Wednesday, August 27, 2008

MA - Pedophile Preist Murdered

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Do We Need An Internet Zoning Law?

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from the chipping-away-at-the-first-amendment dept

Want to know when someone is preparing to take away your First Amendment rights? It's when they claim that they have a proposal that involves "balancing" those rights with other events (sent to us by Eric Goldman). In this case, the proposal comes from a professor from Brigham Young University, Cheryl B. Preston, who's proposing the idea for an Internet Community Ports Act (ICPA), which would create special "zones" online where it would be okay for "adult" material to reside, and other zones that would be kid friendly. Apparently, this is needed to:

Find a reasonable balance among the values of the First Amendment, the appeal of an unfettered technological frontier, the right to be free of unwanted speech, and the right of parents to have the aid of the government in protecting children from age-inappropriate sexually explicit content online.

We've seen similar proposals in the past that haven't gone very far. And, this proposal seems quite similar to that older proposal -- except presented by a law professor in a law review, rather than a local business man. Like that last proposal, this one focuses on having all adult content be accessed over a specific port. As we noted when that earlier proposal came out, the problem isn't with the idea of a "red light" district, but with determining what is and is not considered reasonable or "harmful." Given how badly many online filtering services "over filter" content, this could be a real problem.

Yet Preston brushes this very big issue aside:

Much of the debate about regulating pornography has stymied on the esoteric impossibility of drawing the line between acceptable and unacceptable content. However, "definitions" is a diversionary argument. Not only do we know it when we see it, we now have codified the scope of it and relied for federal court purposes on the ready identification of it by a range of observers.

Not quite. While it is, perhaps, possible to have courts judge these things for professional publications, when you're talking about a communications medium where everyone is a publisher and decisions need to be made in real time, that "definition" problem is very, very real. Much of the rest of the argument in favor of this law, again, seems to miss out on this important factor, acting as if the rules that have been set up for traditional publishing systems can equally be applied to real-time communications. That's simply not true.

But, of course, with the latest smack down against the COPA law, you can bet that politicians will eventually be looking for the next big "protect the children on the internet" law -- so don't be surprised if you see a version of this proposed law bubble up at some point.

NC - Signs prohibiting registered sex offenders to be posted in county's parks, fairgrounds

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By Jessie Burchette (

All Rowan County parks, including the fairgrounds on Julian Road, will be posted this week with signs prohibiting registered sex offenders.

Don Bringle, the county's parks director, told the Rowan Parks and Recreation Commission Tuesday evening that the signs will go up starting Thursday. While most parks will have a single sign at the entrance, two signs will be placed at Ellis Park and the fairgrounds to ensure all visitors are warned.

The Rowan County Board of Commissioners adopted the ordinance in April banning registered sex offenders from entering county parks, recreation areas, public libraries and the fairgrounds.

Hayes Smith, a member of the commission, suggested the warning be added to the parks department's Web site to warn people who might be considering visiting the parks.

Paul Brown, a member of the commission, questioned how the ordinance will be enforced at the fairgrounds, noting the potential that some of the subcontractors may have employees who are registered sex offenders. Brown said the contractors involved with the fair need to know in advance of the new law.

According to a parks staff member, an off-duty deputy spotted a registered sex offender near the splash pad several weeks ago. The man was asked to leave and did so.

In other matters, the commission:

  • Unanimously elected Dennis Rogers as the new chairman of the the commission. Rogers, an agent with Farm Bureau Insurance, has served on the panel for two years.

Rogers succeeds Sue Khan, who declined to serve another term.

Pat Masters, who headed the nominating committee, praised Khan for her leadership.

The commission elected Randy McCombs as vice chairman.

  • Heard that work is continuing on moving the McCombs log cabin from Faith to Dan Nicholas Park.

After a meeting at the cabin last month, a committee determined that the overall height of the cabin will have to be reduced to less than 17 feet to make the move economically feasible.

