Saturday, December 8, 2007

CA - Editorial: 'Jessica's Law' one year later: Empty promises

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Initiative aimed at protecting children is prohibitively expensive, unenforceable

A little more than a year ago, California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 83, popularly known as Jessica's Law. That initiative, aimed at monitoring and controlling sex offenders, now is collapsing under its own excess.

Virtually no local government is enforcing the law because its sweeping provisions are both unenforceable and prohibitively expensive.

The measure requires lifetime monitoring for sex offenders – not just those charged with child sexual abuse and rapists whose victims were adults, but also those convicted of consensual sex with a teenager and even misdemeanor indecent exposure. It also bars offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park.

The legislative analyst predicted the measure would cost tens of millions of dollars initially, jumping to hundreds of millions of dollars within 10 years. After just one year, the costs of Jessica's Law are beginning to mount rapidly.

According to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, there are 5,669 parolees subject to monitoring now. Another 400 to 700 leave prison every month. Each is supposed to be fitted with a global positioning system device, or GPS. According to the department, these devices cost $2,500 apiece if purchased. The state leases them for $8.50 a day.

Once parolees are fitted with a GPS, they must be monitored. State parole officers now monitor 2,746 parolees fitted with GPS devices. (The state doesn't have enough devices for the rest.) Labor and equipment cost $33 a day or $11,616 per offender per year.

Who will pick up the burden of monitoring sex offenders when they leave state parole? The poorly drafted initiative was silent on this point.

Corrections Director James Tilton wants offenders who finish parole to turn in their state-issued global positioning devices and report to local authorities. But sheriffs and city police departments are reluctant to take on these duties. It's easy to see why nobody wants the job. Where will the manpower and money come from?

So for now at least, the law is not being enforced, and there is a real question whether it ever will or even can be. Deputy Mike Jones, who heads the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department Sex Offender Task Force, says Jessica's Law is not being enforced in the county. He doubts it ever can be in its current form.

For example, there are no sanctions in the law for sex offenders who fail to keep their GPS anklet devices charged or who remove them after being released from state jurisdiction. If sex offenders travel to other counties or cities or outside of state, which they are free to do, no one knows how they will be tracked.

The arrest of a high-risk offender in Placer County last week shows that GPS monitoring can pay off – in the right circumstances and if the right people are being monitored. But because it overreaches so badly, Jessica's Law fails to deliver what proponents promised and what the public wants – real protection from sexual predators who target children.

State corrections officials predicted the residency restrictions in the law would drive sex offenders underground and make our communities less safe. Now it also turns out that the measure would bankrupt local governments if it is enforced as written. California will be wrestling with this mess for years to come.

The Science of Sex Abuse

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Talk of the Nation, May 13, 2005 · The news seems to be filled with disturbing stories of sexual abuse. Is sexual abuse a mental illness, a criminal behavior, or both? And does treatment for the perpetrators work?


Jennifer Freyd, professor of psychology. Department of psychology, University of Oregon

Elizabeth Letourneau, assistant professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Medical University of South Carolina

John Q. La Fond, professor of law, University of Missouri, Kansas City

MO - Court Strikes Down Child Sex Offender Law

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JEFFERSON CITY -- The state Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a Missouri law that has allowed prior child sex offenses to be used against defendants facing similar new charges.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court said evidence of prior criminal acts should never be used in court to try to prove a defendant's propensity to commit a crime.

To do so "violates one of the constitutional protections vital to the integrity of our criminal justice system," Judge Michael Wolff wrote in the decision.

The ruling marked the second time the Supreme Court has struck down Missouri's attempt to bring up past sex crimes in new cases against defendants.

Missouri's original 1994 law was struck down by the state's highest court in 1998. Legislators responded by passing a revised version two years later. That law was invalidated Tuesday.

The latest ruling came in the Livingston County case of a man convicted of first-degree child molestation. Donald Ellison had been sentenced to 20 years in prison as a repeat offender. But the Supreme Court overturned Ellison's conviction and ordered a new trial.

In interviews with local sheriff's deputies, the child victim described numerous instances of sexual abuse by Ellison while she was between the ages of 6 and 9, according to the Supreme Court ruling.

At trial, prosecutors began their case against Ellison by entering evidence that he previously had been convicted of first-degree sexual abuse against a 13-year-old girl.

An attorney for Ellison objected when the trial judge allowed prosecutors to admit that evidence. But the judge concluded the information about Ellison's past conviction was related more to providing proof in his current case than it was merely prejudicial against him.

The trial judge's ruling tracked with the language of the 2000 law.

