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So why is this man in prison and the Paparazzi and free to do as they wish?
Jailed Man's Lawyer Says Some Murderers Treated Less Harshly Than Video Voyeurs
In 2003, a Ridgeland, Miss., constable named Eddie Gilmer sat in his car and videotaped a young woman talking on the phone in her apartment.
Though the tapes zoomed in on the woman's chest and crotch, court records say she was fully clothed and sitting in front of a partially-open balcony door, where she could be seen from the parking lot where Gilmer was sitting.
After he was caught filming her several times, Gilmer was sentenced to 15 years in prison under the state's video voyeurism law, in what appears to be one of the country's toughest punishments for high-tech peeping.
"They've put people who have killed people in jail for less time than that," said Gilmer's attorney, Julie Epps, who has appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. "If you don't want people looking through an open window, you have a responsibility to put blinds or curtains on the windows. There has to be some balance in there somewhere."
As surveillance technology has advanced, it has become easier than ever for high-tech peeping Toms to spy on unsuspecting victims. Those electronic spying cases have at times frustrated prosecutors and victims alike because laws either didn't apply to or provided limited penalties for the latest forms of video surveillance.
Some states have responded by seeking harsher penalties for so-called video voyeurs. At least 34 states now make it a felony under some circumstances to secretly film or distribute images of people in places where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as bathrooms and tanning salons, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime. Most of those laws require the victim to be at least partially undressed.
In addition to Gilmer's case, a man in Louisiana was reportedly sentenced last month to 15 years in prison for secretly taping his stepdaughter. In Illinois, beginning this month, a video voyeurism conviction will carry up to three years in prison.
Some states and the federal government have begun to criminalize taking pictures of the private areas of a person's body even when they are in public, where courts have often said the people have no legal privacy rights. "The expectation of privacy as to what a person can hear or see is one thing, but our expectations about privacy when we talk about what technology makes possible is a whole other matter," said Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to consider Friday whether it will hear Gilmer's challenge to Mississippi's surveillance law. Gilmer and his attorneys argue that the law, as interpreted by the state's supreme court, violates his First Amendment and due process rights.
The voyeurism law makes it illegal to secretly tape someone, with a lewd purpose, in a place where they would intend to be undressed and expect privacy. In Gilmer's case, the victim admitted that she was fully clothed and that she would not take her clothes off in front of an open window or door, according to court records.
The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld Gilmer's conviction, saying the state legislature intended for anyone inside their home to be free from unwanted "lewd" surveillance. Three judges dissented.
"What an absurdity for the law to allow one to stand and look with impunity at a person who knows they are being looked at, but the moment a picture is taken or a video is made, the looker becomes a voyeur, that is to say, a criminal," wrote Justice Jess Dickinson.
The case "has alarming implications for all persons who use a video camera or any other recording device," Justice Oliver Diaz wrote. "This law was to protect persons from intrusive and invasive private recording -- a peeping Tom law for this ever-more digital world. Yet under the majority's interpretation of the statute, virtually any use of a recording device could prove to be a felony."
Mississippi's Attorney General Jim Hood said the need to prove a "lewd" or "indecent" intent ensured that it would not be inappropriately applied to journalists and photographers. In Gilmer's case, according to court records, Gilmer tried to hide what he was doing and zoomed in on the victim's crotch and chest. On the night of his arrest, he told a police officer, "Ain't it funny what p**** will make you do?" court records say.
Hood declined to comment on whether he thought a 15-year sentence was appropriate in Gilmer's case.
A proliferation of electronic peeping has occurred in the last 10 years. Cameras barely larger than a pinhole can be hidden in everything from DVD players to clocks to showers, making spying comparatively easy. Landlords have been caught filming their tenants; teachers have filmed their students; a lawyer was recently caught filming a co-worker in the office bathroom.
"It takes away an innocence that people have," said Yvonne Goodwin, whose neighbor in Orange County, Calif., secretly taped her, apparently for years, in some of her most intimate moments. "It's like getting raped. You don't have that innocence anymore."
