Monday, July 13, 2009

TX - Unlikely Voices: Families of sex offender registrants organizing

Courtesy of Grits for Breakfast


I was pleased yesterday to get to spend a little time with Mary Sue Molnar and the folks at Texas Voices (a group made up of families of registered sex offenders) at their statewide conference here in Austin. By the time I showed up in the late morning there were perhaps 60-70 folks there; I walked in just in time to hear most of their legislative update.

They were, of course, all devastated at Governor Perry's veto of legislation to allow defendants to petition judges in Romeo and Juliet cases to be taken off the registry. But this was the first legislative session they'd even been involved as a newly formed group and that same bill could probably pass again whenever it's somebody else's turn to be Governor. In the meantime, about 100 new people per month are being placed on Texas' sex offender registry, Molnar reported to the group.

I enjoyed meeting quite a few readers and appreciated the invitation.

For a variety of reasons, despite the fact that they theoretically represent a lot of folks, inmate family groups have enjoyed notoriously little success pushing their interests at the Texas state capitol, much less families of sex offenders. But Texas sex offender registration laws are now so over the top - to the point where a registered sex offender can't legally drive across town for fear of passing a school or community center and violating parole - that I sense a growing bipartisan consensus at the Legislature that this is an area ripe for reform.

Though being tuff on sex offenders is all the rage among politicians at election time, a lot of folks around the Texas capitol from both parties will agree with you in private that the registry fails to adequately distinguish between dangerous rapists and pedophiles and people who committed less serious offenses. Indeed, this year's vetoed legislation to allow judges to approve de-registration in Romeo and Juliet cases was filed by Republican Todd Smith, an indication that concerns about overreach in this area don't necessarily fall along party lines.

The group at Texas Voices have a tough row to hoe, and for the family members it's not one they've chosen. I'm glad to see them getting organized. Nobody else is going to fight these battles for them and the issue deserves more focused advocacy than its heretofore received.

"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)

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"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)

FL- Sex offender housing bans can backfire

View the article here


A report from Miami in Friday's New York Times dramatically illustrates the impact of misguided attempts to protect the public with residency bans.

In 1995, Florida became the first state to enact a statewide residency ban, prohibiting sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of where children congregate. Miami Dade County later enacted a broader ban in 2005, banning sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of a school, day-care center, park or playground Thanks to the expanded ban, 70 offenders now live under the the Julia Tuttle Causeway that links Miami to Miami Beach.

The conditions are squalid, and life under the bridge is often chaotic. But housing is so scarce that probation officers are sending offenders to live under the bridge, and at least one camper's driver's license lists Julia Tuttle Bridge as his official address. Some of the offenders have jobs but can find no place that's legal for them to rent. Some were convicted of heinous crimes. Others had consensual sex with an underage girl when they themselves were still young.

No one thinks it's a good thing for sex offenders to live under a bridge. And authorities worry that offenders who are cast out of society and who fail to register with authorities and meet with parole officers are more likely to commit another crime. But sex offender bans are popular with the public, and few politicians are willing to speak out against them.
- Just because the media and idiotic politicians continue to spread lies about recidivism and demonizing offenders, and do not have the balls to speak out against unconstitutional laws, doesn't mean it's right.  This is nothing more than human and civil rights violations, pure and simple!

That's true in New Hampshire, where sex offender residency bans have been enacted by Franklin, Tilton, Northfield, Dover and Boscawen. Such bans are bad public policy, bad law and, when it comes to protecting children from sexual predators, counterproductive. Fortunately, court decisions in other states are likely to mean that most such laws, including those passed by New Hampshire cities and towns, will eventually be overturned.

In May, New Jersey's Supreme Court found that town laws that ban sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of schools and parks conflict with a more lenient state law. The laws also worked to defeat the point of Megan's Law, the federal act that requires sex offenders to register with law enforcement.

