Sunday, August 17, 2008

TX - Brian Ross Investigates To Catch A Predator in Murphy Texas

Article related to the first video


Adam Walsh Act / Sex Offender Registry


Lawsuits Against Bloggers Seen Rising

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07/20/2008

When Christopher Grotke answered a late-night knock on the door, he did not expect to find the deputy sheriff on his doorstep serving notice that he was being sued. Nor was he prepared for the charge: libel.

Someone had posted a comment on his citizen-journalism Web site, iBrattleboro.com, stating that a woman in Brattleboro, Vt., was having an extramarital affair. The accused woman then sued Grotke and his Web site co-founder for failing to edit or delete the comment.

The blogging community increasingly is subject to lawsuits and threats of legal action running the gamut from subpoenas to cease-and-desist notices.

Since blogging became popular in about 2004, there have been 159 civil and criminal court actions involving bloggers, according to the nonprofit Media Law Resource Center (MLRC) in New York. Seven cases have resulted in verdicts against bloggers, with cumulative penalties totaling $18.5 million. Many more legal actions never result in trial.

The result? A stifling of free speech in a medium providing more comprehensive and diverse opportunities for commentary than ever before, digital-rights activists, media lawyers, and bloggers say.

"There is a chilling effect of a cease-and-desist letter or a legal threat that claims an aspect of a blogger's work could lead to liability, even when those claims are not well grounded," says Kurt Opsahl, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit in San Francisco that defends digital rights.

Bloggers faced with legal threats often deem it easier to remove potentially offensive content rather than undertake the difficulty and expense of defending themselves, he adds.

Abroad, More Than 60 Bloggers Arrested

Bloggers face much bigger threats overseas, particularly if they criticize governments or point to human rights abuses.

Since 2003, 64 bloggers have been arrested around the world -- with Egypt, China, and Iran initiating more than half of those arrests, according to the World Information Access Report, published last month by the University of Washington. By contrast, the United States has arrested two in that period.

Still, online commentators face risks in the United States.

"In the developed world, bloggers can be punished through lawsuits," writes Philip Howard, a communications professor at the University of Washington, in an e-mail.

The number of lawsuits is growing, says Robert Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association (MBA), a U.S.-based group devoted to protecting citizen journalists.

"As blogging expands and more people are aware of it," he says, "the lawyers are not far behind."

No one is suggesting that bloggers should have free rein to publish whatever they want.

"If you're slandering, you can be sued whether you have a blog or not," says Cox, a blogger himself. "You're not immune to defamation charges ... just because you're a citizen speaking your mind."

Who Should Educate the Bloggers?

There is no consensus, however, on how best to make bloggers aware of their legal responsibilities.

Many lawyers expect bloggers to figure it out themselves.

"If you're going to be responsible enough to manage a site where people post such things, you should be able to detect when things are defamatory and take them down," says Margot Stone, the lawyer for the woman who sued Grotke. "The problem is that technology is outpacing the ethical responsibilities. People haven't thought through the ethics of all this."

Online communities as well as media activists and lawyers are pushing to ensure that bloggers are aware of their legal rights and responsibilities.

The EFF and the Citizen Media Law Project (CMLP) -- an affiliate of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School -- offer detailed legal guides for bloggers. Both organizations also help bloggers find legal counsel.

In addition, the CMLP maintains a database of all legal action directed against bloggers.

"That way bloggers know they're not alone," explains David Ardia, director of the CMLP.

Other citizen-media groups say more proactive support is needed.

Since 2006, the MBA has been working with Media Pro Insurance to create the MBA Media Liability Insurance program.

"We're coming up with a product that covers defamation, copyright, privacy violations -- the same protections as newspapers -- for bloggers," says the group's Cox.

MBA members will receive a hefty discount on the insurance package, due to be launched at the end of this month. The cheapest coverage for a solo blogger will be $540 a year.

But some bloggers resist the idea.

"I don't have the money for that kind of thing," says Kathleen Seidel, a New Hampshire-based blogger who was subpoenaed this spring in connection with another lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers that she had written about on her blog.

Having written several posts about litigation and completed two legal courses at the local community college, Seidel was able to deflect legal threats against her blog and successfully composed a motion to quash the subpoena.

Grotke, too, was able to convince a Vermont court to dismiss libel charges.

Many bloggers, however, aren't so fortunate, which is why the online community is searching for ways to protect them.

"The effect of intimidation is a real one," Seidel says.


