Thursday, December 13, 2007
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So what about all the people who were forced to SELL their homes because of the law before it was changed? Are you going to compensate them? And now, since they probably now are renting, are they now forced to obey these new laws? So basically nothing has changed, the way I see it. Renters are forced to move over and over and over again, which is still unfair.
ATLANTA -- Sex offenders in Georgia are only exempt from the state's strict residency requirements if they own property, according to state Attorney General Thurbert Baker.
Baker's office said a substitute ruling issued by the Georgia Supreme Court late Thursday scales back the court's November opinion, which seemed to toss out the state law preventing sex offenders living within 1,000 feet of schools, churches and other places children congregate.
"We are pleased that the Georgia Supreme Court narrowed its decision today in response to the attorney general's motion for reconsideration," Baker's spokesman Russ Willard said.
"It narrows the scope of the court's decision to only protect property owners."
But not everyone read the justices revamped decision the same way.
"I respectfully disagree with that interpretation," said Sarah Geraghty a lawyer for the Southern Center for Human Rights, which is challenging the law in federal court.
"There are a series of very clear cases out there that say that people who rent their property are protected by the Fifth Amendment just like property owners are."
It is Baker's opinion that is likely to matter, however, as he will be advising sheriffs and other law enforcement officials on how to enforce the law.
It was not immediately clear how many of Georgia's sex offenders own property.
The court's new decision - which changed just one word in the individual opinion - could sow fresh confusion on a topic that has been fraught with heated emotion and sharp political rhetoric.
Just this week, two top Republican lawmakers had unveiled plans to introduce new legislation that would have attempted to again put residency mandates in place aimed at protecting children.
The court's ruling hinged on the takings clause, saying it is unconstitutional to force a homeowner to abandon his property or be in violation of the law. The court said there is nothing to prevent a sex offender from buying a home then being forced to move if a facility catering to children later pops up nearby.
The plaintiff in the case, Anthony Mann, bought a house in Clayton County in 2003. Later, a day care center opened nearby. He filed a lawsuit after being told by authorities that he had to shutter his barbecue business and leave his home.
Mann was convicted in 2002 of "taking indecent liberties with children."
Civil rights groups have fought Georgia's sex offender law, saying it could leave those who have already served their time for sex crimes with few housing options and could backfire by driving them underground.
Supporters counter that it is crucial to protecting children from dangerous predators.
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Georgia lawmakers are going back to the drawing board to work on a new sex offender law. They promise to get it right this time, and we hope they do.
The law they passed early this year put the toughest residency restrictions in the country on sex offenders here.
It said offenders couldn't live or work within one thousand feet of any place where children gather. Even many sheriffs said this would just drive offenders underground and make it harder to keep up with them. Supporters openly said they wanted to drive every sex offender out of the state.
Only one problem: the State Supreme Court just ruled that's unconstitutional.
Lawmakers should consult with District Attorneys and law enforcement before passing laws like this to anticipate issues and problems. This law was passed in an election year to look tough on crime. Lawmakers need to quit pandering to what they think the public wants to hear and actually do the things that are in the publics best interest.
They also love to pass "tough" laws without allocating resources to enforce them. Money to ensure compliance and to prosecute these violations was no where in the budget. In fact prosecutors avoided layoffs last year due to the Chief Justice declaring a Judicial State of Emergency and the Governor tapping the State reserves.
We appreciate the General Assembly's desire to protect children. We all agree that child predators deserve no mercy. Other sex offenders should have to abide by some residency restrictions as well.
- And so should other criminals, like murderers, drug dealers/users, thieves, DUI offenders, etc.
During the upcoming General Assembly session, we urge them to use a little common sense and come up with a sex offender law that's actually legal and one that will do what it's supposed to-- protect the children of Georgia.
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A Springfield Township neighbor who placed large signs with red letters announcing a convicted child molester lives next door has been convicted of stalking the man.
James Z. Cody, 50, was sentenced to 30 days in jail Thursday by Akron Municipal Court Judge Kathryn Michael. The jail sentence came, court officials said, after Cody declined to be placed on probation for six months.
Cody was acquitted by a jury of charges of violating a protection order, aggravating menacing and resisting arrest. He is set to begin his jail stay on Jan. 3.
Assistant Akron prosecutor Gerald Larson said Cody engaged in a personal crusade against Michael Harig, 45, who spent nearly a year in prison for fondling three boys, ages 12, 13 and 14 in 2004. Harig is registered as a sexually oriented offender and lives next door to Cody on Gregory Drive.
Larson said he prepped jurors not to hold Harig's past against him, but he conceded that it was unusual to have a sex offender portrayed in court as a victim.
''That was an obstacle, but the jury swore ahead of time that they would apply the law to the evidence, whether they liked an individual or not,'' he said.