Some 236 offenders who've lived under the Florida bridge stopped registering with authorities, and their whereabouts are unknown. That's a typical result when offenders are forced into ghettos far from family and support systems, and it defeats the basic purpose of the law: to keep children safe.
- I do not believe the above statement at all.  Show me the proof of this!  Although, I'm sure it might be true, but I like to see facts, and not assumptions.  I'm surprised more offenders are not vanishing, and if offenders recidivism was as high as everyone believes, then why do we not see millions of kids on the local news missing?  Because it's all BS!

In July, Indiana courts, including that state's Supreme Court, found that by forcing a sex offender out of a home he had owned since before he committed an offense and before his community's residency ban was enacted, the government had unconstitutionally deprived him of the use of his property. Two years earlier, Georgia's Supreme Court found that that state's residency ban - which prohibited offenders from living within 1,000 feet not just of schools and churches, but the state's 150,000 bus stops - left them virtually no place to live and thus deprived them of their property rights.

The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union has challenged Dover's 2005 ban, which prohibits a convicted sex offender from living within 2,500 feet of a school or day-care center. That case is pending.

New Hampshire courts, if they want to protect children and help rehabilitate offenders rather than force them to live in squalor, should throw out the bans enacted by this state's communities as soon as a case comes before them.

Such laws give citizens a false sense of security, rob people of their dignity and make it more, not less, likely that sex offenders will commit another crime.

"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)

GA - Constitutional rejection of severe mandatory minimum sentence getting attention for circuit nominee


This effective new article in today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution , which is headlined "Appeals nominee set sentence rule aside," reviews a notable ruling in a federal sex offense case by one of President Obama's latest circuit court nominees. Here are a few details:

Kelly Brenton Farley had it all planned out: fly into Atlanta for business, hook up with a woman he met on the Internet and have sex with her and her 10-year-old daughter. But Farley never got the chance. When his plane landed in Atlanta, he was ensnared in an undercover FBI sting, arrested and later convicted at trial.

For crossing state lines to engage in sex with a child under 12, Farley faced a 30-year minimum mandatory prison sentence set by Congress. But U.S. District Judge Beverly Martin — President Barack Obama’s nominee for the federal appeals court in Atlanta — declined to impose it.

In a ruling federal prosecutors call “unprecedented,” Martin found unconstitutional the minimum mandatory term. In an order, she said the punishment was disproportionately severe when compared to penalties for similar and more aggravated crimes.... The ruling has already drawn sharp criticism by top House Republican lawmakers who say Martin ignored Congress’ authority to decide the appropriate punishment for those who try to sexually abuse a child. Nine members are asking the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — where Martin would sit if she is confirmed — to overturn her decision....

Last week, Rep. Lamar Smith (Contact) (R-Texas), ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee, said Martin improperly lopped 10 years off Congress’ mandatory minimum sentence for pedophiles. “If we’re serious about protecting children from sexual predators, we must make sure that our laws are effectively enforced and that judges do not stray from Congress’ intent,” he said....

Last month, when Obama sought to elevate Martin to the appeals court, he called her a first-rate jurist with “unflagging integrity and evenhandedness.” The 12-member 11th Circuit, hears appeals out of Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Martin, 53, is a former U.S. attorney in Macon. She was put on the U.S. District Court in Atlanta by President Bill Clinton in 2000.

Former state Attorney General Mike Bowers, a Republican who recommends judicial appointments to Gov. Sonny Perdue (Contact), called Martin a straight shooter who “really believes in the rule of law and doing what’s right.” No one should give her a hard time at her confirmation hearing, Bowers said. “She’s a gift.” One of Georgia’s two GOP senators, Saxby Chambliss (Contact), gave Martin a ringing endorsement, saying Obama “could not have chosen a more qualified individual” for the 11th Circuit.