The neighbor pleaded guilty in 2006 to electronic peeping charges and was sentenced to 120 days in jail.
Goodwin and another woman who was recorded recently settled a lawsuit against the insurance company that represents the niehgbor's mother, who owns the house he lived in, for an undisclosed amount of money, said attorney Eric Traut. Their lawsuit against her neighbor is still pending.
Traut and Goodwin say they are not satisfied with the 120-day sentence. "I think the most important thing is that this should be a felony and he should be a registered sex offender," Goodwin said. "It's amazing to me that someone can destroy a whole family's life and just walk away. That's pretty scary. He can just go anywhere in the world and have a clean slate."
Though most states have laws that cover spying on someone in their home, more are now making it illegal to photograph private body parts when a person is out in public, known as "up-skirting" and "down-blousing."
- Well, you better go after all the porn sites, I'm sure you'd find tons of these types of videos and pictures.
In 2000, only a handful of states had laws that protect people from being filmed under or through their clothes in public. Today, 29 states and the federal government have such laws, regardless of whether in a private or public place, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime.
Though it is unlikely that the Supreme Court will hear Gilmer's case, Rotenberg said his case raises privacy issues that the courts will have to deal with.
"It might not bother someone that much if a person sees them when they are briefly visible through an open window," he said. "She might feel differently if that person is holding a camera. There is a difference."
Sunday, February 17, 2008
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Laws restricting child sex offenders from living too close to schools, parks and day cares were meant to keep children safe, but don't protect anyone and give parents a false sense of security, experts say.
Iowa, for example, has a residency restriction that's one of the most stringent in the country, forbidding sex offenders from living 2,000 feet from a school or day care.
But the law is only "feel good, political buck-passing" and does little to protect children, said Corwin Ritchie, executive director of the Iowa County Attorneys Association.
"When the law was enacted, we went to legislators and said, 'This law is worthless and we don't think it provides any measure of safety,'" Ritchie said. "The legislators told us that they knew the law was no good, but they wanted prosecutors and the courts to get rid of it."
- So they know and still pass bad laws, insane. This world is screwed if this is the way government works...
Iowa prosecutors tried to overturn the law, but Ritchie found legislators hesitant to vote against the residency requirements and courts unwilling to find them unconstitutional.
Illinois laws also faced constitutional scrutiny by legislators.
"We passed legislation that they couldn't live within 500 feet of a school or a park. As we were doing so, we knew we could not pass a law that, in effect, threw registered sex offenders out of the state of Illinois," said state Rep. George Scully Jr. (Email), D-Crete.
"We were satisfied that the 500-foot (radius) around schools and parks would meet constitutional muster. Now with in-home day cares, the same constitutional question has to be raised."
Sex offenders scheduled for release from the Illinois Department of Corrections must have their prospective residence screened, said Jorge Montez, head of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board. The residency restrictions create "cyclical incarcerations," Montez said, that force sex offenders to stay in prison because they can't find housing.
"These laws are creating a class of homeless," Montez said.
Residency restrictions were intended to reduce sex crimes against children by strangers who seek access to children at convenient locations. Those crimes are tragic but very rare, Iowa's Ritchie said.
Donya Adkerson, director of Alternatives Counseling Inc., in Glen Carbon, said there is no research that finds a correlation between sex offenders and the distance they live from a day care, park or school. Offenders usually choose victims they already know or travel long distances from where they live, as was the case with Michael Devlin.
In fact, 80 percent to 90 percent of sex crimes against children are committed by a relative or acquaintance who has some prior relationship with the child and access to the child that is not impeded by residency restrictions, Ritchie said.
All sides acknowledge the danger is real: A U.S. Department of Justice study of 262,420 people released from prison showed that the 4,295 who were child molesters were the most likely to reoffend. Of released child sex offenders with one prior arrest, 3.3 percent sexually victimized a child within a year, and for offenders with more than one prior arrest, the rate was 7.3 percent.
