By Jerry Bohnen
When it comes to sex offenders, most Oklahomans have the attitude of “locking them up and throwing away the key.”
- Until it hits home and one of their own children get slammed with the modern day scarlet letter.
But not all offenders prey on young children. Not all are “stranger danger” cases. And not all are violent rapists. Not all are makers of child porn. Some are young men who chose to have sex with a girl they thought was of age and found out the sad truth, only to face a lifetime of registering as a sex offender, a lifetime of having the bold red letters SEX OFFENDER stamped across their driver’s license, and a lifetime of attending sexual counseling and enduring surprise home searches by probation officers.
Five years after the state of Oklahoma implemented the Adam Walsh Act, a federal law aimed at creating minimum standards for sex offenders, some prosecutors and others are suggesting it has only created confusion and too much blind power for the State Department of Corrections. In other words, it might be creating far more problems than the law is solving. In the words of a Pryor woman whose husband thought he was going to be required to be a registered sex offender for 15 years but was told he would have to do it for his lifetime, “It was a nightmare.”
One licensed professional counselor in Tulsa even suggests the act implemented by the State in order to receive millions in federal money, actually increases the risk that sex offenders pose to communities.
“If I were attempting to craft a set of laws that would increase the risk sex offenders pose to the community, Oklahoma’s laws would be the result,” stated Randy Lopp, a Licensed Professional Counselor in Tulsa. He is the current chairman of the Oklahoma Coalition for Sex Offender Management and has testified in numerous state and federal cases. The Sex Offender Management Team made recommendations to the State Corrections Department regarding the assessment and treatment of community bases sex offenders.
In short, here’s the problem as seen by critics of the program. Whenever someone pleads guilty or is convicted of a sex offense in Oklahoma, under the Adam Walsh Act, that person then is given a sex offender registration level assignment by the Department of Corrections. There are three levels created under the Act. Depending on the specific crime, the defendant can be classified as a level one and face up to 15 years of registering as a sex offender. A level two classification includes 25 years of registration. A level three offender faces a lifetime of registering as a sex offender.
Some defendants have been sentenced by a judge as a level one but once they entered the DOC system and met their probation officer, they were told strict adherence to the Act put them at level three. Of the 24 listed sexual crimes, 10 require a level three assignment of registering as a sex offender for a lifetime. They include incest, forcible sodomy, trafficking in children, rape in the first and second degree, and sexual battery.
Six crimes require 25 years of registration and they include obscene or indecent writings, soliciting sexual conduct or communication with a minor by use of technology or procuring a child under 18 for prostitution.
Eight sexual offenses require 15 years of registration and they include crime against nature or sodomy, indecent exposure, the purchase or possession of child pornography or child endangerment if the offense involved sexual abuse of a child.
The Department of Corrections strictly follows those guidelines, and that’s what disturbs those who run head-on into the system.
“I am convinced that the Oklahoma DOC is engaged in a massive civil rights violation,” argues [father name withheld], Locust Grove, who has initiated a campaign against the system after his 50-year old son was convicted of a sex crime three years ago in Cleveland county District Court.
His son communicated over the Internet with a female he thought was a woman. But it turned out to be a 15-year old girl and during their exchanges, [name withheld] wrote sexually explicit things that resulted in criminal charges. He refused to meet with the “woman” and a month after ending the Internet relationship, he was in trouble.
[name withheld] admitted he wrote what he did but thought it was to an adult woman and didn’t know she was a teenage girl until the end of their Internet relationship. His attorney, Tracy Schumacher, who was elected a district judge in 2010, convinced him to plead guilty to two counts of having made an indecent proposal to a minor child.
“The court found him to be a level one offender based on the testimony of a mental health professional who evaluated my son for 58 consecutive weeks,”explained [father name withheld].
On March 9, 2009, [name withheld] was sentenced to two 15-year terms but the judge suspended them and classified him as a level one offender. “However, the minute he came under control of the Department of Corrections, they informed him that the court’s finding meant nothing to them,” [father name withheld] said. His son was classified as a level three offender who must register for the rest of his life.
[father name withheld] contends the Department of Corrections is not properly following the Adam Walsh Act. He managed to get Rep. Ben Sherrer to ask the Attorney General for a legal opinion on the Adam Walsh Act and the Oklahoma Sex Offenders Registration Act originally enacted by the legislature in 1989. The question? Does a conflict exist between the two statutes.
The Registration act, amended in 1999, includes an “aggravated offender” language that requires a lifetime of registration for convicted sex offenders. [name withheld] believes it’s in direct conflict with the Adam Walsh Act but Attorney General Scott Pruitt, in a ruling issued in September, said there is no conflict. The ruling pointed out that the legislature in 2007 enacted Title 57 of the state constitution, section 582.5 which created a sex offender level assignment committee made up of five individuals. Those five identified the various sex crimes and offenses and determined which level or tier would be designated.
The law made it clear the committee, the Department of Corrections or a court “may override and increase the level assignment.” But it also made it clear, “in no event shall the sex offender level assignment committee, the Department of Corrections, or a court override and reduce a level assigned to an offender.”
Who sat on the assignment committee and drew up those tier definitions? So far, the Corrections Department has not responded to a request of the identities of the committee members. And the law, as passed by the legislature makes it clear: “The provisions of the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act do not apply to a meeting of the sex offender level assignment committee.”