  • Heard that work is continuing on setting up a Web cam at Dunn's Mountain. County information technology staff is working on a budget for the proposal.
  • Announced that the annual Stories by the Millstream at Sloan Park will be held Sept. 19.

With the soaking from the remnants of Tropical Storm Fay, there may be water in the stream, which had all but dried up.

NC - False sense of security

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Craig M. Copeland admitted he went to Cedarock Park in Alamance County Feb. 6 for one reason: to stalk and rape a woman. He found an 18-year-old victim walking on a trail, forced her into the woods, tied her hands, gagged and choked her. She lost consciousness; he panicked and ran away.

Fortunately, the young woman survived the encounter without serious injuries. But her terrifying ordeal buttresses calls by local governments to ban sex offenders from public parks. City Councilman Mike Barber proposes such an ordinance for Greensboro.

There's only one part of the Copeland story that doesn't fit: He wasn't a registered sex offender.

He was arrested, convicted and sentenced to up to 33 years in prison for the Feb. 6 incident. His previous record included several other convictions but nothing that put him on the state's registry of sex offenders. He was free to enter any public park in the state.

The town of Woodfin in Buncombe County enacted one of North Carolina's first ordinances aimed at keeping sex offenders out of its parks. Challenged as unconstitutional, the measure was upheld by the N.C. Supreme Court in June. The town had a compelling public safety interest in closing off parks to people who had committed certain crimes and might again, the court said.

Absent from the case record, however, was evidence that Woodfin parks were crawling with sex offenders. Nor does Greensboro seem to have that problem. Certainly, anyone can argue that ordinances like this are bound to make parks safer from sexual predators by discouraging them from entering. A man was arrested in a Charlotte park last week for violating the brand-new ordinance there. Who knows what he might have done?

Statistically speaking, probably nothing. Few sex crimes occur in parks. In most cases, the victim is not a stranger. And, recidivism rates for sex offenders are lower than for the general criminal population, the Center for Sex Offender Management in Silver Spring, Md., reports. From a public safety perspective, it might be more beneficial to ban muggers, purse-snatchers or known gang members.

Concerns about sex offenders shouldn't be taken lightly, of course. Those who commit serious sex crimes should be locked up for long terms and, if they're released, monitored closely with restrictions imposed on their activities. Registration is important so people can know if they have a sex offender in their neighborhood.

Yet, barring every sex offender from tennis courts, jogging paths or lakes won't necessarily remove a real threat in each case and could be unreasonably punitive in some.

If parks aren't safe, a more pragmatic approach is to provide better police protection. People should take precautions: Keep an eye on children, don't walk alone in remote areas.

Craig Copeland shows there can be more dangerous people in the park than a one-time offender who only wants to sit and enjoy a summer day.

VT - Uncertainty as residency law begins

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Michael O'Malley's office is responsible for approving the residency of convicted child sex offenders settling in Rutland City, a job that becomes tougher today as a new residency ordinance takes effect.

Tougher still considering O'Malley has yet to even receive a map from the city delineating where child sex offenders can and cannot live.

"We've asked, but we don't know where the lines are drawn," said O'Malley, district manager of the Rutland Probation and Parole office.

City officials say the police department does have a definite plan for enforcing the Child Safety Ordinance, which establishes a 1,000-foot buffer zone around every city school, park and day care.

Whether everyone who shares responsibility for implementing that plan is clear on its expectations is a more confusing matter.

Tuesday, Mayor Christopher Louras (Email) said he has been briefed but declined to delve into the details without Police Chief Anthony Bossi present in case a question arose for which he didn't have the answer.

Bossi was unavailable, and another member of his department said he didn't know enough to discuss the plan either. As for O'Malley, he's not sure what role Probation and Parole could play in enforcement, since his office does not place parolees or those on probation, but simply require its clients to adhere to judge-ordered residency requirements.

"The difficulty we're going to have now is there's an additional restriction," O'Malley said. "We don't exactly know whether they're within a thousand feet. Is it out responsibility to get out there with a tape measure? I've asked my central office."