Larson said the stalking charge involved an on-going series of events perpetrated by Cody against Harig that included death threats, the placement of several signs outside his home and Cody bursting inside Harig's home and threatening him.
Cody's attorney, Mark Lavelle of Youngstown, could not be reached for comment.
The feud began last summer after Cody and his wife, Sharon Hall accused police of not fully investigating an incident involving a 16-year-old boy visiting Harig's home.
Cody claimed he walked past his neighbor's window and he witnessed Harig molesting the boy. He said he was seeking to protect the teen and others after police failed to investigate the case.
Later, the couple erected large signs with red letters in front of their house warning passersby of Harig's crimes.
Harig said that he has been harassed, spotlights have been pointed into his bedroom window, a radio has been blared toward his home and physical threats have been made against him.
Township police have said they talked to the boy and found no crimes committed by Harig. Police then warned Cody to stay away from Harig.
Hall was charged in August with criminal trespassing for entering Harig's home, but the case was eventually dropped. Prosecutors say she has since helped bring peace to the dispute. Harig continues to live next door.
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There are few crimes as serious as sexual offenses, especially against children. It is understandable society has a desire to be protected from these perpetrators.
Recently, a state lawmaker invited a company to demonstrate its "personal threat detection system" to legislators. The fob-like device would alert the holder when a paroled sexual offender wearing a court-ordered ankle bracelet monitoring device is near. It also would warn the bracelet-wearer that a device-holder is near.
The device would alert someone without singling out the nearby offender, supporters say. The hope is to offer a balance between protecting privacy and safety.
The idea comes amid talks of requiring bright green license plates for some sexual offenders.
But one senator wondered whether the alert would go off repeatedly in high-traffic areas, negating any protective value.
A representative of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center reportedly called the idea "utterly ridiculous and absurd."
The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center's Lindsay Fello-Sharpe said nine in 10 sex crime victims are assaulted by a person they know or trust.
"This just plays on the great myths out there, such as the stranger danger myth that's not true," she said. "It's sending the wrong message and setting people up with a false sense of security."
Just as people have asked about the green license plates (would a child have a false sense of security if a car does not have green plates?), will a child or parent feel safe just because no signal is sounded? There are sexual offenders who have not been convicted or those who have but do not obey the requirements imposed upon them. What if the technology, as all does from time to time, fails?
Besides, even with a warning, without identification of the potential perpetrator it seems such a device will simply result in people scurrying away in worry.
Tough penalties for sexual offenders, especially the cruelest of these, sexual predators, are right and proper. Restrictions on these offenders -- how close they can live near places such as schools, for example -- are worthwhile. Being able to find out where sexual offenders live, through sheriff's registries, allows concerned citizens to take appropriate precautions for themselves and their families.
But this latest suggestion does not appear reflective of a society that prides itself on its freedom. Relying on a device to alarm the wearer there might be some unidentified person "out there" who could be a danger seems more likely to create a sense of fear rather than a blanket of safety.
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I agree with Amarillo developer George Chapman's right to prohibit registered sex offenders from living in his Amarillo neighborhood because, as a private business entity, he should be allowed to make business decisions based on his own convictions. If banning this group of people were to save even one potential victim, it would be worth it.
However, I believe this restriction only can give the illusion of safety to families living in this neighborhood. While it is a noble effort to curb the ever-growing epidemic of sexual abuse (and, I must admit, great marketing tool), there is little evidence that banning registered sex offenders will decrease the incidence of abuse.
There have been similar bans implemented; however, the logic behind them often is based on myth:
- It is a myth that most sex offenders are strangers to their victims. Ninety percent of sex crimes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows, not a stranger. Live-in partners and acquaintances of the family are more likely to cross the line sexually than a stranger down the street. In these instances, the child is less safe in his own home than he is out riding his bike in a neighborhood where registered sex offenders live.
- It is a myth that all registered sex offenders will commit another sex crime. While most sex offenders in Texas are required to register in the same way, not all sex crimes are created equal. I agree with the Nov. 29 Globe-News editorial, "There goes the neighborhood," that there is a wide spectrum of sex offenders who range from low to high risk, yet they all are given the same label and demonized along with the most dangerous of sexual predators.
Many offenders will learn a hard lesson from treatment and the legal system. They will put proper boundaries on their behavior and go on to become productive citizens in our community.
If a registered sex offender is living in your community, it is likely he is currently under supervision or allowed freedom based on completion of treatment and his legal sentence. That offender needs the opportunity to better himself, to be part of a family, part of a work force and part of a community. It is estimated that after treatment, fewer than 10 percent of sex offenders will commit another sex crime.
Even with data from research, can we yet predict anyone's individual behavior?
Absolutely not! The banning policy may prevent the registered sex offender from living in this housing addition, but there is no way to shut out the untreated sex abuser who is contemplating a destructive choice.