Marginalizing sex offenders with residency restrictions could create stressors such as lack of housing, and limited access to employment and treatment that could cause someone to reoffend, Adkerson said.
"It's about rehabilitation -- not punishment," Adkerson said. "Rehabilitation is what makes communities safer. Residency laws are actually backfiring, making communities less safe."
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HARTFORD - In addition to height, weight, address and willingness to be an organ donor, more driver's licenses across the nation include another piece of information, whether the carrier is a registered sex offender.
It's part of a growing effort by state policy-makers to help police keep better tabs on pedophiles, rapists and others who must sign up with state-run, offender registries and compel them to comply with restrictions on their whereabouts.
Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell (Email) this month proposed a new law requiring registered sex offenders to obtain a driver's license or state identification card that includes a code identifying them as a sex offender.
"It just gives the police department another tool, something else they can use," she said.
A similar law took effect in Florida on Aug. 1. In that state, IDs feature the number of each state statute that the offender violated on the bottom right corner. Florida officials hope to finish updating the cards of sexual offenders and predators by this month.
"If you didn't know about the statute, you wouldn't know what that is," said Ann Nucatola, a Florida Department of Highway Safety spokesman.
Other states make the carriers' crimes more clear to an untrained eye. An Oklahoma law that took effect in November calls for driver's licenses and ID cards to display the words "sex offender" in three places. Offenders are required to renew the cards annually.
Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Delaware also have laws requiring registered sex offenders to carry identification that identifies their status, the U.S. Government and Accounting Office said. West Virginia and Kansas both require state ID cards or licenses to include the information, but don't require offenders to obtain the IDs.
In Connecticut, it's uncertain if Rell, a Republican, will succeed in pushing the bill through the Democrat-controlled legislature. Some lawmakers are already suggesting the proposal goes too far and could hamper offenders' efforts to find jobs and housing after leaving prison.
"It's so far-reaching," said Rep. William Dyson (Email), D-New Haven, who has worked to pass legislation that helps ex-offenders reintegrate into society. "We don't put a brand on murderers, people who've killed someone."
Rell said the designation would be as innocuous as the code that identifies if a driver should wear corrective lenses.
"It's not like, you know, the scarlet letter or anything like that," she said. "If you have some identifying tool on that driver's license, how different is that than anything else that's already on there now?"
- That is exactly what it is, with a code on the bottom along with "sex offender" in three places, it's nothing but a Scarlet letter. Other codes just say if someone should wear glasses, it's nothing like having "sex offender" on the license, which opens them up for all kinds of harassment.
Dyson said it won't take long for the public to know what the designation means.
"I'm not about the business of defending sex offenders. But what does that do to all us eventually?" he asked. "We're going to create this colony of people that are going to be so far outside the mainstream."
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The squeeze on sex offenders and predators is about to tighten. Bay County Commissioners want to join local cities in restricting where they can live.
Current state law prohibits certain sexual offenders and predators from living within 1,000 feet of any school, day care center, park, playground, or other places where children gather.
A proposed Bay County ordinance would increase the distance to 2,500 feet.
Similar ordinances have been adopted in Panama City, Callaway, Mexico Beach, Parker, Springfield, Lynn Haven, Cedar Grove, Panama City Beach, and Gulf County.
On Tuesday, board members will discuss holding a public hearing on the issue march 4th.
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WATERVILLE -- It didn't take long for residents of a South End neighborhood to learn they had a sex offender living among them.
Within days of being notified that a 37-year-old offender had moved to Waterville, police officers last month went door to door, armed with colorful leaflets describing crimes against the victim, a child under the age of 8.
Under Maine law, most sex offenders must tell police where they are living and when and where they move -- for the rest of their lives. They also are listed on the Maine Sex Offender Registry.
And police, in turn, must notify the community of the offender's presence.
