Saturday, May 9, 2009

What Have We Become?

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05/09/2009

By Paul Kruger

There has always been the occasional sociopath amidst our ranks. We used to hope we could count on our laws to protect us by providing appropriate sanctions to deter them from harming us. We count on our lawmakers to be wiser than the masses when they author legislation to protect the public.

Since 1990, Congress and the states have abandon reason to write numerous laws that run counter to that very goal. This article is about but one of those trends in law making--this about Megan's law and its various versions across the nation. Sex offenses are crimes just as are murders, assaults, burglaries, arson etc. Each crime needs it's set of consequences.

Recent laws, however, are going beyond consequences for the guilty to negative consequences for public safety and for the morals of our country. Lawmakers are in collusion with an uneducated public to create a specific class of "pariah" within out society, sex-offenders. Rather than educating themselves and writing appropriate legislation, they allow themselves to fall prey to the same hysteria and mis-information that causes false fears at the public level.

Megan's Law was a knee jerk reaction to a very rare occurrence. Megan's law is causing more violence than it prevents.

Denver Post: Sex Offender Hysteria - December 31st, 2007

When it comes to sex offenders the community mind proves to be wrong because the communities are receiving bad information from political figures, radio and television news, and newspapers on line and off line.

In the wake of terrible crimes such as the one for which Megan's Law was named, politicians and the public jump to incorrect conclusions as to the nature of the danger to society and react with laws that actually create a greater danger to society than they cure. They are either afraid or too proud to admit they were wrong and continue to heap more trouble on society as a result. One of the most dangerous aspects of this type of law is the publishing to the public, the names and address of former offenders who have served their time. This poses a very real and proven danger, not just to the ex-offenders but to innocent people as well.

Example: ... innocent people were physically attacked and forced to flee their homes. In a similar outbreak three years ago a 14-year-old girl was burnt alive when her home was firebombed by vigilantes who wrongly thought it was occupied by a sex offender.

Example: Melissa Chandler is dead. She was killed in a fire that was intentionally set by two neighbors who after setting fire to the home, stood and watched it burn.

They missed their target - Melissa's husband Timothy Chandler who was recently released from prison for downloading child pornography. Melissa is survived by her husband and son.

Example: The Los Angeles Times reports on a killing in Lake County, Calif., in which prosecutors are investigating the possibility that this very fear may have come true for the first time in the state. Registered Sex Offender Murdered, Decapitated, and Burned by Doug Guthrie (734) 462-2674 or dguthrie@detnews.com.

NORTHVILLE TOWNSHIP - In announcing the arrests of two teenagers today, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said they stabbed Daniel G. Sorensen to death, sawed off his head and used a blow torch to burn his body simply for the thrill.

..."They lured him into a garage where a space had been prepared to kill him," Worth said.

Worthy said the pair stabbed Sorensen in the back multiple times, then sawed off his head. The garage had been prepared with a tarp on the floor and cleaning supplies standing by to clean up the blood. She called the killing "bone-chilling."

Example: (AP) Everybody in this little mountain community knew that Timothy Carl Chandler had been arrested on child pornography charges. It was in the newspaper and all over the TV news.

Two of Chandler's neighbors decided to do something about it, police say. They're accused of trying to scare him off by setting fire to his tiny house tucked away in a hardscrabble Appalachian hollow.

Chandler, 53, escaped from the flames. But his wife was killed in what authorities are calling an example of vigilante justice.
- You can find a lot more examples, here.

These are but a small sample of the unintended consequences of these public lists. In addition to these acts of hate, these lists make it nearly impossible for these people to find work and housing leading them to commit even more crimes...not a very good means to protect the public.

Are we to believe that those who committed these atrocious murders are really "better people" than those they hunted down and killed? Is this the type of society we want our lawmakers to encourage, knowing full well that we have sociopath killers who will only use these lists to kill more people?

Citizens need to be better educated because they are living under false information and a false sense of security offered by politicians, for no other reason than to fool the public into thinking they [politicians] are doing something to solve a problem, which they are not. They have made us less safe.

Fact: Between five and nine children are abducted and killed every year, 10% of all child homicide victims. A child is 15 times more likely to be killed by a parent than an unknown pedophile. One child dies on average every two to three days at the hands of a family member.

