Sunday, November 6, 2011

Who are the people in your neighborhood - A descriptive analysis of individuals on public sex offender registries

Posted with permission from Jill Levenson.

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100,000 Sex Offenders Missing . . . or Are They - Deconstruction of an Urban Legend

Posted with permission from Jill Levenson.

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TX - Texas Removes Sex Offender Designation From 176 Parolees

Original Article

Good, they should never have had the "Special Condition X" in the first place.

11/06/2011

The state of Texas have modified its parole policy, removing the Special Condition X designation from certain parolees.

Texas has radically shifted its policy with respect to parolees and removed the sex offender designation from 176 people on parole since May 2011. The prisoners were of the group who had never been convicted of a sex crime but still had the sex offender label, and all of the penalties that accompany it such as a listing on the state's Sex Offender Registry, due to having what the Texas Department of Criminal Justice termed Special Condition X as a condition of parole. The change in state policy came as a result of court battles over the constitutionality of Special Condition X and state legislators questioning the Department of Criminal Justice's use of taxpayer funds.

In the latest of a decade-long series of court battles over Special Condition X, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held in a May 2011 opinion that the state had to provide a due process hearing to all prisoners released on parole before the state could impose Special Condition X. The court used the reasoning from a Fifth Circuit court of appeals case with similar facts as the one before it and a U.S. Supreme Court opinion regarding how much due process is owed a person when a "deprivation of the liberty interest leads to stigmatizing and physically-invasive consequences" -- as is the case with the sex offender label.

Texas failed to meet the due process standards outlined in those opinions because it did not afford parolees hearings before imposing Special Condition X and the court held that it needed to do so in the future.

Rather than offer due process hearings en masse, the Department of Criminal Justice changed its policy and recommended to the Board of Pardons and Paroles that it withdraw Special Condition X on the 176 prisoners. The Board of Pardons is considering 300 more applications of parolees seeking to have Special Condition X removed.

Legislators also questioned the wisdom of using taxpayer funds to keep those who were never convicted of sex crimes on the highest level of supervision while on parole. Sex offenders are obligated to register on the Sex Offender Registry, attend therapy sessions and check in frequently with parole officers. This intense supervision eats up resources that the state could allocate to those who have been convicted of sex crimes. Lawmakers were also concerned about the money the state spent defending Special Condition X in court over the years.

Additionally, the terms of parole are often so restrictive, governing where an offender cannot live, work, or travel and what he or she cannot posses, that many offenders end up back in prison for parole violations -- costing taxpayers even more money.

By reversing state policy about which parolees the state designates as sex offenders, Texas has taken a step towards ensuring due process for its citizens. Sex offense charges are serious matters, however, that the state punishes severely. If you are facing such charges you should consult with a criminal defense attorney who can assist you in getting the best outcome in your situation.



CA - Are all sex offenders the same?

Original Article

11/05/2011

By JEFF OVERLEY

O.C. man convicted of possessing child pornography is on mission to relax laws.

[name withheld] steps up to the microphone, prepared to ask political leaders not to be so hard on sex offenders.

It is mid-May, and Huntington Beach is the latest city debating the Orange County District Attorney's high-profile campaign to ban offenders from parks, beaches and other recreation venues.

[name withheld] appears professional as he steps to the wooden lectern, a thick stack of paperwork in hand. The 44-year-old wears a dark suit, dark red tie and dark brown hair, much like in his clean-cut picture on the California Megan's Law website.

It has been nearly four years since the longtime Orange County resident went to prison for possession of child pornography, the start of a long journey through the legal labyrinth Californians have constructed to keep kids far away from people convicted of sex crimes.

On this Monday night, [name withheld] has turned out to share what the experience has taught him, albeit without mentioning his past. He will say that, in his mind, government is trampling on constitutional rights with increasingly stringent laws. He will say that Orange County cities are about to make matters worse, spreading their resources thinner and making it more and more difficult to focus on the worst of the worst.

"Good evening, Mr. Mayor and members of the City Council," [name withheld] says, his voice steady, his mind hoping somebody is listening.

GRADUAL CRACKDOWN

Registration of sex offenders goes back to 1947 in the Golden State, but many of the most noteworthy restrictions – often conceived after headline-grabbing rapes and murders – are a recent phenomenon.

Megan's Law was expanded in 2004 to provide residents with click-of-the-mouse access to offender information. Voters passed Jessica's Law (PDF) in 2006, mandating lifetime GPS supervision of felony sex-offender parolees and preventing them from residing within 2,000 feet of schools and parks. Legislators in 2010 adopted Chelsea's Law (PDF), increasing time behind bars for many sex crimes.

"California's system of sex offender management was created – for the most part – piece by piece through separate and uncoordinated legislative and administrative actions," the state's Sex Offender Management Board said in a January 2010 report highly critical of the current framework.

"Although various components of the system have learned to work together, the overall system could not be described as coherent, cohesive and coordinated."

