Thursday, January 19, 2012
If you are faced with the "sex offender" label, or are the family member of one who wears the label, use the links on the left to contact your state senators, governors, legislature, etc, and voice your opinion on the laws. The more people who speak up, the better chances we have to get them repealed or fixed.
Justin and Terry are registered sex offenders who live their everyday lives under major restrictions. Both men are reminded of their past mistakes as they carry around a stigma that could last their entire lives.
By Jordan Smith
A bit of good news on the sex offender registry beat
After more than a decade of being required to register as a sex offender, [name withheld] has finally found a way off the state's ever-expanding registry: Travis County prosecutors allowed him to retract his plea in a case of sexual assault of a child, and then quickly dismissed the charges against him – in "the interest of justice," the dismissal form reads. "I didn't honestly think that this day would ever come," said [name withheld]. "I was in the Army; I'm a Desert Storm veteran. I've done a lot of tough things. ... I consider myself fairly strong, but when I was asked [in court] if I had anything to say ... I broke down. I couldn't speak, because I just didn't believe it."
[name withheld] was 32 when he met his then-future wife in 1998. She was just 16. After her mother learned of the couple's relationship, [name withheld] was prosecuted for sexually assaulting a minor – in Texas, the age of consent is 17, and [name withheld]'s wife was then just shy of that. [name withheld] entered a plea and was given deferred adjudication; he successfully completed his probated term, but nonetheless, under the state's complicated and numerous sex offender laws, was required to register as a sex offender for life. [name withheld] and his young bride have stayed together and now have three children. But [name withheld] has been unable to find any work – he has a master's degree from St. Edward's University and hoped to teach high school, but his status has prevented him, and his wife has had to take multiple jobs to keep the family afloat.
In theory, the state's sex offender registry was created as a way to let the public monitor dangerous sexual predators; in practice, it has become badly diluted because state laws require so many people to register – including so-called "Romeo and Juliet" offenders not entirely unlike [name withheld] (though, typically, Romeo and Juliet cases involve two youthful lovers). The crowded registry causes frustration for police tasked with monitoring the tens of thousands of people on the state's registry, a cost that largely falls into the laps of local police and sheriff's departments. (For more on the state's sex offender registry and the [name withheld] case, see "Sex Offenders Exposed," Sept. 10, 2010.)
And in [name withheld]'s case, the impact of the registry is simply cruel: The couple's three children have, at times, been ostracized at school after peers or their parents have found [name withheld]'s picture on the registry, and the family has had to move numerous times after neighbors have found him listed and have responded negatively.
Those days are, hopefully, almost over. On Jan. 12, District Judge Karen Sage signed an order (based on a motion filed by [name withheld]'s pro bono attorney, former judge Charlie Baird) granting [name withheld] habeas relief, allowing him to withdraw his original guilty plea – setting aside the prior judgment and sentence – and ordering the Texas Department of Public Safety, which maintains the state's registry, to remove [name withheld]'s name from the database. As soon as Sage had inked the order, prosecutor Mary Farrington signed off on a form to dismiss the underlying sexual assault charge.
For [name withheld] and his family, the resolution was a long time coming. "Everything looks different; the day seems a little bit brighter," he said. "It feels pretty good."
Why not one registry for all criminals? If it's okay for one group, then to be fair, all criminals should be on one, with similar residency and other restrictions on them, regardless of when their crime was committed.
Animal abusers, take heed. Efforts to establish online registries for animal abusers, like the ones for sex offenders, are gaining support, with legislation pending or soon-to-be-introduced in at least five states.
Among the efforts is one from Florida state Sen. Mike Fasano, who has proposed Dexter’s law, named after a kitten that was beaten to death in his state. His proposal would require convicted animal abusers to register with authorities. Their names, home addresses and photographs would be posted online, and they would be required to pay $50 a year to maintain the registry.
Registries also have been proposed in Maryland, Colorado, Arizona and New York. Stephan K. Otto, director of legislative affairs for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, expects similar proposals in more states.
Suffolk County on Long Island in 2010 moved to create a registry, and has since been followed by two other New York counties. No names appear on the Suffolk County registry yet, because it was only recently set up. Convicted abusers will appear on the registry for five years. Those failing to register are subject to a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.
The New York counties also require pet stores and animal shelters to check the names of anyone seeking to adopt or buy an animal against the registry, Otto said.
Maryland State Sen. Ronald Young said he plans to introduce legislation in the wake of two incidents in his state. In one, a Yorkshire terrier was thrown off a 23-foot-high balcony; the dog, Louie, survived. In the other, a golden retriever puppy named Heidi was shot to death.
"Just too many people are mistreating and killing animals,’’ Young said in an interview.
- We also have tons of people driving drunk killing innocent people, yet we don't have a DUI registry. Drug dealers dealing deadly drugs that kill people, yet we don't have a drug dealer registry. Gang members performing drive by shootings, yet we don't have a gang member registry. Why are you picking certain things? Why not one registry for all criminals?
A bill to create such a registry in California, introduced in 2010, didn’t make it through the Legislature, partly because of concerns about its cost.
- If you consolidated all registries into one, then it would not cost any more than the states sex offender online shaming hit-list does, and how ironic, this was never considered when it's to punish ex-sex offenders.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund says the registries can reduce the number of abused animals and serve as an early warning system for potentially violent criminals, citing cases of serial killers who had tortured animals as children. Otto said they also can save taxpayers money by reducing the cost for caring for and treating abused animals.
- You keep living on Fantasy Island!
Among the issues that need to be addressed is who should be required to register? Should it include "someone who took their golden retriever out one day, went into a 7-Eleven, but it was too hot outside, and the dog died," asked Madeline Bernstein, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Los Angeles.
Otto said that some states have looked to limit the registry to felons.
Liberty Watch Colorado, in its blog, called the legislation "an unnecessary expansion of government.''
RICHMOND (AP) - Juveniles who commit a sex crime but aren't immediately put on the sex-offender registry could be added later under a bill endorsed by a legislative subcommittee.
Del. Ben Cline's proposal was sent to the full House Courts of Justice Committee on Wednesday.
Currently, decisions on whether to put juveniles on the registry are made at sentencing. Cline said there's no way to put them on the registry later if they don't appear to be making progress in their rehabilitation. His bill seeks to remedy that.
Mary Devoy, executive director of Reform Sex Offender Laws in Virginia, opposed the bill. She said it would allow prosecutors to petition the court to put a person on the registry years after the offense, even if the person did not commit another sex crime.
I can understand teaching about sex ed, safe sex, etc, but it should be preference neutral, and they should also teach about the ramifications of having sex while underage or with an underage child, which can land you on the sex offender registry and ruin your life. I wonder if they teach that in school? I doubt it!