Fact: Sex offenders, after release, have a much lower recidivism rate than other offenses. source, National Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Fact: Most sex offenses are not committed by strangers but by a family member or someone close to the victim.

Fact: More sex offenses are committed by those released from prison for non-sex offenses than for sex offenses.

The idea of protecting children from assaults of all kinds is noble and necessary. In the end the best protection lies not in ill-conceived "feel good" laws but in parental education and vigilance at home. For this to happen, politicians and the media need to make an effort to provide accurate and honest information. Passing a law and telling the public it will protect them does everyone a great disservice because it does not provide protection at all. It creates false sense of security while at the same time leading to violence and harsh barriers to reentry into society as law abiding citizens. For those who succumb to the urges, it turns more of us into the very type of monsters we want to be protected from in the first place.

Congress needs to search it's soul for meaningful solutions and abandon those that don't serve the public good.


VT - Bill enlarges Internet sex offender registry

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05/09/2009

MONTPELIER - Lawmakers on Saturday passed a bill quintupling the size of the state's Internet sex offender registry to protect "families and communities and kids."

The action, which came as the Legislature prepared to adjourn for the year, moves the state closer to but still not into full compliance with a 2006 federal law designed to make responses to sex crimes more uniform around the country.

The bill also addresses a practice popular among teenagers in which they use cell phone cameras to send sexually explicit photos of themselves to friends. It calls for prosecuting most such cases, called sexting, in juvenile court.

Vermont currently has about 400 people on its public Internet registry, with a larger registry available to law enforcement and certain employers such as schools. The bill aims to broaden significantly the range of sex crimes deemed serious enough to have the offender on the Internet and would boost the number of people whose information is posted online to an estimated 2,000.

Gov. Jim Douglas (Contact) is expected to sign the bill into law, but a date for that has not been set.

"It takes some significant steps forward toward protecting families and communities and kids in Vermont," the governor said Saturday.

Douglas and Sen. Richard Sears, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a key author of the bill, praised the work of the state's congressional delegation in asking the U.S. Department of Justice for more time to comply with the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. The act was named for 6-year-old Adam Walsh, who was abducted from a Florida shopping mall in 1981 and later was found slain.

No state has complied with the rules written under that law by President George W. Bush's Department of Justice, and states have been pushing for changes, especially in the way they judge the risk that sex offenders will commit new crimes.

The bill was the state's second relating to sex offenses passed this year, and it came after last summer's kidnap, rape and murder of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett. Brooke, a seventh-grader from Braintree, disappeared June 25, 2008, and her body was found a week later in a shallow grave.

Brooke's uncle _____, a convicted sex offender from Randolph, has been charged with the crime. Prosecutors said _____ coerced another girl into aiding his plot by claiming to be part of a child-sex club. _____ has pleaded not guilty.

The earlier bill created a new crime of aggravated sexual assault on a child, punishable by a mandatory minimum 25-years-to-life sentence. It contained several provisions beefing up the state's ability to investigate and prosecute such crimes, and it allowed authorities to take DNA samples from felony suspects when they are formally charged with crimes. Previously, only those convicted of felonies had been required to give DNA samples.

The new bill adds the new aggravated sexual assault on a child charge and several other sex crimes to the list of those deemed to warrant putting an offender's picture and personal information on the Internet registry.

It also says anyone on another state's sex offender registry will automatically be placed on Vermont's upon moving to the state.

Rep. William Lippert, D-Hinesburg, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said there was a concern that Vermont could be perceived as a harbor or a magnet for sex offenders from other places.

"We want to make clear that Vermont is not, will not and should not be a harbor for sex offenders from any other jurisdiction," he said.


TRENDS IN ARRESTS OF “ONLINE PREDATORS”


Janis Wolak
David Finkelhor
Kimberly Mitchell

How the National Juvenile Online Victimization (N‐JOV) Study was conducted
The N‐JOV Study collected information from a national sample of law enforcement agencies about the prevalence of arrests for and characteristics of online sex crimes against minors during two 12 month periods: July 1, 2000 through June 30, 2001 (Wave 1) and calendar year 2006 (Wave 2).