But the law does not dictate how law enforcement gives that notice. They can post a flyer in the town office or at the general store or do as Waterville police did and pass out leaflets.
So, is it ethical to make a public display of a community's sex offenders? Is doing so punishing someone twice?
Is it even a good idea?
Some professionals say the practice of publicly posting the names and pictures of sex offenders amounts to double punishment and unfairly -- even dangerously -- targets an offender who has served his prison sentence.
Others, especially law enforcement officers, say the community is alerted to a potential threat and is therefore a safer place to live.
Bob McArthur, a retired professor of philosophy at Colby College, said that while intentions usually are good, there is potential harm to the person on the registry who may be refused housing, denied employment and could become a target of vigilantes.
"It's clear that there's a potential harm and the question is, can you justify this because of some potential good," McArthur said. "It's trying to figure out what the good is of these additional notifications."
He said the sex offender notification process started with Megan's Law, enacted by Congress in 1996 after 7-year-old Megan Kanka of New Jersey was raped and killed by a neighbor who was a convicted sex offender.
McArthur said he does not believe public disclosures, including the registry, discourage repeat offenders.
"The usual claim in defense of a registry is, first of all, that the crimes are against children and we have a higher obligation to protect children than we do property or adults," he said.
"Secondly, that there is a greater likelihood of repeat offense from such individuals than other crimes -- that's the twin justification that is used in support of the sex registry idea."
- And this is a load of crap!
At the China Village General Store, co-owner Belinda Winn said she posted a notice of a resident sex offender who had moved to town, but then took it down after people objected.
"We had it up for a couple of weeks," she said.
"Some people didn't like it. They didn't want to see their neighbor up there. We took it down after we felt all of our regular customers saw it."
Mike Spaulding, constable for the town of Benton, said he first began posting images of registered sex offenders last fall at the request of the Kennebec County Sheriff's Department.
At first, Spaulding said, it was the printed photograph and case details of just one Benton resident.
"Then, there were concerned citizens who told the selectmen that they wanted them all to be posted, regardless of the nature of the crime," Spaulding said.
He said the decision to post the names and pictures at the town office came after a selectmen's meeting in October.
There are now six posters of Benton's registered sex offenders.
"This is happening more and more," Spaulding said.
"I personally feel every case has to be taken on an individual basis."
Spaulding said the postings are not intended to be additional punishment, but the safety of the town's children has to be a top priority.
- Well, it is punishment, and anybody who thinks otherwise is kidding themselves.
"Community protection comes first," he said.
- Yes, and sex offenders are part of the community! So you should be protecting ALL people, but, nothing about these vigilante acts, registry or laws will prevent another crime.
CIVIL LIBERTIES AT STAKE?
Zachary Heiden, legal director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, disagrees.
Heiden said that if people cannot find meaningful work or a decent place to live because their picture is hanging in the local post office or general store, they are going to be forced to live outside of the community and perhaps on a path toward breaking the law.
"We all want our neighborhoods to be safe, but distributing photos of convicted individuals can actually make us less safe," Heiden said. "The goal of our criminal justice system should be to turn people who break the law into people who obey the law.
"Instead, it seems like these officers are trying to marginalize people who have been convicted and served their sentences, which would make it more likely that they will commit crimes again."
He questioned the fairness of singling out sex offenders from other criminals for greater punishment.
- Exactly, if sex offenders are singled out, then we need to do the same for ALL criminals, regardless of their crimes.
"We do not, for example, have a burglars' registry or a robbers' registry and those crimes are serious," he said.
Colby College philosophy professor Justin Steinberg took the idea a step further, saying that more harm than good can come from public postings of registered sex offenders.
He said privacy rights come into play early in the discussion.
"We, as a society, value autonomy and privacy and it would seem that in order to justifiably override these values, there must, minimally, be clear social benefits to doing so," Steinberg said.
"In this case, the consequences are not so clear."
Steinberg acknowledged that repeat offender rates can be high among certain kinds of sex offenders, but public postings might not do any good.
