By Radley Balko
The boneheaded logic behind treating "sexting" teens as child pornographers.
That the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would even need to hear oral arguments in the case of Miller, et al. v. Skumanick last week is a pretty good indication that law enforcement officials in Wyoming County, Pennsylvania have lost their collective minds.
At issue in the case: Whether the U.S. Constitution permits prosecutors to charge minors who pose for nude or risque photos with child pornography. You read that correctly. In order to protect children from predators and child pornographers, the local district attorney is threatening to prosecute minors who pose for racy photos as if they were child pornographers.
Even within the context of the already hysterical overreaction to the "sexting" phenomenon, the facts in Miller are jaw-dropping. Of the three girls bringing suit, two were photographed at a slumber party wearing training bras. The third photographed herself baring her breasts, then sent the photo to a boy she'd hoped to make jealous. The girls aren't in trouble for distributing the photos, or even for taking them. They've been introduced to the criminal justice system merely for appearing in them.
Wyoming County District Attorney George Skumanick, Jr. gave the girls a choice. The first option was to face felony child pornography charges, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The second was to attend a series of Skumanick-chosen classes, which according to the Pennsylvania ACLU included topics such as "what it means to be a girl in today's society" and "non-traditional societal and job roles." The girls would also be put on probation, subject to random drug tests, and would have to write essays explaining why appearing in photos while wearing their bras is wrong.
Skumanick would later tell a gathering of students and parents that he had the authority to prosecute girls photographed on the beach in bikinis, because the minors would be dressed "provocatively." He told the Wall Street Journal that by offering the girls the classes and probation instead of immediately hitting them with felony charges, "We thought we were being progressive."
- Sounds to me like this man has some skeletons in his closet, or is just an a--hole.
Of the 19 minors Skumanick targeted, 16 chose the classes. The other three took Skumanick to court, where they won a restraining order. Skumanick appealed. To the credit of the people of Wyoming County, after 20 years in office Skumanick lost his bid for reelection last November. But his office continues to fight.
But this isn't just an isolated case of a renegade D.A. There have now been several cases across the country where young people who either pose for, snap, or forward provocative or nude photos of other minors are being charged or threatened with felony child pornography. In 2007, a state appeals court in Florida upheld charges of "directing or promoting a photograph featuring the sexual conduct of a child" and possession of child pornography charges against a 17-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl for forwarding explicit photos of themselves having sex from her computer to his email address. The sex wasn't illegal. But the photos were. Incredibly, Judge James Wolf wrote in the majority opinion that "Mere production of these videos or pictures may...result in psychological trauma to the teenagers involved. Further, if these pictures are ultimately released, future damage may be done to these minors' careers or personal lives."
The message to minors: These photos can ruin your lives, kids. And just to prove it, we're going to ruin your lives.
These cases are the natural culmination of two trends. The first is the continuing view among politicians that there's no punishment too severe for sex offenders. Moreover, to show how serious we are about sex offenders, we should broaden the class of people we classify under the label. And there needn't be any actual victims.
In 2006, Karen Fletcher, also of Pennsylvania, was convicted in federal court for writing fictional stories (and granted, they were disturbing stories) about sexual and violent crimes against children. Until it was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2002, the 1996 Child Online Protection Act criminalized images of adults made to look like minors, as well as digitally manufactured photos of minors who don't actually exist.
The second trend is the "for the children" excuse that no law ought to be questioned if its intent is to protect young people. The resulting paternalism is built in.
Put these together, and you get the intellectually vacant policy of prosecuting children for sexually exploiting themselves...in order to protect them from the people who might exploit them.
It isn't exactly clear from what or whom the authorities are protecting these teens. To my knowledge, there hasn't been a single case of a predator who tracked down, then raped, killed, or otherwise physically harmed a minor after viewing explicit photos of the child on the Internet or via images forwarded by cell phone. Perhaps it has happened. But given the media obsession with these stories, if it's happened with any frequency at all, we would have probably heard about it by now.
