Saturday July, 11
First I want to bring up another serious matter introduced during the Fred Berlin panel session, and again this goes towards the massive collateral damage of the sex offender registry, and another reason so many non-former offenders have become the driving force behind this movement. Several former offenders or their wives mentioned incidents where their children’s parent was “outed” in class for being on the registry, in one case by the teacher! Generally for offences that occurred long ago. Just another example of how “saving the children” is “destroying the children”.
And while I am on my soap box what do you tell the child of a parent murdered for a youthful in-discretion 20 or 30 years ago because of the internet registry? Murders of those on the internet registry for being on it have increased from 1 in 1992 to 45 in 2008. Food for thought.
State Affiliate Presentations:
After the SOSEN presentations RSOL had state affiliate directors give a short presentation. I believe 8 states were able to give presentations. Generally most directors discussed the reasons for becoming involved, such as wife, mother of former offender, personal beliefs, ect. I was also struck by how many state directors go at it alone, out of passion and obtain little support from former offenders that have a duty, not only to have paid for their past crimes and taken care of any treatment issues, but to stand up for their own rights. A single, or handful of individuals in any state can only achieve so much. The last 7 months in New Mexico I have been witness to this, with many single individuals speaking out before formal organization, but now much more powerful as possibly the second most organized affiliate in the US!
With all that said, I was shocked to hear how many groups had passed or almost passed reform legislation, in the short 2 years reform groups have been active. I had been thinking if we got something done in New Mexico we would be cutting edge, but NOT! Some examples: Massachusetts passed a 7 year expungement law that had no sex offender exclusion! And 100% REGISTRY ABOLISHMENT was proposed, but not passed.
Oklahoma passed a Romeo and Juliet Removal clause, and when the governor asked if the state director would back off if he signed it(as her son will be removed from the registry by this) she said “absolutely not until the registry is abolished” to which the governor said “See you next year Mary”. Nothing quite like a mother scorned!
Maine passed a bill for Ex-Post-Facto registrants to get off the registry, convicted before inception. They also banned local residency restrictions beyond 750’ from municipal property.
Georgia, home of the worst rights violations in the US amazingly nearly passed a bill to remove people from the registry via petition once there parole or probation requirements are satisfied. While it did not pass, what a great step toward reform and slimming down the registry that would be!
New Hampshire passed a 4 year Romeo and Juliet clause of no more then a Misdemeanor and no registration.
Without any legislative victories in New Mexico other then defeating bad, new bills, and everyone hearing already why we were all here, I focused on the road CFC NM had taken in the first 6 months, from meetings, legal, support, victim resources, prevention, media, education, legislation, ect. In hopes other budding affiliates could use some of those ideas. I have a hand out on this if anyone is interested in the details. I also briefly again mentioned unity and thanked the organizers of RSOL, the University and The Criminal Justice Policy Coalition.
Afterwards we adjourned for lunch. Myself and 2 others enjoyed lunch in the Commons, on a beautiful after noon and unseasonably cool weather. I also made a trip to the cemetery across the street from the law school and visited one of the historic churches. The fact that so many children in this area are allowed to get around on their own was interesting, as the panic will not allow that in other places, including my home town. But it also further shows the absurdity of the sex offender registration system. I also tried to chase down some Iraq war protesters with some brochures on a more “relevant issue” but they were chased off before I could.
2:30 Texas Keynote Speaker, Attorney William Habern, “Sex Offender Civil Rights - From Where We Were to Where We Are Going.”
Attorney William Habern is not your average attorney. He speaks his mind and with a fierily flair you might have once thought only existed in TV shows such as Boston Legal. His passion in this cause is something we need more of.
His career was in Criminal Defense, and he made it absolutely clear that Civil Rights and Constitutional law are completely different, very costly and best left to experienced federal litigators. The need for work in this area dwarfs the available resources. Upon retirement he formed a small group of attorneys who are still active to take on pro-bono, sex offender civil rights cases. As he put it, he is not the gun slinger, but found the gun slingers he needed for these difficult cases. To date he has won EVERY case. The focus of his group is primarily “Due Process” issues, something that affects every single former offender at some point, from ex-post-facto registration, re-classification, parental rights, parole and probation process, ect. His cases go beyond the basic problems with the registry many times, and into the realm of abuse of power.
Some of the extreme cases; A burglar registered because of he was miss-named in a prior case he was picked up for, excused but due to the record his PO put him on the registry despite no sex conviction.
A developmentally challenged teen had trouble cleaning his baby daughter and caused a yeast infection due to simple improper wiping, but was convicted of child abuse. His PO registered him, even though NO sex offense occurred, and DA concurred.