TN - Claiborne sheriff placed on diversion, settles teen rape charges

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08/13/2008

SNEEDVILLE - Claiborne County Sheriff David Ray was placed on a two-year pre-trial diversion program today and ordered to perform 250 hours of community service.

Those were the terms of a settlement of sexual assault and statutory rape charges that prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to and were approved today by Judge John F. Dugger Jr. in Hancock County Criminal Court.

Two charges of sexual assault were nolle prossed, with the understanding that they can be refiled at any time before the statute of limitations expires.

One count of statutory rape and one count of statutory rape by an authority figure are technically still pending but will be dismissed if Ray successfully completes the pre-trial diversion program, which is essentially a form of probation.

The memorandum of understanding regarding the settlement includes the following language: "David Ray does not dispute the fact that (name deleted) accompanied him and her grandfather while deer hunting in November 2005 and November 2006, but he denies having any sexual contact with her on either hunting trip. It is understood that the accuser in these cases is not withdrawing her allegations."

Dugger ordered the community service to be performed in Hamblen County.

The judge also left in place a gag order in the case. Ray, his attorneys and prosecutors left the courtroom without comment.

The case settlement was reached shortly after Ray's attorneys had filed a motion seeking to introduce evidence that teenage girl who is the alleged victim has a history of using false claims of sexual relations to extort money.

But the case file shows the lawyers had also raised questions about the reliability of DNA evidence purporting to show that semen stains on the girl's coat contained Ray's DNA.

Ray is accused of raping the girl on a deer-hunting trip in Hancock County in 2006, when she was 17, and on an earlier occasion in 2005, when she was 15. She is now 19.

Ray was charged with two counts of sexual assault, one count of statutory rape and one count of statutory rape by an authority figure.

If Ray successfully completes the pre-trial diversion program, the remaining charges will be dismissed, and he could then apply for them to be expunged.

A civil lawsuit against Ray and Claiborne County, filed by the girl's family in U.S. District Court, is still pending. The civil lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages but does not specify an amount.

The girl is from Campbell County. The alleged crimes are said to have occurred in Hancock County on property of which Ray is a part owner.

The civil lawsuit alleges that in November 2006, the girl went deer hunting with her grandfather and Ray. She rode with Ray, followed by her grandfather in a separate vehicle. After the three hunted for a while, Ray drove the girl to a separate hunting spot, brandished his service weapon, removed some of her clothing and forced her to perform oral sex on him, according to the complaint.

During his career, Ray has been a Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper, TBI agent and sessions court judge.

In 1986, while a judge, Ray was acquitted of federal charges that he had taken part in a payoff scheme to allow businesses to have poker machines.

More details as they develop online and in Thursday's News Sentinel.

© 2008, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.


VT - Jim Douglas: Full interview transcript

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Click the above link to see the full transcript. Below is just the portion pertaining to sex offenders.

08/17/2008

Q: A number of options have been proposed to protect Vermonters from sex offenders. What one option do you think would be most effective and how would it help the state?

A: I believe we need to adopt a three-part approach to protecting Vermont kids from sexual predators: First, we need a Jessica's law, a very tough, stringent, mandatory minimum so that these predators are dealt with appropriately, serve a punishment that's commensurate with the crime.
- Well sir, not all sex offenders are predators, like you seem to believe.  And by you saying so, you are helping to perpetuate the myths.  They are not all pedophiles or have harmed children either.  Jessica's law will not protect kids either, and mandatory minimum sentences will only overflow the already overflowing prisons.  We are the largest PRISON NATION in the world, and it's because of dumb a$$ laws like this.  And you will notice again, he uses the term PUNISHMENT, this again proving their intent, and therefore, punishment after the fact, violating ex post facto laws, is unconstitutional.

Secondly, we need more information on the online sex offender registry. A very small percentage of sex offenders are actually on the online registry so that Vermonters have access to information about them. They all should be there, and we should have specific details about where they live and where they work.
- Tell me sir, with all these laws, registry and residency restrictions, how is that going to stop a true predator who is intent on committing another crime?  IT WON'T!!!  You people are just blind, and filled with hate and rage, which always causes bad laws to be made...  Why don't you study history for once in your life?

Thirdly, we need a civil confinement law as 17 states have put in place. If someone has served the maximum for a criminal penalty and is still deemed a risk to the community and is deemed likely to re-offend, to attack someone in our state, I think we have a responsibility to keep that person locked up.
- This very man, whom you speak of, that killed the girl in Vermont, WAS A KNOWN SEX OFFENDER AND WAS ON THE REGISTRY!!!  So how did that prevent her from being killed?

