Saturday, April 18, 2009

ME - Sex offender registry bill seeks change

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By Eric Russell - BDN Staff

Baldacci stresses importance of safety over modifications

AUGUSTA - Debate resumed Friday among legislators on whether Maine should modify the state’s sex offender registry laws, but lawmakers received a clear message that the governor might not support some of those changes.

The governor will oppose any changes that remove offenders from the registry without addressing risk,” said Maine Public Safety Commissioner Anne Jordan, who testified on behalf of Gov. John Baldacci (Contact).

Rep. Richard Sykes (Email), R-Harrison, told the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee that his bill aims to remove any language from state law that characterized the sex offender registry as punitive. It also would give courts more discretion on which restrictions sex offenders should adhere to as opposed to the current approach, which is essentially one size fits all. Finally, LD 568 addresses offenders who committed crimes between 1982 and 1992, but were then added to the sex offender registry after changes to state law in 2005.

By changing the definition [of registrants], we punished people [retroactively],” Sykes testified, explaining that under his bill, some registrants would be removed.

That was the major sticking point for Jordan, who testified on the governor’s behalf against the bill.

Jordan later echoed the same concerns about Sen. Stan Gerzofsky’s (Contact) bill, LD 1157, which is similar but recommends a few more changes than Sykes’ version and also would result in offenders being removed from the registry.

The public safety commissioner took the governor’s position on the issue a little further during the discussion on the Brunswick Democrat’s bill.

The governor feels strongly about the safety of children and he thinks the public needs access to that information,” she said. “Until a better system to judge risk is created, the governor believes we should stick with what works.

Compounding the problem — both sides agreed — is that creating a risk assessment model would require additional resources at a time when none is available.

Friday’s debate was reminiscent of a similar discussion last year around a bill, LD 446, that looked very much like LD 1157 and LD 568. That bill passed through the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and then through the House and Senate. But for the same concerns Jordan expressed Friday, the governor pocket-vetoed the bill by not signing it after the Legislature had adjourned.

Members of the committee appeared frustrated with Jordan’s — and the governor’s — stance during Friday’s public hearing, particularly after they spent most of the day hearing from people who supported changes.

Janette Bragdon of Searsport testified on behalf of her father, Clyde Nickerson, who was convicted of statutory rape in the early 1980s. She said her dad, then 19, had consensual sex with his girlfriend, who was under the age of 14. The girl’s doctor found out about the conduct and reported it. Nickerson was convicted and spent time in jail, followed by probation and a spot on Maine’s sex offender registry. Because Nickerson’s crime was a relatively minor sex offense, he was only required to remain on the registry for 10 years. However, when the laws changed in 2005, Nickerson received a letter saying he had to register once again.
- And that is ex post facto, which the constitution forbids!  If people have no hope of getting their lives back together, after some mistake, then why even try?

Bragdon said her dad has been ridiculed and even threatened for a crime that should be long forgotten.

A woman who identified herself as Jane Doe testified on behalf of her son, who was convicted of a similar crime several years ago. She admitted that her son made a mistake and that he should pay for that mistake, but she also said sex offender laws have gotten out of hand.

He’s serving a jail sentence, but the registry will be the real punishment,” she said. “The public always assumes the worst.

Peter Lehman, a sociologist from Thomaston and a former sex offender, has studied sex offender registries in Maine and across the country and said a lot of misinformation exists. Recidivism among sex offenders, Lehman said, is not as high as people think and, in fact, is much lower than almost every other serious crime.

Alysia Melnick, a public policy counselor with the Maine Civil Liberties Union, said the changes made in 2005 that required offenders to essentially re-register for old crimes is almost certainly unconstitutional. Indeed, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court is in the process of debating that argument.

The committee briefly discussed creating a so-called tiered system, which other states have done, that creates categories for types of offenders. Relatively minor offenders would still register, but only police would have access to the information.

In the end, though, the discussion steered back to risk. Commissioner Jordan was willing to concede that no risk assessment model is going to be perfect, but right now nothing exists.

Rep. Sykes said he hopes the governor is willing to come up with a way to address what he feels are needed changes to the registry, but he was not overly optimistic.

It seems like there are a lot of roadblocks to where we want to go,” he said.

The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will hold a work session on May 6 to decide whether one or both of the bills move forward to the full Legislature.

Related Stories

F.B.I. and States Vastly Expand DNA Databases

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Law enforcement officials are vastly expanding their collection of DNA to include millions more people who have been arrested or detained but not yet convicted. The move, intended to help solve more crimes, is raising concerns about the privacy of petty offenders and people who are presumed innocent.