A lawyer was set up for child porn in an incredibly elaborate scheme (entrapment essentially for a related party) took a 5 year probation deal, but changed to 18 months in prison and taken directly to jail and ordered not to be with his kids. They fought it and just before trial, and the DA knew he would loose he gave up so they could not win attorney fees. A problem with many of these types of cases is recovering attorney fees.
In another, famous case “Jennings” had youth sex offense, and later in life other non-sexual convictions. After learning of his youth convictions long ago the PO placed him on Sex Offender Supervision and ordered him not to have a computer in his business, and to NOT have any consensual sexual relations. The courts found requiring someone to not have a computer in a business is unreasonable today, and you cannot tell someone who they will date.
The Raul Mesa case involved someone on Acid that murdered a child. No sexual abuse occurred, (or charged) but was forced to admit it or he could not leave prison. The victim’s family chased him around, but the situation was fixed. Was eventually violated and put back in jail. But the point is you cannot someone sex offender supervision with out due process.
He tried numerous cases of those without sex offense convictions being placed on the registry anyways. Additionally represented cases where plea bargains did not include registration, yet were required to register many years later, in one case 27 years.(As in New Mexico)
Keep in mind Parole boards can act un-constitutionally EXCEPT when they pass formal rules that are unconstitutional.
His suggestions for state affiliates supporting those released from prison for sex offenses to Parole or Probation:
- Have 2-3 sets of people ready to help, action teams.
- Prepare families for the nightmare of parole, probation, the requirements and council for what is coming and the effect of registration for all of them.
- Legal teams need to be formed to take on Sex offender rights cases and funds need to be raised.
He told us we have a difficult fight ahead but to NEVER give up.
“We must finish plowing the fields of the legal system” - Civil Rights Attorney William Habern, First Annual Reform Sex Offender Laws Conference July 11, 2009
Laurie Peterson: Lobby Techniques and Experience for Sex Offender Laws at state and National Level
Laurie is the New Hampshire State Affiliate Coordinator, and one serious activist. In yet another case where someone was able after 3 years, to pass legislation that removed her loved from the registry, she is only re-doubling her efforts and even helped put together the conference.
She presented a thorough power point on the legislative process and lobbying, along with her impressions from several years of efforts. She also has the distinction of being among only a few activists to lobby congress in Washington.
Some of here most important suggestions:
- Know all aspects of the issue, including both sides.
- Know the sponsors.
- Know the legislators.
- Be prepared to answer tough questions.
- Know the opposition.
- Know the laws.
- Try to be the last speaker at hearings.
- Connect with different languages.
- Learn where to best start a bill, house or senate.
- Avoid the over use of statistics.
The power point should be made available to state affiliates at a later date and is a great tool for those affiliates new to the daunting, legislative process.(where was that back in December!)
3:45PM Break Out Groups
The final portion of the conference was 4 break out groups, chosen at random and sent to different rooms to come up with one or two important ideas for RSOL to work on. Our group had many ideas but focused on building our base and making sure all 50 states have active affiliates. Our group also came up with the likely concept and location for next years conference.(which I will not disclose for now) Despite the RSOL founder being in our group, his complex idea was shelved. Sorry Paul!
Other groups presented great ideas including stories, courts task force, networking, lobbying, fundraising and others.
After the Break Out Group Discussions the RSOL team said a few words before dismissal. Including “Remember, this fight is for the country, not just the civil liberties of former sex offenders” and the importance of bringing former victims to speak out, and discussing the effect these laws are having on the nation between men, women, children and the generational gap being created. Few feel sorry for any former offender, so we must tap into the growing, national unease over these laws. And get people to see their main function in life is to live, not protect.
I was also impressed by the state affiliate coordinator, who in 2 years has helped to organize 35 states in this new civil rights movement. Being a non-former offender with no loved ones in the fight, and being from Canada even, he had the vision to see what was going on in America, and the guts to take on the fight. In a later discussion I thanked him and promised to assist in working to organize an Arizona affiliate group as to remove a small amount of burden from his back if I could.
With that the conference concluded. I want to mention a couple of interesting folks, one is a just retired journalist who is working on a book about the sex offender registry, and will be including many personal stories. A long, and interesting project, but what is a retired journalist to do?
Also the gentlemen with http://www.satasort.org/ who presented a disturbing array of juvenile treatment materials, where children as young as 5 are treated as though they are a 40 year child rapist. Please visit his website and learn more, as the treatment of children is a significant issue that must be addressed.
Thanks again to all who sponsored this event, and I look forward to next year, and hope that every one feels inspired to do the right thing, against all odds, and against popular opinion. We can be a part of the solution to a safe and secure future for all People.
Citizens for Change New Mexico
“Remember, this fight is for the country, not just the civil liberties of former sex offenders” - Paul Shannon, First Annual Reform Sex Offender Laws Conference July 11, 2009
End Part III
"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)