Atlanta criminal defense attorney Don Samuel, an expert on federal sentencing law, noted that Martin did not declare the 30-year minimum mandatory sentence unconstitutional in every case — only as it applied to Farley. “[It] reflects her thoughtful consideration of whether the Constitution permits Congress to set a minimum sentence that bars a judge from considering any facts about the case that might make a sentence unreasonable,” he said.

In her Sept. 2, 2008, order, Martin said she had “tremendous respect and deference” for Congress. But to simply assume a statute is constitutional without substantive review would violate the principle of separation of powers, she said. At Farley’s sentencing hearing, Martin sent him away for 19 years and seven months in prison. “I have never intended to imply that I don’t consider this a serious offense,” she told him.

During eight years as a federal judge, Martin said, the only statute she had struck down was a local sign ordinance. She also said that when she set out to decide the constitutional challenge to the mandatory prison sentence, she intended to uphold it. But when reviewing other statutes imposing penalties for similar or more severe conduct, “I just couldn’t form the words to say that it wasn’t … disproportionately harsh,” she said. Martin noted that crossing state lines with the intent to kill someone carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison; if the victim is physically harmed, the maximum is 20 years.

Farley, a father of six from McKinney, Texas, once earned $140,000 as a regional vice president for a financial services company. On Oct. 3, 2006, he entered a Yahoo chat room called “Fetish Number 14,” devoted to the topic of incest. In the chat, Farley met “Stephanie,” who said she was a nurse and a single mother with a 10-year-old daughter named Sydney. But Stephanie was actually Joanne Southerland, a Clayton County detective assigned to the FBI task force....

Congress requires the same minimum mandatory 30-year term for someone who actually engages in sex with a child, Martin wrote. She noted that no harm was suffered in Farley’s case, “because the child was a creation of law enforcement and no real child exists.”... “While Mr. Farley’s crime is deplorable,” Martin concluded, “it is far less grave than crimes committed by perpetual offenders that remain a demonstrated threat to the public, or crimes that result in loss of or emotional devastation to a person’s life.”

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"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)

FL - Homeless Sex Offender Asks Judge To Jail Him

View the article here


FT. LAUDERDALE (CBS4) - For committing sexual battery on a minor, _____ served seven of an eight year sentence behind bars.

But when he was released from jail he returned before a Broward County judge ten days later with an odd demand. _____, 38, asked Broward County Judge Marc Gold to put him back in. For _____, the reasoning behind his request was that he found it impossible to find a place to live in Broward County, his attorney Cheryl Koewing told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

"Every place he looked he couldn't afford or had a restriction," Koewing said.

A majority of Broward's 31 cities have laws requiring sexual offenders to live at least 2,500 feet away from schools, parks and other places children frequent.

The few remaining place for people like _____ would have been Broadview Park, a neighborhood where most offenders live on State Road 7 and I-595.

However, a recently passed law made it illegal for more offenders to move there. He bounced around living in cheap motels until he had no more money left. Officials found him a rehabilitation home for sex offenders in Pahokee. But without any money he couldn't afford to travel there, his attorney told the newspaper.

He had to serve two years house arrest. But without a home, Gold ruled to allow _____ to serve six months in the Broward County Jail instead of the house arrest and be labeled a sex offender for life. He will also remain under supervision for 20 years.
- So once he gets out, it will be the same issue again!  FIX THE DAMN LAWS!!!

"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)

OK - Oklahoma must add teens to sex offender list or lose grants

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Another view about this article here

By the very definition, this is child abuse! So they think they are going to help prevent child abuse, by committing child abuse? Also, the media is wrong, as usual. The Adam Walsh Act does NOT require juveniles to be placed on the registry. And the media are suppose to do their homework before reporting bogus lies.



Act says sex offender registry must include juveniles

Changes could be coming to Oklahoma’s sex offender registry in order for the state to stay eligible for some federal grants.
- Extortion, plain and simple!

