the age of 14," Lang said.
Other parts of the new law do not have such conditions specifying to whom they apply. For example, all incarcerated sex offenders are now required to register prior to their release from prison, as opposed to registering within 48 hours of their release.
The law makes it mandatory that those convicted of sex offenses out of state must surrender their DNA as a condition of living in Nevada, and it increases the minimum sentence for certain sexual offenses committed against children.
Sunday, July 8, 2007
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It wasn't hard for state prosecutors to discover nearly 150 convicted New Jersey sex offenders were using MySpace. Putting them behind bars, however, won't be easy.
Although investigators are eager to know if these offenders used the social networking Web site to lure children, arresting and convicting online predators is a complex and often frustrating business.
The anonymity of the Internet helps predators mask their identities. Wireless networks and worldwide computer servers make tracing them equally challenging. So do jurisdictional issues – investigators in one state may not have the legal authority to follow the electronic trail elsewhere. And it's hard to collect evidence.
Theresa Curreri of Wayne learned all of that firsthand. When her son received a creepy, unsolicited e-mail on his MySpace page, she became suspicious.
"This was supposed to be from a woman in her mid-20s – he was 12 or 13 at the time," Curreri recalled.
She turned the e-mail over to a police officer, who informed her that the message stopped short of breaking the law. The most the officer could do, she said, was counsel her son to be wary of online messages from strangers.
"It's absolutely frustrating and it's kind of discouraging as a parent," said Curreri, a former Wayne school board president.
The state Attorney General's Office recently launched a wide-ranging probe into sex offenders who use social networking Web sites. And last week, it said it had discovered 141 of New Jersey's registered sex offenders using MySpace.
But the state will need to do more than just prove a convicted sex offender was using a social networking Web site to win a conviction. Prosecutors first will need to convince a judge they have specific information or "probable cause" that an offender committed a crime online.
If successful, a judge may issue a search warrant, which would permit investigators to seize records of a suspected predator's past online conversations, said Scott S. Christie, a former federal prosecutor and computer crime expert in Newark.
"The normal route in order to get content information from an Internet service provider is to use a search warrant," Christie said. Showing that a crime occurred before examining online chats "can be a difficult burden to meet," he said.
Scrutinizing these old chat sessions might reveal whether an offender propositioned a minor online for sex or tried to arrange an rendezvous – activities which may constitute crimes.
The attorney general's office now only has basic information about subscribers, such as the names used to create the accounts and the electronic address of their providers. State prosecutors say they are pursuing the case, but declined to discuss its challenges.
"We want to know what these sex offenders were doing on the Internet and whether they've engaged in activities that are criminal or violates the terms of the parole or probation," said Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for the attorney general's office. "It would not be appropriate, however, to discuss our specific tactics."
One avenue appears fairly easy. Of the 141 convicted sex offenders using MySpace, 43 are on parole, officials said. Getting records of their Internet chats would pose less of a challenge.
"Parolees give up some of their [constitutional] rights ... and are subject to searches of their residences," Christie said.
One parole condition often imposed on sex offenders is a ban on communicating with minors. If they violate this ban, they violate their parole and can be sent back to prison.
Since the majority of the convicted offenders are no longer on parole, however, investigators will have a tougher time of finding out how they used the Web site.
First, they have to determine the true identity of the person holding the MySpace account. People can use aliases to create online accounts and pay for them with stolen credit card numbers or other payment services that make it difficult to track someone through financial transactions.
And once authorities have the name, tracing communications back to the person who actually wrote them is also complex, experts say. Often, more than one person shares a home computer. Internet access lines may be shared, too.
"Even after ... a thorough analysis of all the information is conducted, there is rarely enough probable cause established to request a search warrant on the customers' residence," Raul O. Roldan, chief of the FBI's cyber division, testified to Congress last year.
Then there are jurisdictional hurdles to be cleared. If an online predator lives in New Jersey, but the computer server used by his Internet service provider is in Texas, investigators need their out-of-state counterparts to get a warrant through those out-of-state courts, experts say.
Given all these impediments, experts say, investigators often prefer to pose as juveniles, enter into Internet chats with online predators and catch them in the act of soliciting sex from a minor.
