Sunday, July 12, 2009

VA - Again, man wrongfully imprisoned faces undeserved trouble

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Arthur Whitfield, 55, has spent half his life trying to undo the damage from wrongful convictions for two rapes in 1981. The documented miscarriages of justice include nearly 22 years in prison before DNA test results set him free, a subsequent pardon that took more than four years, and now, absurd legal technicalities that prevent him from getting a paltry $15,000 from the state for the decades he wrongly spent in prison.

Despite all this, Whitfield remains remarkably free of anger and bitterness. He told The Pilot's Michelle Washington, "I understand that life isn't easy, but I thought it would be a little bit better than what it is."

It should be. Whitfield was 27 when he was sent to prison for 63 years for two rapes in Norfolk's Ghent neighborhood, largely on the basis of an identification by a victim. That was before DNA tests were commonplace, before evidence from a crime scene could provide an irrefutable link to a defendant or eliminate him as a suspect.

While in prison - two decades away from his family, away from any chance of earning a wage or putting money away for retirement - Whitfield earned his general equivalency diploma. He took classes in commercial cleaning and brick masonry.

In 2003, when DNA tests on old evidence began clearing a few defendants across Virginia, Whitfield asked the state to see whether the tests could be done in his case.

Two state officials helped Whitfield's case immeasurably. Mary Jane Burton, a state forensic lab analyst who has since died, preserved biological evidence, including Whitfield's, at a time when it was not required. And Norfolk Commonwealth's Attorney Jack Doyle pursued Whitfield's freedom as soon as the DNA tests in 2004 showed he was innocent.

Doyle, now a judge, petitioned the state parole board for Whitfield's immediate release. In April, three months ago, Gov. Tim Kaine (Contact) pardoned Whitfield. The pardon erases his conviction, removes his name from the state's sex offender registry and takes him off probation.

But it doesn't result in compensation for the time Whitfield spent behind bars, even though his circumstances are exactly the kind the legislature envisioned addressing. Whitfield's lawyer applied for a $15,000 transition grant to help his client until the legislature can study his case and determine how much compensation Whitfield is owed.

Absurdly, the law says such grants can be given only to people still in prison, a condition that essentially requires Virginia to keep innocent people behind bars.

Whitfield now has a job but no car. The gas and water in his apartment have been turned off because he couldn't pay the bills.

He has suffered enough. More than enough.

This latest situation begs for a lawmaker to navigate the system on Whitfield's behalf and get him the help he needs. Sen. Ken Stolle says he will check into Whitfield's case. So should the rest of the General Assembly. Arthur Whitfield deserves help, not further delay in putting back together a life that the state helped take apart.

"The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of a civilization. We must have a desire to rehabilitate into the world of industry, all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment." - Winston Churchill (United States Constitution)

WA - Sex offenders' online social activities may soon be monitored

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By Jerry Cornfield

OLYMPIA -- Thousands of convicted sex offenders who must now tell authorities where they live also could be required to share the names and addresses they use when hanging out online.

A statewide panel is considering whether high-risk juvenile and adult sex offenders should be required to register e-mail addresses, blogs and usernames on social networking sites such as Facebook.

Some argue the information will help law enforcement keep better track of these criminals. Others worry it will create a false sense of safety if the public believes every mouse click by these offenders will be monitored when it won't.

The Sex Offender Policy Board will sort through the arguments and make recommendations to the Legislature in November. They'll be part of the panel's broader review of the state's system of registration and public notification of sex offenders.

Rep. Kirk Pearson (Contact), R-Monroe, hopes the panel backs the change.

In 2008, Pearson unsuccessfully pushed a bill requiring sex offender e-mail and Web addresses be registered. This year's version, authored by Rep. Brad Klippert (Contact), R-Sunnyside, passed after it was revised into a study by the policy board.

"It's not a bad idea for law enforcement to have that information on file," said Pearson, the ranking Republican on the House public safety committee. "I do think it can help when they're doing their investigations."

Brad Meryhew, a criminal defense lawyer on the policy board, sees more negatives than benefits.

It will be costly to implement, difficult to enforce and those convicted of serious sex offenses can already be barred as a condition of their sentence from using the Internet, said Meryhew, a Seattle attorney whose practice is exclusively representing sex offenders.

He foresees rashes of offenders charged with failure to register if they don't inform authorities quickly enough of a new e-mail or revised Facebook account.

"It doesn't make sense. I don't see how community safety is improved by having someone's e-mail addresses," he said. "I don't think its a practical way to get at Internet-related offenses."

Today, 21 states mandate that sex offenders provide data about their online identities at the time they register their home address, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The number likely will grow in the next year because a federal law requires states enact rules for collection of the data by July 2010. Those that don't comply could lose out on thousands or even millions of federal dollars for law enforcement.

Washington's Sex Offender Policy Board is a 16-member panel with representatives of courts, prisons, crime victims, prosecutors and defense attorneys. Created two years ago, it's been analyzing treatment, supervision and housing of sex offenders as well as prevention of sex offenses.

It's been measuring the state's guidelines against the federal statute. In the coming weeks it will focus on tracking the online habits of registered sex offenders, which now number about 4,370 statewide.

Anmarie Aylward of the Department of Corrections isn't sure which path to go.

Research is limited. Yet, she said, "It may be good public policy."

If an offender is prevented from using a false identity on a site like MySpace then it's worth trying, said Aylward, a board member.

On the other hand, she said, "We don't want to set up something that gives people the impression that if they are Twittering somebody, that person is not a sex offender. We won't know that for certain."

Kecia Rongen, a program administrator in the state's Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration and a policy board member, said different juvenile and adult offenders need to be treated differently.

Juveniles convicted of sex offenses are, for the most part, not using the Internet to facilitate their crime, she said.

For many, going online will help them re-engage in society, she said. Any gains could be blunted by overly restrictive registration mandates.

Like Meryhew, she worried about juveniles getting sent back to jail for failing to promptly inform authorities of a new user account.

"Being selective about whom we apply the rules to makes the most sense," she said.

Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick said his detectives could certainly benefit as they use the Internet to track and contact the offenders.

Officers could send e-mails informing sex offenders of changes in law or simply to get in touch with them for some unresolved matter, he said.

Attorney General Rob McKenna (Contact), whose office is represented on the policy board, avoided an absolute stance.

"I think it is definitely worth considering. If the goal is to monitor what the sex offender is doing, it probably makes sense to check their use of social networks," he said.

It won't be effective without follow-up and law enforcement's lack of resources makes that difficult, he said.

McKenna's office makes wide use of existing social media from Facebook to Twitter and everything in between. He said he does it to go to where the public hangs out.

That's what makes it alluring to sex offenders.

"They go where the prey is," he said.

"The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of a civilization. We must have a desire to rehabilitate into the world of industry, all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment." - Winston Churchill (United States Constitution)

UK - 'Spot the paedophile' ad fears - Police Encouraging Vigilantism

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A police force has been accused of encouraging vigilantes after launching a "spot the paedophile" radio campaign.

The 40-second ad has been developed by Cambridgeshire police and is being played on Heart FM.

It is part of "Disclosure", a Home Office child protection scheme aiming to encourage people to check if adults living nearby are sex offenders.

In it a woman's voice can be heard saying: "There's something not quite right about my sister's new partner."

Sally Ireland of human rights group Justice said: "People have to be vigilant to protect children but sex offenders also need to be rehabilitated once they are released from prison."

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin (Bill Of Rights)