The ordinance doesn't displace convicted child sex offenders already living in the Rutland, which also has O'Malley wondering how those grandfathered in will be handled if they choose or are forced to move, say, across the street.

O'Malley and Louras said they will meet with Bossi sometime next week to discuss each department's role, a meeting all had hoped would happen a few weeks earlier. The Child Safety Ordinance was unanimously passed by the Board of Aldermen on Aug. 4.

On Aug. 8, it was published in its entirety in the Herald with notification that it would take effect today.

Also on Aug. 8 began a 45-day period in which residents opposed to the ordinance could gather signatures to get the ordinance on the ballot in November. Five percent of registered voters would need to sign the petition.

That hasn't happened yet, according to the city clerk and city attorney, neither of whom has heard from any residents on the issue.

In Barre, a near-verbatim ordinance took effect Aug. 20. There, police and the Department of Corrections met in the 20-day interim period between when City Council approved the ordinance and Aug. 20, according to Mayor Thomas Lauzon.

At that meeting, Barre's police chief stressed to DOC how important the notification they provide police will be moving forward.

"Now more than ever (the police) are relying on that," Lauzon said.

So far the ordinance has had little real impact, but both the mayor and police have spoken with landlords curious about how they could adjust their applications to help determine that they are not renting to convicted child sex offenders.

Police Chief Timothy Bombardier "talked to several landlords who want to know what they need to put on their applications and the legality of it," said Deputy Chef Andrew Marceau. "Revamping the application process has been the biggest thing so far."

JoAnne Pereira, Probation and Parole's Barre office district manager, added that in the past few weeks, staff from her office and the police department teamed to do residency checks and make sure each child sex offender's given address "was where they were actually living."

Though Rutland's counterparts have yet to reach that level of interaction on the Child Safety Ordinance, O'Malley believes that through the departments' past collaboration they've kept Rutland "reasonably safe."

"We have on an ongoing basis informed the city, through the police department, when sex offenders have been released and where they're living," he said. "That kind of communication has been ongoing for years, and we've been fairly confident in it."

Contact Stephanie M. Peters at

Naming, shaming won't help child sex offenders - prosecutor

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Naming and shaming child sex offenders who are released into the community risks creating further outcasts, and is not the answer, says a legal ethics expert.

Christchurch-based crown prosecutor Kathryn Dalziel told a privacy issues forum in Wellington today the reality was that "the child sex offender is a person in our neighbourhood, and so are children and the police".

Ms Dalziel teaches legal ethics at Canterbury University and is the sister of Associate Justice Minister Lianne Dalziel, who opened the forum.

Parents needed information to manage the risk for their children, but they did not need to know the detail, Ms Dalziel said.

"If we victimise one person and create them as outcasts, we aren't addressing the risk." Ms Dalziel cited the case of convicted paedophile Barry Brown, who was awarded $25,000 damages after suing police over a 2001 pamphlet drop advising residents of his release into the Wellington suburb of Strathmore. The pamphlet included his photo.

He was verbally and physically assaulted, and eventually forced into hiding.

"In that case the judge found there was a reasonable expectation of privacy, particularly of his photo and home address," Ms Dalziel said.

"The judge took the strong view that if you share information along these lines you create more likelihood that the person goes on to reoffend."

That was backed up by research from Canterbury University, she said.

There were also issues around the accuracy of the information. In Brown's case it was assumed he was a high risk of reoffending, which wasn't true, Ms Dalziel said.

"The experts' evidence was that if he was managed properly the risk would be reduced. There was no evidence he was reverting to risky behaviour."

Ms Dalziel said the simple solution of the death penalty, or imprisoning them away from the community for good, were not practical solutions.

It often happened that during treatment offenders revealed other offences that were not detected.

"If we rely on convictions solely, we do not have a strategy as a community to protect our community," she said.

There would also be no strategy for those offenders who had not yet been caught, she said.