One in seven young people using the Internet were the recipients of unwanted sexual solicitations or approaches, according to a study released last year by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Richard Kuder, principal of Eisenhower Middle School in Wyckoff, said it's very difficult for parents to keep track of their children on social networking sites.
"No matter how vigilant you are, our kids are often one step ahead," Kuder said.
He said the best way for parents to keep their children safe online is to apply these rules: Don't talk to strangers and don't give personal information to people you don't know.
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'Romeo and Juliet defense' may apply to couples
For years in Indiana, the age at which a person could legally consent to have sex was 16.
But lawyers for young defendants accused of having sex with 14- and 15-year-olds now can pose a defense against charges of sexual misconduct with a minor.
Public Law 216, which went into effect July 1, contains a long list of criminal law changes related to sexual and violent offenses and the Indiana Sex Offender Registry, which has been renamed the Sex and Violent Offender Registry.
Among those changes, the law creates a legal defense, nicknamed the "Romeo and Juliet defense," against charges of sexual misconduct with a minor.
"The change in the law decriminalizes consensual sex among teenagers in a dating relationship if they are within four years age difference," said Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council.
Stephen J. Johnson, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, which supported and helped write the new defense, said the change doesn't really lower the age of consent.
It modifies a 1994 law that made sexual misconduct with a minor a separate offense from child molesting as a way of dealing with teenage sexuality, Johnson said.
"We did not view the new defense as a radical change in the law; rather it created what we believed was a relatively narrow defense for certain sexual acts among young people over the age which would qualify for child molestation," Johnson said.
"It did not change the elements of the crime of sexual misconduct with a minor."
Deputy prosecutor Laura Zeman, who prosecutes most of the sexual misconduct cases in Tippecanoe County, said the law change means she'll be less focused on the defendant's knowledge of the victim's age in some cases.
In the past, charges were not filed if the state could not prove the accused was aware of the alleged victim's age. Now, Zeman suspects, more defendants will focus on the new defense.
"I would not have lobbied for it one way or the other. That's up to the legislators," Zeman said. "Whatever laws they pass, we are obligated to enforce."
When asserting the defense, Johnson said, the accused carries the burden of proving all elements of the defense.
The defense can be asserted if the party accused of having sexual contact with a 14- or 15-year-old is under 21, is no more than four years older than the alleged victim and was involved in a dating relationship with the alleged victim at the time.
Sex with a person under 14 is still child molesting, regardless of the age of the perpetrator.
The new law could protect an 18-year-old from adult felony charges if he has sex with a 15-year-old girlfriend, for instance.
The defense cannot be asserted if the accused:
- Is 21 or older.
- Uses force, a weapon or drugs, or causes serious bodily injury during the act.
- Has a position of authority or substantial influence over the victim.
- Has committed another sex offense against any other person.
"Initially, it was a narrow list of offenses" that prompted the sex offender registry requirement, Landis said. "It had to be rape, criminal deviate conduct -- some forcible sex act."
Year after year, more offenses were added to the list of convictions requiring registration.
As a result, some sexually active teenagers in consensual, dating relationships wound up with criminal convictions that required lifetime sex offender registration.
"It's debilitating," Landis said. "It affects their ability to get into school, student loans, jobs."
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This is a major slap on the wrist. The average citizen would be in jail/prison now and have to register as a sex offender.
A Union County corrections officer who admitted he had sexual contact with an inmate was sentenced today to two years probation and 30 hours of community service.
Sean Higgins, 32, of Union, turned in his badge and was told he could never again hold public employment in New Jersey.
Higgins made no comment in court and left the Elizabeth courthouse with his wife and parents.
"They just want to start their lives over," said Higgins' attorney Robert Norton. "He wants to start fresh in another state."
- Yeah, tell that to all the other people who are in jail/prison or out and are trying to get on with their lives but cannot due to these draconian sex offender laws. This man should be forced to register as a sex offender for life just like everyone else.
Norton said Superior Court Judge John Triarsi may waive Higgins' probation altogether if his client quickly meets his community service requirement.
- What? Why? Oh yeah, he's a officer.