Until now, the federal government genetically tracked only convicts. But starting this month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation will join 15 states that collect DNA samples from those awaiting trial and will also collect DNA from detained immigrants — the vanguard of a growing class of genetic registrants.

The F.B.I., with a DNA database of 6.7 million profiles, expects to accelerate its rate of growth from 80,000 new entries a year to 1.2 million by 2012 — a 17-fold increase. F.B.I. officials say they expect DNA processing backlogs — which now stand at more than 500,000 cases — to increase.

Law enforcement officials say that expanding the DNA databanks to include legally innocent people will help solve more violent crimes. They point out that DNA has helped convict thousands of criminals and has exonerated more than 200 wrongfully convicted people.

But criminal justice experts cite Fourth Amendment privacy concerns and worry that the nation is becoming a genetic surveillance society.

“DNA databases were built initially to deal with violent sexual crimes and homicides — a very limited number of crimes,” said Harry Levine, a professor of sociology at City University of New York who studies policing trends. “Over time more and more crimes of decreasing severity have been added to the database. Cops and prosecutors like it because it gives everybody more information and creates a new suspect pool.”

Courts have generally upheld laws authorizing compulsory collection of DNA from convicts and ex-convicts under supervised release, on the grounds that criminal acts diminish privacy rights.

DNA extraction upon arrest potentially erodes that argument, a recent Congressional study found. “Courts have not fully considered legal implications of recent extensions of DNA-collection to people whom the government has arrested but not tried or convicted,” the report said.

Minors are required to provide DNA samples in 35 states upon conviction, and in some states upon arrest. Three juvenile suspects in November filed the only current constitutional challenge against taking DNA at the time of arrest. The judge temporarily stopped DNA collection from the three youths, and the case is continuing.

Sixteen states now take DNA from some who have been found guilty of misdemeanors. In South Carolina in 2007, a court ordered a DNA sample to be taken from a man found guilty of loitering for the purpose of prostitution.

As more police agencies take DNA for a greater variety of lesser and suspected crimes, civil rights advocates say the government’s power is becoming too broadly applied. “What we object to — and what the Constitution prohibits — is the indiscriminate taking of DNA for things like writing an insufficient funds check, shoplifting, drug convictions and other cases where police don’t have a need to obtain DNA because it’s not relevant to charges facing them,” said Michael Risher, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union.

This year, California began taking DNA upon arrest and expects to nearly double the growth rate of its database, to 390,000 profiles a year from 200,000.

One of those was Brian Roberts, 29, who was awaiting trial for methamphetamine possession. Inside the huge Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles last month, Mr. Roberts let a sheriff’s deputy swab the inside of his cheek.

Mr. Roberts’s DNA will be translated into a numerical sequence at the F.B.I.’s DNA database, the largest in the world.

The system will search for matches between Mr. Roberts’s DNA and other profiles every Monday, from now into the indeterminate future — until one day, perhaps decades hence, Mr. Roberts might leave a drop of blood or semen at some crime scene.

Law enforcement officials say that DNA extraction upon arrest is no different than fingerprinting at routine bookings and that states purge profiles after people are cleared of suspicion. In practice, a number of defense lawyers say this is a laborious process that often involves a court order. (The F.B.I. says it has never received a request to purge a profile from its own database.)

When DNA is taken in error, expunging a profile can be just as difficult. In Pennsylvania, where DNA cannot be taken from juveniles for misdemeanors, Ellyn Sapper, a Philadelphia public defender, has spent weeks trying to expunge the profile of a 14-year-old boy guilty of assault and bicycle theft — his first misdemeanor. “I’m going to have to get a judge’s order to make sure that all references to his DNA are gone,” she said.

The police say that the potential hazards of genetic surveillance are worth it because it solves crimes and because DNA is more accurate than other physical evidence. “I’ve watched women go from mug-book to mug-book looking for the man who raped her,” said Mitch Morrissey, the Denver district attorney and an advocate for more expansive DNA sampling. “It saves women’s lives.”

Mr. Morrissey pointed to Britain, which has fewer privacy protections than the United States and has been taking DNA upon arrest for years. It has a population of 61 million — and 4.5 million DNA profiles. “What you find is that about 8 percent of the people commit about 70 percent of your crimes, so if you can get the majority of that community, you don’t have to do more than that,” he said.

In the United States, 8 percent of the population would be roughly 24 million people.