The harm here seems to be the possibility that somewhere, someone other than the intended recipient of these photos may be masturbating to them. That's an uncomfortable thought, sure. But it's difficult to see how that presents tangible harm to the minors in the photos, certainly not to the point where the minors themselves ought to be prosecuted. Anyone turned on by the photos in Skumanick's case could just as easily placate themselves with an old Sears catalogue—and with no resulting damage to the models who posed in it.
But the idea that an otherwise innocuous image can mutate into illegal child porn based on how it might be used by pedophiles is gaining currency. In 2006, Alabama photographer Jeff Pierson was indicted on federal child porn charges for a website he ran featuring aspiring teen models. None of the models were nude, nor were any depicted engaged in any sexual activity. All of the models' parents signed off on the photos. But federal prosecutors argued the models struck "illegally provocative," "lascivious," and "coy" poses that could entice pedophiles. In 2002, Republican Rep. Mark Foley of Florida (yes, that Mark Foley) introduced the Child Modeling Exploitation Prevention Act, which would have prohibited the sale of any photo of a minor. It failed, but crazy as Foley's bill sounds, it at least would have cleared up the ambiguity. As the website CNET reported in a story about Pierson, federal courts have made the definition of child porn so subjective, "judges and juries [are] faced with the difficult task of making distinctions between lawful and unlawful camera angles and facial expressions."
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
By Shannon Moriarty
In just three years, the number of homeless sex offenders in California has increased a whopping 2400 percent. Who or what is to blame for this skyrocketing figure? Believe it or not, it's Jessica's Law, passed by voters in November 2006 and designed to protect children from paroled sex offenders. What's a state to do when a law intended to bolster public safety is actually exacerbating the threat of recidivism?
- Repeal the law!
Today, there are 2,200 paroled sex offenders who are homeless in California. This is up from 1,257 a year ago and just 88 in September 2007. The causal link between the passage of Jessica's Law and the onslaught of homeless sex offenders is undeniable. What, you ask, is at the heart of the issue here? Housing.
- And it's occurring all across the country. Here is examples in Florida and Georgia.
Jessica's Law bans sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park where children "regularly gather," according to the Mercury News. These strict requirements have created real difficulties for paroled sex offenders looking for places to live. Even if housing is available within approved areas, it may be unaffordable. The requirements have also created clusters of sex offenders in places like unmonitored motels, which are not sustainable forms of housing nor necessarily safe for children.
To make matters worse, there are few re-entry programs for any type of ex-offenders, including those charged with sex crimes. This lack of programmatic assistance usually means that upon their release from prison, people are responsible for finding a place to live, often with little financial or family support.
Officials in California have changed their position in the past year; instead of saying that homeless sex offenders pose a threat to public safety, they are saying that Jessica's Law poses a threat to public safety. Instability, they say, increases the likelihood that repeat crimes will be committed. Now that the causal link has been established, which steps this budget-strapped state should take next is an entirely different question.
It's a complex issue, and it will be interesting to see how things take shape in the coming months. While immediate steps should be taken to see that the public is protected, it's important to note that not every convicted sex offender poses a threat after his or her release from prison. Connecting former inmates with decent and stable housing is necessary for both protecting the public from the threat of recidivism and allowing those who have served their time to move on with their lives.
VA - SB 635 Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry; name of offender's employer not to be published
Summary as introduced:
Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry; name of offender's employer not to be published. Provides that the name or company title of the employer of an offender included in the Registry shall not be made available on the database publicly available through the Internet.
01/19/10 Senate: Presented and ordered printed 10104249D pdf
01/19/10 Senate: Presented and ordered printed 10104249D
01/19/10 Senate: Referred to Committee for Courts of Justice
01/22/10 Senate: Assigned Courts sub: Criminal
By PEGGY PECK
Experts Are Debating Why Teen Pregnancies Are Up After Decades of Decline
After a decade of declining pregnancies among teenagers, the rate of teenage pregnancy increased by 3 percent in 2006 as 750,000 women younger than 20 became pregnant, according to a report released by the Guttmacher Institute.
And as pregnancies increased, so did births. In 2006, there were 42 births per 1,000 U.S. teenage girls, which was 4 percent higher than 2005. However abortions in this age group increased by 1 percent from 2005 to 2006.