On top of statewide provisions, local lawmakers often pursue their own policies. In Tustin, officials have created a patchwork of "child-safety zones" designed to bar sex offenders from loitering near day cares, parks and nearly two dozen community events, including a chili cook-off, community yard sale and Easter egg hunt.

Orange County supervisors in April banned sex offenders from county parks, beaches and harbors. Since then, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has been hopscotching around O.C., lobbying city officials to follow in the supervisors' footsteps and winning support in Westminster, La Habra and Los Alamitos.

As more towns act, Rackauckas has raised the specter of those that resist new restrictions becoming havens for offenders. "You don't want to have it be legal in your city," he told Irvine leaders, who adopted a limited ban.

'BAD DECISIONS'

At a glance, [name withheld] is accomplished and unassuming. He was raised in Mission Viejo, graduated from UCLA in 1990 with a psychology degree and until recently held down a sales-related office job.

But he is not the ideal spokesman for relaxing sex offender rules, partly because he has a long list of unrelated convictions.

He's pleaded guilty to hit-and-run, battery, resisting a police officer and evading a police officer. Court records show at least three DUI convictions, including a felony that resulted in prison time.

"Everybody's tired of [name withheld] screwing up, including [name withheld]," he says, attributing many of his troubles to alcoholism. In mid-October, just a few weeks after uttering these words, [name withheld] found himself back behind bars on a parole violation.

The child pornography case, in [name withheld]'s telling, began when he downloaded a video of two minors having sex.

"Misguided curiosity for a brief period of time," he says. "A lot of bad decisions were made under the influence," he adds.

[name withheld]'s undoing came when he asked an acquaintance to clear viruses from his computer; the acquaintance came across the pornography and brought it to the attention of law enforcement.

In court papers filed by [name withheld], the video is said to involve "two adolescent males allegedly 16-17 years old, faces not shown, engaging in sexual activity with only each other and with no other persons over or under the ages of 18 involved."

But documents filed by the Attorney General's office suggest that description is something of a whitewash.

"Although in his petition [name withheld] attempts to minimize his conviction by claiming that he only possessed one video of two anonymous 16-17-year-old boys engaged in consensual sexual activity, his actual criminal conduct was much more extensive," the paperwork says.

"During the course of their investigation of [name withheld], police investigators recovered from [name withheld]'s computers several movies and photographs of minor boys involved in sexual acts with other boys and adult men that were stored electronically under file folder names such as 'Nekked Boys!,' 'Gay Kids Boys,' '8 Year Old Boy,' and 'Pre-Teen Incest.' "

[name withheld] received a 16-month sentence, of which he served eight months, and so began his effort to overhaul California's approach to sex offenders.

A SECOND LOOK

Across the United States, laws on sex offenders have proliferated. Though broadly supported in elections and opinion polls, they have occasionally led to what some see as unintended consequences.

Over the summer, two New Jersey boys were required to register as sex offenders for life following an apparent prank in which they, when 14, placed their buttocks on the faces of two classmates.

In Florida, legislators this year rolled back laws on "sexting" following reports of teenagers being charged with sex offenses for sharing lewd images with significant others.

The question for public officials is when sex-offender laws become too broad. Is it just when joking teens or lusty high-school kids go too far? Or is it also when people like [name withheld], who were never convicted of contacting a child, are subject to lifetime monitoring?

"It's really important to point out that ... not everybody who is on the registry should be on it," said Janice Bellucci of the California chapter of Reform Sex Offender Laws. "These people, they did commit a crime, they've been punished for their crime, and the question is, what about the rest of their lives?"

Most of the crimes that result in registration involve sexual contact. Those that don't include possession of child pornography, indecent exposure and pimping that involves a minor. Statutory rape doesn't automatically require registration, but courts can order it.

According to the Sex Offender Management Board, only California, Alabama, South Carolina and Florida mandate lifetime registration for all sex offenders. Most states, the board says, have shorter registration durations for nonviolent offenders.

In a time of state budget woes, some say California can't afford its laws. The state spent $65 million in 2009 for GPS monitoring, covering more than 6,000 offenders, according to published reports.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) this year introduced a bill, which is pending, to create 10-year, 20-year and lifetime registration tiers.

"With the skyrocketing costs of corrections in California, we need to base our management and enforcement of sex offenders on the research and data available rather than emotion," Ammiano said by email. "This means focusing our efforts and resources on the most dangerous offenders to ensure that the registry achieves its primary goal – to keep our children and communities safe."

A 2010 recidivism report by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation found that sex offenders, during the first three years of parole, were slightly less likely to be returned to prison than other ex-convicts. Five percent of sex offenders who did end up in prison again were returned for new sex crimes, 9 percent went back for other crimes and 86 percent returned for parole violations.

Many observers note that child molestation and other sex crimes often go unreported, and to the extent recidivism is reduced, they credit tough laws.

Others, including the Sex Offender Management Board, argue that certain laws – especially the 2,000-foot residency restriction – prevent offenders from rejoining society and increase their odds of violating parole.