There is no way to shut out the drug user who might introduce your child to illegal drugs. There is no way to shut out the thief or the depressed teen who might open fire on the neighbors.
There is no such thing as a completely safe neighborhood, because neighborhoods are made up of people. And people sometimes make destructive choices.
And here's an interesting thought: Is it possible that the illusion of safety might cause people to let down their guard and be less aware of impending risk? Could cases of sexual abuse actually increase?
Gaye A. Bennett of Amarillo is a licensed professional counselor and licensed sex offender treatment provider.
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The recent killing of a sex offender shows the dangers of legislating punishment by ballot box.
So now two more lives are ruined.
Michael Dodele is rotting in a grave, and his neighbor, Ivan Garcia Oliver, is rotting in a Lake County jail cell; soon, by his own accounting, Oliver expects to be spending "a numerous amount of years" in a California slammer.
Dodele was a convicted rapist, a 67-year-old registered sex offender who had been living in a Lakeport trailer park for about a month when someone stabbed him to death just before Thanksgiving. Oliver is his accused killer, a 29-year-old construction worker who lived in the same trailer park. He was arrested with more blood on him than Lady Macbeth.
Dodele had spent two decades in prison or a state hospital for raping women, at least one time at knifepoint. The Megan's Law sex offender website -- which tracks most sex offenders, not just child molesters -- described his offenses as "rape by force" and "oral copulation with a person under 14 or by force."
Such a small word, "or." So easy to go right past it, especially when the scarlet phrase "oral copulation with a person under 14" sizzles off the screen. "Or"? Who cares about "or"?
Is anyone surprised that this death happened? Or just surprised that it didn't happen sooner, as it has in other states amid the froth of undifferentiated public and political fury about all sex offenders, from pathetic flashers to bona fide monsters who hurt children?
To get onto the Megan's Law website, I had to acknowledge a disclaimer saying that the state doesn't guarantee that the information is complete or accurate.
Not accurate or complete? Who should that alarm more -- the public or the 65,000 people listed? Some information may be rendered in hard-to-decipher legalese -- as appears to have been the case with that fatal "or." Some of it is flat-out wrong. I interviewed LAPD detective Diane Webb about it on KPCC radio this week. She's the coordinator of the LAPD's REACT -- registration, enforcement and compliance teams for sex offenders and Megan's Law.
Website mistakes, she told me, are sometimes as "mundane" as a "misplaced parenthesis in a code section," which can completely change the description of the conviction. Or they could come down to something as simple as the "capitalization of a letter" in the code, which would make a crime against an adult "show [up as] an offense against a child."
Who usually spots the mistake? The sex offender. "They oftentimes say, 'I'm not a child molester, this was an offense at an adult,' " Webb told me. Police verify it and let the state know the listing needs fixing.
There was evidently no mistake in Dodele's listing. But as Webb said, the penal code section for forcible oral copulation "is very similar to that of child molestation. They're oftentimes misinterpreted."
No politician ever lost votes by crusading against sex offenders. But voters don't always reckon on what happens after the votes are counted. Some of the same law enforcement leaders who persuaded 70% of us to vote for Proposition 83, which among other things mandates the tracking of tens of thousands of sex offenders with GPS for the rest of their lives, now worry that it's unenforceable. The law doesn't spell out who'll run the program or who'll pay for it. California is $14 billion short of this year's budget ante. Maybe we could all send in the money from our Monopoly games -- fantasy dough to pay for a fantasy law.
The Lakeport killing could shake some thinking about such laws. Suzanne Brown-McBride chairs the California Sex Offender Management Board, and she told me that the Megan's Law website is a useful community tool -- but it's only one tool. The point is "not to create vigilantism," she said, or to "have people then act out ... in a way that may put offenders and quite honestly themselves at risk." Vigilantism could make offenders "less stable." Oliver told The Times' Maria LaGanga that he had to take "evasive action ... any father in my position, with moral, home, family values, wouldn't have done any different." He'd seen Dodele watching his son, he declared, "fantasizing, plotting." When LaGanga told him that Dodele's rape victims were adult women -- not little girls or little boys -- Oliver said it didn't matter. "There is no curing the people that do it."
Is there any curing us? Do we have the judgment to take serious crimes seriously without plunging ourselves into policy hysteria? Can we acknowledge that no protection, no punishment, is foolproof? Can anyone suggest that we fine-tune Megan's Law, or conclude that Proposition 83 is goofy, without being labeled a friend of child molesters?
Dodele's name and crimes were listed on the state's Megan's Law sex offender public website; Oliver found them on a computer. Oliver was on parole for assault with a deadly weapon, but his name and crime were not on any such public website.
But just wait long enough. We may get around to voting for a website listing that too. Hey -- we can call it Oliver's Law. Like that?