For both Waves, we used a two‐phase process of mail surveys followed by telephone interviews to collect data from a national sample of the same local, county, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. First, we sent the mail surveys to a national sample of more than 2,500 agencies. These surveys asked if agencies had made arrests for online sex crimes against minors during the respective one‐year timeframes. Then we conducted detailed telephone interviews with law enforcement investigators about a random sample of arrest cases reported in the mail surveys.

For the telephone interviews, we designed a sampling procedure that took into account the number of arrests reported by an agency, so that we would not unduly burden respondents in agencies with many cases. If an agency reported between one and three arrests for online sex crimes, we conducted follow‐up interviews for every case. For agencies that reported more than three arrests, we conducted interviews for all cases that involved youth victims (victims who were located and contacted during the investigation), and sampled other arrest cases (i.e., crimes that solely involved undercover operations in which investigators posed online as minors, or child pornography possession and distribution). In some agencies, we could not find out which cases had youth victims, so we sampled from all arrest cases.

The final data set, weighted to account for sampling procedures and nonresponse, includes data from 1,663 completed case‐level interviews, 612 from Wave 1 of the N‐JOV Study and 1,051 from Wave 2. Having weighted data which is based on a representative sampling of law enforcement agencies and arrest cases allows us to estimate the incidence of arrests for specific types of crimes during the timeframes of Wave 1 and Wave 2 of the NJOV Study.

The estimates described in this report are based on a subgroup of arrests that includes 726 unweighted case level interviews (Wave 1, n=129 for youth victim cases and n=124 for solicitations to undercover investigators; Wave 2, n=120 for youth victim cases and n=353 for solicitations to undercover investigators.


NJ - Megan's Law backers explore options

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05/09/2009

By CHRIS STURGIS

WEST WINDSOR -- A day after the New Jersey Supreme Court invalidated municipal laws governing where sex offenders may live, officials, activists and clinicians are looking for other ways to protect children from sexual exploitation.

Maureen Kanka, whose daughter's rape and murder inspired Megan's Law that requires the registration of convicted sex offenders, called for fingerprinting and background investigations of all volunteers who work with children, at a conference yesterday called "Protecting Our Children from Sexual Predators: Criminal History Record Background Checks."

Kanka said at the conference sponsored by New Jersey League of Municipalities that the Megan Nicole Kanka Foundation has funding for the background checks which will be provided to municipalities that adopt local ordinances requiring the checks.

She said she was not surprised by the state court's ruling knocking down the municipal ordinances restricting offenders from living near schools or churches.

She said she would prefer to see them incarcerated indefinitely, but since that is unlikely, she urges parents to warn their children not to trust everyone who seems nice.

"Nice people can do bad things," she said.

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (Contact), R-Hamilton, who has championed Megan's Law, was supposed to give the keynote speech at yesterday's conference but was unavailable due to the funeral of his friend Jack Kemp, former Buffalo congressman and former vice presidential candidate, said spokesman Jeff Sagnip.

Smith sent a statement calling for support of his International Megan's Law, which would notify foreign governments and require those governments to notify the United States when known sex offenders planned to travel.

"We need to preserve and expand the public notification tool established by Megan's Law, so that more children can and will be protected," Smith stated.

In a separate telephone interview yesterday, Kenneth Singer, executive director of the New Jersey Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, called for a more rational, research-based approach to protecting children from pedophiles and sex offenders.

Singer, a licensed clinical social worker, said not all convicted offenders go free and commit similar offenses when they complete their sentences. Those deemed to be sexually violent predators by the courts are subject to civil commitment at the state's Special Treatment Units in Avenel and Kearny, where they may be held indefinitely.

He said research shows the majority of convicted sex offenders who have served their sentences can be safely supported in the community if they have ongoing therapy and are monitored by the parole or probation departments.

Singer said measures like the residential restrictions and offender registries, which use the pedophile and sex offender labels too broadly, may actually cause offenders to lose jobs, be unable to continue therapy and even become homeless.

Those stresses could lead to the commission of a crime that would not otherwise have happened, Singer said.


TX - Problems With the Texas Sex Offender Registry

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05/09/2009

By Patrick L. Hancock (www.hancockcriminaldefense.com)

Discretion is the hallmark of the criminal justice system in Texas. The laws are written clearly, but the decisions are left to people. Juries are empowered to examine the facts of cases and make responsible decisions regarding guilt and innocence. Judges are trusted to maintain decorum and uphold the laws so that justice can prevail. At all times, participants within the court system are expected to handle difficult and sensitive matters in the interests of fairness and justice.