And in about five years, Higgins could wind up with a clean record if he seeks to get his criminal record expunged.
- No way! Other people convicted of the same or similar cannot get their records expunged and must be on the registry for life. This is BS!
Higgins had worked for four years at the Union County Jail when inmates told investigators that their guard routinely made sexual overtures toward them in 2004. Higgins was suspended from his $50,974 job in October 2004 and charged in a 39-count indictment.
By the time the case came to trial in January, half the charges had been dismissed. The jury considered 17 counts, and heard from 14 inmates who described Higgins as a sexual fanatic who groped them in their cells and asked for oral sex and threesomes.
- So this is 14 victims who are not getting justice!
The jury acquitted Higgins of eight sexual contact and misconduct charges but could not decide on nine others.
- Sh*t, why don't you just dismiss everything and let him get on with his life. WTF?
Facing a retrial, Higgins pleaded guilty in April to a single charge of sexual contact involving a now 20-year-old inmate.
Higgins admitted that he entered her cell as she was hanging laundry, grabbed her from behind, covered her mouth with his hand and rubbed his private parts against her.
"... Sean Higgins betrayed his profession and betrayed her," said Assistant Union County Prosecutor Ann Rubin.
- And you are betraying 14 other victims!!!
Now Higgins will have a record, Rubin said, and "be known as a man who forced himself sexually on a girl it was his job to protect."
- Not in five years when he petitions the court to get it expunged, which we know he'll get done, when the average citizen is denied!
Triarsi dismissed the remaining charges and told Higgins, who is unemployed, that he must find a job in 30 days.
- Who the h*ll are you to tell someone they MUST get a job? He does not have to and can sit in his house without working if he so chooses. There is no law that says you MUST have a job!
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Westerly Police Officer Don M. Thompson Jr. pleaded no contest yesterday to two misdemeanor counts of simple assault for fondling a 17-year-old hostess last summer outside a bar in Misquamicut.
Thompson, 39, was sentenced to one year of probation and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and avoid contact with the woman, according to Michael J. Healey, a spokesman for the state attorney general.
A half-hour before appearing in court, he submitted a hand-written letter of resignation to Police Chief Edward A. Mello, ending his six-year tenure in the department. Thompson’s lawyer said the resignation was part of the agreement.
Thompson had faced two felony counts of second-degree sexual assault. If convicted, he could have been sentenced to a maximum of 15 years in prison on each count.
“Everyone kind of gave a little,” Thompson’s lawyer, John D. Lynch Jr., said yesterday. “It was fair to everybody.”
- Fair except to those other people who are in jail/prison for similar charges and will be faced with the sex offender registry for life. Why is this person any different?
In February, a 12-member jury deadlocked after two days of deliberations.
During the four-day trial, Thompson had denied assaulting the hostess. He was scheduled to be retried Tuesday.
Thompson was arrested June 15, 2006, after he followed the teenage hostess to her car outside the Atlantic Avenue restaurant and allegedly sexually assaulted her and exposed himself, according to the state police.
Thompson, of Groton, Conn., had been attending a benefit for public-safety officers at the Paddy’s Beach bar, and the two had apparently chatted throughout the night.
The hostess called the police, and officers found Thompson at Paddy’s.
The police say he then sped away from the bar, despite commands to stop, and was later arrested at the Venice restaurant and taken to the Westerly Police Department.
In addition to sexual assault, the police charged Thompson with disorderly conduct, reckless driving, and operating a vehicle with a suspended license.
The traffic violations were dismissed Feb. 20, according to court records. Superior Court Judge Stephen P. Nugent dismissed the disorderly conduct charge three days later.
- Why? Any non-cop would have not had these charges dropped. It was dropped because he's a cop and part of the Good Ole' Boys network.
After the arrest, Thompson was suspended without pay. He remained free on bail.
During the trial, Thompson argued that his interactions with the hostess had been consensual, and that she had initiated some of the physical contact. Before they parted, he testified, the girl asked him to call her the following day.
Defense witnesses said the girl had “appeared affectionate” toward Thompson, hugged him at one point and invited him to her car.
The hostess acknowledged speaking to Thompson, but she denied consenting to intimate contact.