Everywhere I go across Vermont, Vermonters come up to me and say, “We've got to keep these people off our streets. We've got to put them in jail and throw away the key.” I think there's a great concern about the safety of our communities after recent published reports of crimes. We have to be more serious about it.
- Yeah, and it's all out of BS lies and myths propagated by people like you, and the media.  Especially the media!!!  This VENGENCE mentality has to stop!  It will not, and is not, going to working!


AL - Federal lawsuit challenges Alabama sex offender registration law, claiming indigent sex offenders are being jailed for not being able to provide proof of residence

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08/17/2008

Poor jailed if unable to prove residency

A federal lawsuit is challenging the state's Community Notification Act, contending it violates the rights of poor sex offenders who have served their sentences, but are jailed because they cannot provide a valid residence.

The suit, filed in Birmingham's federal court on behalf of three named plaintiffs and similarly situated individuals, said indigent offenders have a hard time finding somewhere to live as a result of the law, which requires sex offenders to give authorities a valid address. If they don't provide an address to authorities, it's a felony.

The law also places restrictions on where a sex offender can live. Under the law, a sex offender can't live within 2,000 feet of a school or child care facility.

Josh Bearden, an assistant Alabama attorney general, said there have been a number of constitutional challenges to the Community Notification Act, nationally and in Alabama.

He said the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as Alabama courts, have determined the state has a "compelling interest" in protecting the public from dangers posed by convicted adult sex offenders.

"Part of the provisions that were designed to protect the public were to ensure we know where the offenders are," Bearden said.

The suit was filed Aug. 8 on behalf of Sidney Gipson, William McGuirk and Timothy Guthery. The suit said the plaintiffs, because of their finances, cannot find anywhere to live, although many of them and their families have tried to find a residence that complies with the law's requirements.

The suit said poor offenders are penalized and jailed after they have served their original sentence if they can't provide a valid address.

"It's a fairness issue," said Kira Fonteneau, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

The suit names Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale and the sheriff's office as defendants. The suit seeks to have the process of jailing indigent sex offenders and the Community Notification Act as it relates to indigent offenders declared unconstitutional.

The suit contends the sheriff's office automatically jails poor sex offenders without a hearing to determine indigence.

Hale said any convicted sex offender who does not comply with the law should be jailed. Hale said his deputies go out and check addresses to make sure they are verifiable residences.

"It's a good law," Hale said. "It's worked quite well in Jefferson County."

Hale said he has no sympathy for convicted sex offenders. "I'm not going to help get a sex offender a place to live," he said.

The Community Notification Act for sex offenders became law in 1996. The intent was to let law enforcement and the public know where sex offenders live because they are considered at high risk to repeat their crimes.
- People need to get this lie out of their heads.  Study after study has proven that sex offenders have the LOWEST recidivism rate among all criminals, except murderers.  Check it out for yourself on my Studies blog.  Show me the PROOF of where they are a high risk to reoffend!

The lawsuit said the sex offender law, however, has the unintended effect of causing indigent sex offenders to live on the streets, under bridges, in tents or in trailers without registering because they cannot find an approved residence.
- Proof, here is a video from Florida!  At one time, there was about 30 sex offenders living under this one bridge. The first lady assumes all sex offenders have harmed children, which is a myth perpetuated by the media and politicians. And these people are not monsters! They are human beings!




"We're creating an underclass of sex offenders we will not be able to find," Fonteneau said, adding she believes the process is happening in other places.
- And when you are down and out, with nothing to lose, they will vanish, then everyone is in potential danger!

The Rev. Kevin Higgs, pastor of the downtown Church of the Reconciler, said there are an estimated 3,000 homeless people in metro Birmingham, with as many as 1,000 downtown. The church feeds the homeless and has a community service program for homeless people who are caught in a cycle of being arrested on misdemeanor charges and sent to jail for long periods because they are unable to pay fines.

Higgs said each homeless person's situation is different, but speculated that a small percentage could be convicted sex offenders.

Fonteneau said the law creates a cycle because the inability to provide a residence causes many of them to fail to register, which brings additional convictions and indefinite jail time.

The suit said Gipson was arrested for failing to register as a sex offender on Feb. 27. He pleaded guilty and was given a 15-year suspended sentence on March 26. The suit said Gipson was booked again for failure to register a day later and has not been given a hearing on the new charge.

According to the suit, Gipson is disabled and entitled to Social Security disability benefits, but cannot collect the benefits because he is in jail.

Fonteneau said the process is creating a homeless shelter out of the county jails.

E-mail: vwalton@bhamnews.com