The Sex Offender Registration Program is the exception to this general principle. Unlike most areas of the criminal justice system, judges are given no discretion whatsoever. Under Texas law, when a person is convicted of a qualifying sex offense he or she is automatically and permanently required to register as a sex offender.

The laws providing for mandatory lifelong sex offender registration are ineffective. For the justice system to live up to its name, judges should be given discretion over the terms of registration.

Texas Sex Offender Registration Laws

Under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, anyone who is convicted of a sexual offense is required to register with local law enforcement as part of the Sex Offender Registration Program. Depending on the particular crime, the offender must register for 10 years, or for his or her entire lifetime.

The duration of the registration requirement depends entirely upon the crime; once a person is convicted, a judge has absolutely no discretion. The judge cannot decide that the registration period should be limited or that registration is inappropriate under the circumstances. The required registration period is mandated by the relevant statutes.

The Problem With Eliminating Discretion: No Two Cases Are the Same

Some may argue that the lack of discretion leads to equitable treatment; one person convicted of possessing child pornography should be treated the same as any other person convicted of possessing of child pornography. However, in criminal matters the circumstances are always important. No two cases are identical and removing a judge's discretion does not lead to equitable treatment.

For example, consider the case of a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old who are engaged in a consensual sexual relationship. Despite the laws, such relationships are undoubtedly common and rarely draw the attention of Texas courts. However, in the event that the relationship turns sour or results in pregnancy, the 16-year-old may report the encounters as nonconsensual.

In accordance with Texas law, the 18-year-old could be prosecuted for indecency with a child. Indecency with a child is an offense requiring registration; if convicted, the older partner would be required to register for life.

This hypothetical is not intended to undermine the very real threat of sex offense or to suggest that all accusations are false. However, by leaving the judges without any discretion in sentencing, people who truly pose no threat are classified and publicly ostracized with those who are legitimately dangerous. Lifetime registration as a sex offender is a tremendous burden to place on someone for a mistake made at age 18 in a consensual relationship.

An Overinclusive Registry Undermines the Intent of Notification

Furthermore, including this hypothetical 18-year-old ultimately undermines the registry. One of the primary purposes of a sex offender registry is to alert the public to local people who are potentially dangerous. When people who are not truly threatening are included in this database, the registry is overinclusive and becomes less valuable.

If judges had discretion, they could examine the individual circumstances and determine whether a particular offender is likely to commit another offense in the future. Accordingly, the registry could be limited to those who truly threaten others and therefore warrant inclusion.

Alternately, the judge could consider the circumstances and determine whether a shorter registration period might be sufficient, rather than the current lifetime registration requirement. Again, this would alert the public to people who had recently committed sex offenses without including those who haven't committed crimes for decades.

Unfortunately, judges in Texas are not currently given this type of decision making authority; they are beholden to unbending laws. As a result, it is extremely important that anyone accused of any type of sex offense in Texas take these accusations seriously and consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney. A knowledgeable lawyer cannot change the laws, but can take actions to minimize the potential consequences of any accusation.


NY - Cops: Mother Used Sex Ads on Craigslist to Retaliate Against Daughter's Rival

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05/08/2009

It's one thing for a mother to stick up for her daughter — quite another thing for a mother to retaliate against her daughter's rival by sending sex clients to the rival's mother through a fraudulent Web ad.

Yet that's exactly what one New York mother is accused of doing, following a dispute between her 9-year-old daughter and another girl.

Margery Tannenbaum of Hauppauge on Long Island was charged with aggravated harassment for allegedly posting a classified ad on Craigslist offering sex with men, the Associated Press reports. But whenever someone responded to Tannenbaum's ad by e-mail, she gave out the phone number of the other mother, police said.

Tannenbaum did not answer her door on Friday and her attorney did not respond to telephone calls seeking comment.

The charges echo a high-profile case of a Missouri mother who was convicted last year for her role in a MySpace hoax that led to a 13-year-old committing suicide. In that case, the mother is to be sentenced on May 18 and faces up to three years in prison.