“Even if my own boyfriend came in, I wouldn’t hug him because it’s not professional,” she testified.
The jury of seven men and five women could not reach a unanimous verdict — a result Thompson’s lawyer called “a win.”
But yesterday, Lynch acknowledged the possibility of a conviction in the second trial.
His motion to move the trial to another county had been rejected by Judge Nugent, and Lynch said Thompson faced a potentially severe sentence if found guilty, including being listed as a registered sex offender.
Healey said the plea agreement allowed the girl to avoid testifying a second time.
“It’s really hard on victims,” he said. “We would not have gone forward with this unless we had the endorsement of everyone.”
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Shawn Shelton is sentenced to 35 years to life in an assault on a teenaged boy in Las Vegas. He is also under suspicion in a Louisiana death.
A former Manhattan Beach police sergeant who was once the fastest-rising officer in his department was sentenced Tuesday to 35 years to life in prison for kidnapping and sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy in Las Vegas.
Shawn Michael Shelton, 40, is also under suspicion in Louisiana in the death of a 19-year-old man.
"The fact he had good family and friends and commendations - he had no business going bad," said Clark County Deputy District Attorney Mary Kay Holthus, who prosecuted the Las Vegas case. "He made promises to protect these kids. He goes from protector to predator, and no one knows why."
Shelton did not address Judge Michelle Leavitt during his sentencing hearing in Clark County District Court.
He did, however, mouth an obscenity as a prosecutor spoke during the proceeding, court information officer Michael Sommermeyer said.
"He started glowering, and he was shaking his head," Sommermeyer said. "He was pretty defiant all the way throughout."
Jurors convicted Shelton in April of first-degree kidnapping, sexual assault with a minor under 16 years old, battery with intent to commit sexual assault with a minor under 16 years old, and use of a minor in pornography.
Police arrested Shelton on May 26, 2006, five days after the crime.
Driving a black Hummer, Shelton pulled up to the boy at a bus bench, displayed a police badge and said he was investigating a homicide. He handcuffed the boy, drove him into the desert, and forced him to perform oral sex in the back seat.
Although Shelton was an experienced investigator, he left behind DNA evidence that resulted in his conviction.
During the sentencing proceeding, the now 15-year-old victim addressed the judge, describing how he no longer trusts anyone, including police officers. He said he shies away when he sees anyone of authority, Sommermeyer said.
"I go out and skate. I can't skate normally because I am worried that he might do something," the boy told the court. "I can't be like a normal kid."
In an effort to reduce Shelton's sentence, defense attorney Carmine Colucci suggested that Shelton's decade in law enforcement showed him to be a good man.
But prosecutors argued that his police background made his crime worse, especially because he used a badge to lure the teenager into his car.
"He's more dangerous because of his history," Holthus said in an interview.
During the hearing, prosecutors displayed graphic images found in Shelton's camera of young men, including one who appeared unconscious and another blindfolded, indicating that the assault on the boy was not likely an isolated case.
The judge's sentence - the maximum allowed - might be the prelude to more court proceedings. Among those in attendance were Lynn and Lisa James, whose son Justin was found dead in Natchitoches, La., in October 2005.
Grand juries in Natchitoches Parish reportedly have convened to take evidence in that case. Justin James died after he was found unconscious in Shelton's apartment. Coroner's officials ruled his death a homicide, saying he died of an overdose of cocaine, Xanax and morphine - drugs James never used.
James had gone to an apartment complex to hang out with friends.
The friends lived upstairs from Shelton, who was hired to work on a movie shoot in Natchitoches.
Shelton invited James downstairs to look at his Hummer, and was the last person with James before his death.
Police and prosecutors are building a case on Shelton.
"Shawn is the one!" Mrs. James told the Daily Breeze. "He killed my son!"
Shelton, who is gay, resigned from the Manhattan Beach police force in 2003 after he made allegations that former Chief Ernest Klevesahl and other officers tormented him with anti-gay slurs and remarks.
Department officials denied the allegations. Besides the conflict with his department, Shelton later was arrested in Long Beach on prescription drug forgery and for trespassing on a Moorpark ranch with an 18-year-old man who was under the influence.