Britain may provide a window into America’s genetic surveillance future: As of March 2008, 857,000 people in the British database, or about one-fifth, have no current criminal record. In December, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Britain’s practice of collecting DNA profiles from innocent people, including children as young as 10, violated international privacy protections.

Critics are also disturbed by the demographics of DNA databases, and again Britain’s example is instructive. According to a House of Commons report, 27 percent of black people and 42 percent of all black males are genetically registered, compared with 6 percent of white people.

As in Britain, expanding genetic sampling in the United States could exacerbate racial disparities in the criminal justice system, according to Hank Greely, a Stanford University Law School professor who studies the intersection of genetics, policing and race. Mr. Greely estimated that African-Americans, who are about 12 percent of the national population, currently make up 40 percent of the DNA profiles in the federal database, reflective of their prison population. He also expects Latinos, who are about 13 percent of the population and committed 40 percent of last year’s federal offenses — nearly half of them immigration crimes, including illegal entry — to dominate DNA databases.

Enforcement officials contend that DNA is blind to race. Federal profiles include little more information than the DNA sequence and the referring police agency. Subjects’ names are usually kept by investigators.

Rock Harmon, a former prosecutor for Alameda County, Calif., and an adviser to crime laboratories, said DNA demographics reflected the criminal population. Even if an innocent man’s DNA was included in a genetic database, he said, it would come to nothing without a crime scene sample to match it. “If you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear,” he said.

AK - House passes bill outlawing beastiality

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JUNEAU (AP) - The state House has unanimously approved a bill that outlaws sex with an animal.

State Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, filed the bill in response to an incident last year in Klawock in which a 26-year-old man was accused of taking a family's dog, tying it to a tree, taping its muzzle and having sex with it.

The man was a registered sex offender. He was charged with theft.

Lynn says there's no Alaska law that applies to such an attack on an animal.

He says research indicates links between the animal attacks and abuse of children.

His bill would ban bestiality by expanding the animal cruelty law to include sexual conduct.

The offense would be a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Representatives approved the bill Friday night 40-0.

PA - Couple seeks to change Megan’s Law restrictions

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By Steve Mocarsky

Haughwouts feel West Pittston’s residency laws on sex offenders are unfair.

WEST PITTSTON – A man who was deemed a violent sexual predator in 2001 and his wife believe the borough’s six-month-old residency restrictions on sexual offenders are unfair, and that Megan’s Law for Pennsylvania should be amended.

What about the murderers that can live anywhere they want? What about the drug dealers who live down the street from a school? They can live anywhere they want,” said Muriel Haughwout.

Her husband, Guy Haughwout, pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent assault against minors under age 13 in 2001. The crime is a misdemeanor, and he was sentenced to seven to 36 months in prison along with receiving therapy, refraining from contact with minors and adhering to Megan’s Law requirements after his release.

Police said he molested a 5-year-old girl and a 10-year-old girl on separate occasions.

I don’t minimize my crimes at all. They were heinous acts that no one should have to endure,” Guy Haughwout, 40, said during a recent interview in the couple’s second-floor apartment.

But I know why it happened, and I know how not to let it happen again. Give me a way to prove to society that I have changed. I maintain my moral sobriety, and I feel I should have the opportunity,” he said.

Haughwout said her husband hasn’t been charged with any sex crime since his 2001 conviction. Court records show two unrelated offenses and a not guilty verdict on a charge of failing to register his address in 2002.

But because his initial offense is one listed under Megan’s Law and an evaluation by the state Sexual Offenders Assessment Board determined he was a violent sexual predator who was sexually abused as a child, Haughwout said he was told he must register as a violent sexual predator for the rest of his life.

Megan’s Law requires sexual predators to register their address with police every three months. State police post the offenders’ names, addresses and offenses on a Web site.

Sex offender recidivism
West Pittston Council adopted a residency restriction ordinance for registered sex offenders in October. It prohibits them from moving into a dwelling within a certain distance of schools, playgrounds and other places children might frequent.

I believe the reason they have these laws and ordinances around the country is that murderers get locked up for a long, long time,” said Council President Brian Thornton. “A lot of those crimes were very specific and targeted, not random. There’s no reason to expect a murderer to target random victims once he’s released from prison.
- Why not, murderers do this, just look at Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole, who supposedly killed Adam Walsh.  They killed at random.

But Thornton said the opposite is true with sexual predators.
- No it's not.  We are talking about sex offenders in general here, and not all are predators, and very few, less than 5% target strangers.