The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 requires states to add juveniles to their sex offender lists or lose some vital grants.
- Why not add all others who harm kids to the registry as well, like gang members, drug dealers, abusive parents, DUI offenders, hell, why not create one big registry with all criminals on it.  So anybody who wants a job, that employer can check the registry and deny them a job, home, food, life?

The Oklahoma Coalition for Sex Offender Management has decried the suggestion, arguing research shows a low recidivism rate for juvenile sex offenders.
- Research shows a low recidivism rate for ALL offenders!

The issue could be a moot point.

There are no names on Oklahoma’s juvenile sex offender registry, even though an average of 90 teenagers have been convicted of sex offenses every year since 2001. There have been 34 so far in 2009, according to the state Office of Juvenile Affairs.

That office has maintained a sex offender list as mandated by a 2001 state law, but director Gene Christian said no offenders have been deemed dangerous to the community by a judge.

Christian, a former prosecutor, said he does not know details of the Walsh Act’s requirements, but he is not opposed to putting juveniles on the sex offender registry — if it is done as mandated by Oklahoma law.

He said teens who fail in treatment are likely to end up in prison, so they should be placed on the public registry for sex offenders.

Oklahoma County Public Defender Bob Ravitz doesn’t like the notion of putting juveniles on the sex offender registry unless they’ve been certified as adults by a judge.
- What an oxy-moron.  If someone is not a child until say 16 or 18, then they are not an adult until that age, period.  It seems those in office want it both ways.  Either you are or aren't an adult, it's that simple!

He said anything else is counter to the goals of the juvenile justice system, which is supposed to rehabilitate young offenders.
- I think you meant "injustice system!"  And rehabilitation is not a part of the "injustice system!"

"If you put them on the offender list, you brand them for life,” Ravitz said.

Ravitz said following federal mandates has not worked out well for the criminal justice system in the past.

He pointed to laws meant to keep offenders in prison for at least 85 percent of their sentence. Such laws have been rescinded in other states, but continue to keep Oklahoma’s prisons full.

"It makes no sense at all,” he said. "Too much meddling in the state’s business is not good for anybody.”
- I think you mean "too much meddling in people's lives, is not good for anybody!"  And the corrupt government has been doing that for a long time now, and nobody cares, that is why we are doomed!

"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)

FL - Registered sex offenders: Where can they live?

View the article here



MIAMI — The man living under the bridge, Javier, is 69, and tattoos of shapely, young women adorn his arms and torso.

The tattoos might be just early excesses, the faded daydreams of a young sailor. But when you know why he lives there, they become symbols — foreboding predictions — of his problems.

Javier is one of about 100 sex offenders living like castaways beneath the Julia Tuttle Causeway, which connects Miami to Miami Beach across Biscayne Bay. He says he was convicted 17 years ago of sexual contact with a girl, 13.

The offenders are exiled under the six-lane overpass because a 2005 Miami-Dade County ordinance prohibits people convicted of sex crimes involving minors from living within 2,500 feet of schools, playgrounds, or, in some cases, school bus stops.

Ostracized and squeezed out of all affordable housing in the crowded county, it has become impossible, the men say, to find anywhere else to live legally.

Before 2005, state law applied, which dictates that offenders live at least 1,000 feet from such sites.

But about 140 Florida cities — including some in Palm Beach County and all of its unincorporated area — have also expanded their buffer zones and state officials fear the "homeless sex offender" problem will spread.

"Terrorists, members of Al-Qaeda, live better at Guantanamo than we do," says Armando Martinez, 49, convicted in 1999 for attempted sexual battery against a child.

Despite the conditions, few people sympathize with Javier, Martinez and their neighbors. A sexual offender is often an outcast to everyone except, possibly, his own family members.

And Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, who is trying to help get them out from under the bridge, isn't asking the public for sympathy.

"People have to realize that making them live under that bridge has created a more dangerous situation," he says. "Because of the conditions, some of these individuals are absconding, evading supervision. These ordinances interfere with the Department of Corrections' ability to keep track of them. This is a crisis situation."