"My understanding is that there is not much evidence to suggest that these warning systems do much to protect individuals," he said. "While such efforts might encourage vigilance and safety, I suspect that they generally do little more than inspire unnecessary fear in a community and a more acute sense of ostracism on the part of the offender.
"In short, my guess is that more harm than good comes from publicizing this information."
Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty said individual towns decide whether to post sex offenders' information.
"I believe that it's important to inform neighborhoods of sex offenders because the potential victims are often defenseless," Liberty said.
"The parents need to be informed of the surrounding potential threats. Although offenders have served their time, they most often struggle not to reoffend."
- Then notify them of ALL potential threats, like murderers, thieves, gang members, drug dealers, DUI offenders, all criminals.
When a registered sex offender has been convicted and subsequently released from custody, county detectives do a background investigation.
"They make a recommendation to the sheriff as to the threat level to the community," Liberty said.
"If based upon the facts of the case, I believe that the offender is a potential threat, I direct my deputies to notify the neighbors. The postings include the town offices."
VIGILANCE IS THE KEY
Ronald Raymond, a retired chief deputy for the Kennebec County Sheriff's Department and now a volunteer sex offender resource officer for the county, said a town office, the school system or the local post office are the best places to begin with the notification process.
Again, whether to display or distribute the flyers is up to the store owner or town official and it is not required by law.
It is then up to each of those entities to determine how they want to handle that information. Some slip the paperwork into a file; others post them on the wall, he said.
In Somerset County, Sheriff Barry DeLong said his office will notify residents if the sex offender is being released from the Somerset County jail.
But generally, he said, he and his staff rely on the Maine Sex Offender Registry to spread the word in Maine's third-largest county.
The list is effective, police say, because parents, school officials and daycare providers know who is living in their town.
Raymond took over last summer and had 87 registered sex offenders in the city of Waterville alone, he said.
"When we were able to maintain and accurately keep up with the list because of the manpower, the list rapidly went down to 56 or 57 -- that's because of constant critiquing -- you're on them all the time, you go out and check on them."
Some leave town, some are arrested and the list dwindles, he said. Because they are under a microscope, there are fewer who stick around.
"The program that the sheriff and the Waterville police chief came up with proved to be very valuable in terms of maintaining the list and that's the key to the whole sex offender registry -- maintaining the list accurately," Raymond said.
"As a parent and a citizen we feel much more comfortable knowing who our neighbors are and what their background is so that allows us to participate in keeping our kids safe."
- No, you only want to know about sex offenders, or you'd be out talking to legislature to get ALL criminals on a registry, so you know about any serial killers, and all other criminals who may live right next door to you. Stop the BS people!!!! If sex offenders were reoffending as much as everyone says, millions of children would be vanishing on a daily basis, and you rarely hear of any, why is that? Because they are not committing other crimes, it's only the fear the media and politicians are stirring up to get votes and ratings and money.
Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey, who is a selectman in neighboring Clinton, said both communities print out flyers on registered sex offenders and distribute them in neighborhoods where a sex offender has moved.
"Whenever we get someone who is required to register or let us know of an address change, we have a detective who takes that case, researches it, researches the original offense, where it was, what the crime was, was there violence involved, how young the children were and take a look at where they are going to be living," Massey said.
- And meanwhile, all the drugs, gangs, killings, dui offenders are out committing other crimes while time is wasted on BS!!
He said the notification area may be expanded if the offender's crime was particularly serious or if he or she lives in a neighborhood with a heavy concentration of children.
"I think it's important that you know if there's a sex offender living beside you," Massey said.
- What about serial killers and all the other criminals? I'd love to know if some person who cannot control their anger or has murdered someone lives next to me, but, even if I knew it, they have a right to live there, and if I did not like it, then I'd have to move. With sex offenders, it's the reverse, because nobody has the balls to uphold the constitution which apparently means nothing in this country, so why even have it???