More and more, judges are agreeing with the latter point of view. Hundreds of challenges to the 2,000-foot rule have been filed with Southern California courts, and one year ago, [name withheld] became the first Orange County resident to win an exemption, at least temporarily, from that element of Jessica's Law.

'I AM REMORSEFUL'

Much of [name withheld]'s life is contained within the four walls of his hotel room, and it doesn't add up to much. There is a small pot of coffee next to a party-size tub of red licorice. There is a rack with hanging dress shirts and a laptop computer.

"I don't expect anybody to have any sympathy," [name withheld] says, his voice competing with vehicles roaring by on the busy street outside.

But, he adds, "I hope people realize there's a big difference (between) looking at pictures and actually going out and doing something to someone."

Beneath white socks and cuffed jeans, there's a bulge where a GPS device is attached to [name withheld]'s ankle. He continues with various pleas for understanding:

"I want people in the community to understand I am remorseful."

"I believe in protecting children."

"I'm not advocating for child predators to have it easy in this world."

He is instead advocating for more nuance in the public's view of sex offenders. Life in prison for rapists would be fine, he says. But banning all sex offenders from parks and beaches violates constitutional rights, [name withheld] says.

Several local officials have voiced similar concerns, and also have noted that sex crimes committed by registered sex offenders in parks are extremely rare.

"What is the problem we're trying to solve here with an ordinance?" Laguna Hills Councilman Joel Lautenschleger said as his colleagues discussed the matter in September. "I think a full-scale prohibition like the county did was just simply a solution looking for a problem."

Jessica's Law – which the Sex Offender Management Board blames for a 24-fold increase in homelessness among offenders on parole – also goes too far, [name withheld] argues.

Last year, the California Supreme Court left the door open to individual challenges to the residency restriction in Jessica's Law, saying the constitutionality might vary case by case because of different housing situations in different areas.

[name withheld] started his legal fight by taking a boilerplate petition from the nonprofit Prison Law Office, adding personal details, and filing it in Orange County Superior Court. He won a stay of the restriction, and when back behind bars for a parole violation, he filed a 10-page rebuttal, written in pencil, to the Attorney General's case against him.

Since then, he has found courtroom allies. Matthew Missakian, the deputy public defender on [name withheld]'s case, calls residency restrictions "ineffective" and "extremely counter-productive."

In an August report, the Sex Offender Management Board concurred, saying that "there is no evidence that residence restrictions are related to preventing or deterring sex crimes against children."

STRONG SUPPORT

George and Sharon Runner, the husband-and-wife team that co-authored Jessica's Law, suggest there is room for improving the 2,000-foot provision, perhaps by giving cities authority to adopt less-restrictive rules.

"There is little empirical data regarding the effectiveness or lack of effectiveness of the 2,000-foot rule," said Sharon Runner, Republican state senator of Lancaster.

But both also argue that the fundamental idea of Jessica's Law has solid support. "What is certain is that Californians do not want sex offenders living directly across from an elementary school or playground," Sharon Runner said.

George Runner, a former state senator, added that "the Sex Offender Management Board is just out of step with what the public believes."

That's hard to dispute, as Jessica's Law passed with 70 percent of the vote.

Harriet Salarno, president of Crime Victims United of California, noted that any attempt to relax sex-offender laws will likely run afoul of majority sentiment.

"We worked so hard to get these laws through," Salarno said, "and the public was entirely behind us when they passed all the initiatives on Jessica's Law and so forth, and now they're trying to go back and take us back and undo the laws that the public wants."

Among elected officials, it's unclear much enthusiasm exists for differentiating between sex offenders.

Supervisor Shawn Nelson, reacting to comments by [name withheld] at a public meeting, offered a strong defense not only of the status quo, but of going further.

"When people have been found either guilty or pled to felony conduct of having photographs of children involved in sexual behavior, frankly that is exactly why we want to keep those people out of parks," Nelson said before he and colleagues unanimously backed the ban.

Rackauckas, in an email, had this to say about someone possessing child pornography: "If this is what they are fantasizing about, they are certainly dangerous to our kids."

MAKING THE CASE

Under the vaulted ceilings in Huntington Beach's council chambers, [name withheld] lays out his case, his message coming just after a young man calls for banning plastic bags and just before a school board member bemoans the size of one campus' locker rooms.

"I understand the public's fear of sexual predators, and that they are interested in protecting children from those predators," [name withheld] begins. "I am here today to educate the citizens of Huntington Beach on the differences between sexual predators and everyone else on the registry."

"Not all registrants are the same, but due to myths of high recidivism rates and 'stranger danger,' the public views all registrants as posing the same threat. The facts do not support this position. The research I have here tells the facts, not the myths as the D.A. would have you believe."

"I urge the city of Huntington Beach to stop any further consideration of the Orange County supervisors' misguided decision to unconstitutionally ban American citizens from beaches, parks and other recreational areas," [name withheld] concludes. "Thank you for your time."

Three seconds pass as [name withheld] gathers his paperwork, and then a loud applause goes up from the crowd. [name withheld] swings around to look at the audience, freezes briefly, gives a quick nod and returns to his seat.