That law states that, in sexually oriented criminal charges involving a victim younger than 14, courts may admit evidence the defendant has committed other sexual crimes against children younger than 14 "for the purpose of showing the propensity of the defendant to commit the crime" with which he or she is charged, "unless the trial court finds that the probative value of such evidence is outweighed by the prejudicial effect."

That final phrase was added by lawmakers in response to the Supreme Court's 1998 ruling. But the Supreme Court said Tuesday that it still was unconstitutional.

TX - Deputy Charged With Child Indecency

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GILMER - An Upshur County sheriff's deputy who admitted to repeatedly inappropriately touching an 11-year-old girl was fired Friday after turning himself in on a charge of indecency with a child, authorities said.

Richard Louis Bridgewater, 29, of Big Sandy, is charged with one felony count, but could face more charges, said Upshur County District Attorney Billy Byrd. He is accused of touching the girl inappropriately on or about Nov. 20.

Bridgewater was confined under $25,000 bond in Titus County Jail at Mount Pleasant, where he was transferred "for his safety" since he is a former Upshur County jailer, said Byrd. Byrd and Sheriff Anthony Betterton, who fired the patrol deputy, announced the arrest at an afternoon news conference at the Upshur County Justice Center.

The case surfaced late last week when the girl "made some outcries and statements" to her friends at school, said Byrd. The child later told a forensic interviewer that Bridgewater inappropriately touched her "up to 20 separate times" at his home, the prosecutor said.

Bridgewater admitted to the allegations when interviewed Thursday by Texas Ranger Ronny Griffith, but was not arrested then, said Byrd. Griffith had told the suspect in advance that he would be free to leave the "non-custodial" interview in Longview, according to a written statement signed by Byrd and the Ranger.

Authorities contacted Bridgewater on Friday, and he voluntarily turned himself in that morning to the sheriff's office in Gilmer, the district attorney said. The allegations go back about a year, he said.

"You don't suspect one of your own to commit an offense like this," a grim-faced Betterton said after the news conference. "It's upsetting that one of our own deputies would commit a crime like this."

The sheriff said Bridgewater had been with the sheriff's office about a year, initially hired as a jailer in October 2006. Bridgewater was transferred to the patrol division last October, and "we've had no problems" with him, Betterton told the Tyler Morning Telegraph.

"He was doing a good job in the jail," said Betterton, who said Bridgewater had undergone routine psychological testing and a routine background check before being hired.

During the news conference, Byrd said Bridgewater previously worked briefly for the Overton and Big Sandy police departments. The suspect has lived in Upshur County since about 2001, the prosecutor said.

The district attorney said investigation of the case will continue, and that he didn't know when he would present it to the county's grand jury. He pledged that Bridgewater would receive "no special treatment or favors."

If convicted of the second-degree felony, the defendant could face 2-20 years in prison, a fine up to $10,000, and lifetime registration as a sex offender.

"Certainly, it's unfortunate" when a peace officer is accused of a crime, the prosecutor said. Betterton said this was only the second of his officers to face legal trouble in his nearly seven years as sheriff.

Byrd, a Republican, praised Betterton, a Democrat who has filed for re-election in 2008, for his handling of the matter. Betterton said after the news conference he had recommended a Texas Ranger conduct the investigation.

When the child told her friends at school of the allegations, they in turn told their parents, who contacted the school counselor, said Byrd. As law requires, Big Sandy ISD then called the Child Protective Services hotline, the district attorney said.

Byrd said he and Betterton became aware of the allegations Monday. The prosecutor said Betterton and some members of the sheriff's staff met with him Monday, and that Betterton "rightly" requested that an agency other than his office investigate the case.

Betterton said he initially put Bridgewater on paid administrative leave Monday. Byrd said also met Monday with Ranger Griffith and a CPS investigator.

The forensic interviewer who talked to the child Tuesday was from the Winnsboro office of the Children's Advocacy Center, a state agency, the district attorney said.

In the written complaint signed by Byrd and Griffith, Griffith said he contacted the child's mother and set up the interview. Griffith said that after meeting the girl and her mother for the first time at the center, he "attended the interview" by witnessing it from "a secure room through a two-way mirror," and listening to the child's statement.

The girl "was able to identify the defendant and stated that he had been touching her multiple times throughout the past year" with his hands, Griffith wrote.

The complaint also said Griffith contacted Bridgewater Thursday "and asked if he would be willing" to come to the Texas Department of Public Safety office in Longview "to give a non-custodial statement regarding the allegations made against him."

Bridgewater drove to the office and met Griffith, who wrote that he "asked the defendant if he would be willing to give a non-custodial statement regarding the allegations and that no matter what, he would be free to leave on his own free will at anytime."

Griffith said he took a written statement from Bridgewater admitting he touched the inappropriately "beginning approximately one year ago."