They don’t stop when they get out of jail because of their psychological problem. They continue to prey on innocent sectors of the community. … I’m not aware of any study that shows murderers start murdering again when they’re released. But studies show many sexual predators go back to their behavior,” he said.
- Well, show me this so-called "study!"  I can show you a bunch, which disprove what you just said, here.

Guy Haughwout believes Thornton misunderstands recidivism studies. He said only the recidivism rate of murderers committing the same type of crime is lower than the recidivism rate for sex offenders.
- And that is true.  See that link I provided above.

Haughwout said it appears the rate for sex offenders is higher because of many additional parole restrictions put on sex offenders, such as verifying their addresses with police every 90 days and not owning a computer or using the Internet. Any such violation is enough to return a sex offender on probation or parole to prison.
- Most sex offenders get arrested again on a technicality, for some of the above mentioned.  The recidivism rate of sex offenders in general, is very low, most studies show 10% or less, and many show less than 5.3%.

According to a U.S. Department of Justice press release on a 2003 recidivism study, within three years following their 1994 state prison release, 5.3 percent of sex offenders were rearrested for another sex crime.

But sex offenders were less likely than other offenders to be rearrested for any offense – 43 percent of sex offenders versus 68 percent of others.

Amend Megan’s Law?
Muriel Haughwout said the nature of her husband’s crime was not violent, and she doesn’t think a misdemeanor should be among the crimes that require an offender to be considered for violent sexual predator status.

I’ve been with him 23 years. There’s not a violent bone in his body,” Haughwout said of her husband.

She also believes the evaluator who determines if a sex offender is a violent predator should have “psychological credentials. It shouldn’t be a social worker.” The person who evaluated her husband was a licensed social worker who had a master’s in social work.

Guy Haughwout thinks it unfair that someone who is deemed a violent sexual predator must carry the stigma and associated penalties for a lifetime if that person hasn’t reoffended and has received adequate psychological treatment.

If there was a way to revisit the board and be reassessed so (the classification) could be downgraded, that would be fair,” Guy Haughwout said.

Greg Warner, counsel to the state Senate Judiciary Committee, said under the current Megan’s Law statute the designation is applied for life, but after 20 years “they’re able to petition the court to have that label removed.
- And how many, if any, have had the label removed?  I am willing to bet 0%.

Lauren Taylor, executive director of the state Sexual Offenders Assessment Board, said evaluators of sex offenders are board members who Megan’s Law requires to be psychiatrists, psychologists or criminal justice experts, each of whom is an expert in the field of the behavior and treatment of sexual offenders.

Taylor said she feels confident that any board member who evaluates an offender is qualified to do so. She said the evaluation is a “cross-breed … between points of law and medical diagnosis.

Taylor said the phrase “violent sexual offender” is a legal term. By legal definition, a violent sexual predator must have either a personality disorder or a mental abnormality. Evaluators use the Diagnostics Statistical Manual – a tool used nationally by the medical community for diagnosis – to determine if an individual meets criteria for a personality disorder or mental abnormality, Taylor said.

There is a list of other criteria that must also be considered when evaluating whether or not a sex offender should be deemed a violent predator, including prior criminal history, relationship to the victim, nature of the crime and whether multiple the crimes were committed.

As for the types of crimes that require sexual predator evaluations under Megan’s Law and reassessment, Taylor said those are issues that would have to be addressed by the General Assembly.

Muriel Haughwout said her next step in attempting to loosen the restrictions on her husband will be to contact state legislators.

They don’t realize that they’re taking this person’s life away and they might not need to do that. And this isn’t a sexually violent predator asking. This is the wife … that’s asking.

IA - Hearing on Iowa sex offender laws will be Monday

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If you live in this state, attend this meeting, and let your voice be heard.


DES MOINES - The Iowa Legislature has scheduled a public hearing Monday night on proposed changes to the state's sex offender laws.

The hearing on Senate File 340/House File 711, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. in the House chamber.

Key lawmakers have said the legislation will roll back parts of a state law prohibiting sex offenders convicted of crimes against children from living within 2,000 feet of a school or day care.

Under the proposal, only the most serious sex offenders would be subject to the 2,000-foot rule.

The proposal would prohibit all registered sex offenders from visiting or working in exclusionary zones where groups of children gather, such as schools or parks.

Offenders on the state's registry also would be subject to more strict reporting requirements under the measure.

Those wishing to speak at the hearing should sign up in advance by calling the Legislative Information Office at (515) 281-5129.