Last week, the ACLU, in the names of two offenders, sued the county over the ordinance, saying it has created a threat to the public.

Gretl Plessinger, Florida Department of Corrections spokesperson, agrees.

"Our concern is for public safety," she says. "If they are homeless there is more of a chance they will abscond. There are already 91 homeless offenders around the state, mostly in South Florida, and the problem is getting bigger."

Water laps at that narrow apron of sand beneath the causeway. Mosquitoes are everywhere, and at all hours cars thrum on the road above. The "residents" bathe in the bay and relieve themselves in compost toilets or in the underbrush.

The sleeping spots most protected from the elements are tucked about 20 feet up the concrete wall, under the bridge arches. Those spaces are just tall enough for tents. Longtime residents have rights to those spots and live like cave dwellers.

On ground level, the inhabitants are crammed together in tents, plywood shacks, a camper. A noisy generator powers light bulbs, fans, microwaves, phone chargers, and the GPS receivers many offenders must carry everywhere so they can be tracked by probation officers. Cooking is done on grills.

The crowded, jury-rigged conditions resemble the Third World.

Almost all residents are men, although sometimes girlfriends sleep over.

One woman lives here, convicted of exposing herself to minors.

The expanding of buffer zones around Florida was provoked by a horrible event: the abduction, rape and murder of Jessica Lunsford, 9, by convicted sex predator John Couey in February 2005. Couey has been sentenced to death.

But most of the bridge dwellers are not considered "predators," men who have committed violent sexual acts or acts with children under 12. Most are sex "offenders," and say they had sex with girls between 13 and 17.

Elliott Bloom, 31, says he was 19 when he had sex with a girl, 15. The offenders call those couplings between teenagers "Romeo and Juliet" cases and believe they are sometimes punished too harshly.

Simon says the residency laws should distinguish between "offenders" and violent "predators," but they don't.

"Lot of things about these ordinances don't make sense," he says.

Dr. Jill Levenson, associate professor at Lynn University in Boca Raton and a member of a Broward County task force on the sex offender problem, agrees.

Statistics show that the majority of reported sexual offenses against minors are committed by adults they know well, including relatives, and not strangers who stalk them, as in the Lunsford case.

"And according to the research there is no difference in the recidivism rate if sexual offenders live 1,000 feet away from schools and playgrounds or 2,500 feet," she said. "If the idea is that the kids be out of sight of the offender, 1,000 feet is more than three football fields."

But Levenson says other elements of the restrictions make even less sense.

"From 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. these men can be anywhere they want to be," she says. "They could sit on a park bench across from a school if they wanted. But at night, when kids are home safe sleeping with their parents, these ordinances are ordering the offenders to be at a distance."

In 2008 state Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, presented a bill in the legislature that would have made the statewide buffer zone for living restrictions 1,500 feet, to go along with a 300-foot buffer zone during the day. It failed.

Last week, the Broward task force also recommended the daytime buffer zones and proposed that the county allow special housing in industrial zones for sex offenders.

Some public officials are sticking to their guns. Boynton Beach expanded its buffer zone to 2,500 feet and Mayor Jerry Taylor (Email) says he is glad it did.

"I have no sympathy for these guys," he says. "They should have thought before they committed those offenses. It is the Department of Corrections' job to make sure these guys check in and if they don't they should pay the consequences."
- And you, need to stop passing unconstitutional ex post facto laws, violating your oath of office, hypocrite!  We know, you are just saving your own a--, because you do not have the balls to admit the laws are not, and will not work.

Simon says the ACLU is preparing litigation to try to force the state to alleviate the situation. Meanwhile, hurricane season has started. A severe storm will almost certainly destroy the camp.

"They say they are going to take us to a prison if one hits and then bring us back here," says Troy Dumas, 32. "This is crazy."

"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)