In a prepared statement Planned Parenthood blamed abstinence-only sex education programs for the uptick.
"It is a tragedy that after a decade of progress in reducing the rate of teenage pregnancy we are witnessing a substantial increase in the number of teens who are getting pregnant," the Planned Parenthood statement read.
In a statement released last May in conjunction with the "National to Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy" the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, agreed that comprehensive sex education was likely to be more effective than abstinence only programs.
"Abstinence works for some teens, but the idea that most teens will wait to have sex indefinitely is rigid and impractical," said Dr. Richard S. Guido, chair of ACOG's Committee on Adolescent Health Care.
Yet the Guttmacher report suggested that the reasons for increase may be more complex, including "shifts in racial and ethnic composition of the population, increased in poverty, the growth of abstinence-only sex education programs at the expense of comprehensive programs, and changes in public perception and attitudes toward both teenage and unintended pregnancy."
Among black teenagers the pregnancy rate was 126.3 per 1,000 women but the rate was 44 pregnant teens per 1,000 non-Hispanic white teenagers.
A breakdown by state, revealed that New Mexico had the highest teenage pregnancy rate, followed by Nevada, Arizona, Texas, and Mississippi.
Conversely, the lowest teenage pregnancy rate was in New Hampshire -- 33 pregnancies per 1,000 -- followed by Vermont, Maine, Minnesota, and North Dakota.
Texas had the highest rate of births to teenage mothers -- 62 per 1,000 -- and New York had the highest rate of abortions among teenagers at 41 per 1,000.
The report was based on data from the National Center for Health Statistics of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (number of births), the Guttmacher Institute (total number of abortions), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (age and race/ethnicity distribution of women obtaining abortions) and the Population Estimates Program of the U.S. Bureau of the Census in collaboration with NCHS (population estimates).
Among the findings in the report:
- The pregnancy rate was 71.5 pregnancies per 1,000 girls aged 15-19, and pregnancies occurred among 7 percent of females in this age group.
- Although teenage abortions increase by 1 percent from 2005 to 2006, the overall teenage abortion rate decline by about a third over the two decades from 1986 to 2006.
- The increase in teen pregnancies and births to teenage mothers was observed across all racial and ethnic groups.
The authors said that additional research was needed to determine if the disparities in rates by both race and region carry over to adult women.
By Bruce Cadwallader
A former Obetz police officer could spend five years in prison for forcing sex on a woman in his police cruiser before taking her to the Franklin County jail in November.
The woman filed a complaint with deputies.
Vernon Wolford, 32, of Westbear Court on the Far West Side, pleaded guilty yesterday to a single count of sexual battery in Franklin County Common Pleas Court. By doing so, he became a sexual offender under Ohio law.
Wolford, a former reserve officer, had been on patrol full time in the village for about a year. He was fired Dec. 30, Obetz Police Chief Kenneth R. Hinkle said.
Judge Julie M. Lynch set sentencing for Feb. 16. Defense attorney E. Scott Shaw asked for his release, saying Wolford, who is married, had requested the plea deal. "There have been a number of what I would describe as 'Come to Jesus' meetings in my office where I have been very blunt with him," Shaw said. "He has made all court appearances."
But Lynch sent Wolford to jail and set bail at $30,000. Last night, he was released after posting bond.
Assistant Prosecutor Daniel Hawkins said Wolford was on patrol when he encountered a couple in a parked car in a cemetery at 3:30 a.m. Nov. 10. He took the woman, 25, into custody after finding a probation-related warrant for her arrest in Florida.
She was intoxicated and pleaded for her release, Hawkins said. Wolford pulled into a drive on Groveport Road, got out and faced the woman, who was handcuffed and sitting in the back seat of his cruiser.
"He asked (her), 'Do you want to go home?' while gesturing toward his penis," which was exposed, Hawkins said. She performed oral sex, but Wolford took her to jail anyway.
A state crime lab found Wolford's semen on the woman's tennis shoes and in the cruiser and her saliva in his underwear.
Sexual battery is defined as sexual conduct while having supervisory authority over another.
By Brian J. Pedersen
A former Pinal County Sheriff’s deputy has been sentenced to 31 months in federal prison for child pornography possession.
Roy L. Brown, 62, was a deputy from 1992 until a few months after his December 2008 indictment. The indictment stemmed from more than 80 images of child pornography that were found on a computer in his SaddleBrooke home in September 2008, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Tucson.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Angela Woolridge said during Brown’s sentencing hearing that he abused his power by attending two training sessions dealing with online child pornography despite not being assigned by the Sheriff’s office to go to the session or ever having been assigned to a crimes-against-children division.
Brown used these classes to learn how to get away with possessing child pornography, Woolridge told U.S. District Court Judge Frank Zapata.
“He used his position to do the exact opposite of what is expected of a law enforcement officer,” Woolridge said. “The defendant committed these crimes knowing the harm that was caused.”
Brown pleaded guilty in November to one count of possession, and faced up to 53 months in prison.
Defense attorney Richard Bock described Brown’s actions as an “episode” in what had otherwise been a crime-free life.
Zapata said he’d received numerous letters of support — “I stopped counting at 20,” he said — on behalf of Brown, which he indicated factored into his decision to impose the minimum sentence allowed.
Zapata also approved Brown’s request to recommend he serve his sentence at a facility in Texas that has a sex offender treatment program.
MD - Getting tougher on sex offenders - Governor, lawmakers try to close loopholes after girl's death
By LIAM FARRELL
Maryland lawmakers are poised to get tougher on sex offenders, with bills already being proposed to expand registry information, establish lifetime supervision and require involuntary confinement in state mental institutions after a jail sentence.
Sex offender regulations are getting renewed attention during this legislative session after the recent death of Sarah Foxwell, an 11-year-old Salisbury girl police say was abducted by a registered sex offender just before Christmas.
- Yep, the usual knee-jerk reactions to punish all offenders for the sick deeds of one man!
Gov. Martin O'Malley (Contact) has proposed requiring mandatory lifetime supervision for serious and multiple sex offenders, including the possibility of GPS monitoring. Any sentence imposed for violating that supervision would not be eligible for diminution credits.
An offender could petition to be discharged from the supervision after three years, but would have to have a recommendation from a supervising agent and a risk assessment done by a treatment provider.
"The governor wanted a policy that covered virtually all dangerous sex offenders," Shaun Adamec, a spokesman, said in a statement. "The public has a right to expect that even those persons with one conviction for the serious sexual offenses in our bill be monitored on supervision until it can be demonstrated that it is safe for them not to be."
Statewide, there were 6,444 registered sex offenders as of yesterday, according to the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Anne Arundel County has 360 registered sex offenders and Queen Anne's County has 21.
Sex offender laws are also one of the priorities were unveiled yesterday by the Senate Democratic Caucus.
One bill, sponsored by Sen. Ed DeGrange (Email), D-Glen Burnie, would expand the state's sex offender registry to include information such as travel documents and professional licenses, and require links to registries in other states.
The bill, which would move sex offenders from biannual to quarterly registration, would bring Maryland into compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Act.
"You can't go back and fix what happened, but hopefully we can save some children in the future," DeGrange said.
The formal backing of the Senate's Democrats and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (Email), D-Calvert, provides a substantial boost to the legislation's chances.
The bill "is certainly a step that needs to be taken immediately," Miller said.
DeGrange also is sponsoring a proposal on "civil commitments," which could have slimmer chances of being passed. The senator wants to require sexually violent predators to be involuntarily committed to a state mental institution after serving a prison sentence.
The offender could be released only if a court finds probable cause that the person is not likely to commit a similar crime if released.
"Rather than letting them out (from prison) … they should be deemed cured through a psychiatric evaluation," DeGrange said. "It is basic public safety."
The senator acknowledged that the bill could have a difficult time because of the financial burden associated with the increased psychiatric care.
Miller said the issue would probably have to be studied more and is an "idea that needs to be thought through carefully."
"There needs to be a way for state's attorneys to ask for the appropriate sentences and the judges to render the appropriate sentences so that these people are punished criminally," he said. "If that's accomplished there wouldn't be a need for a civil commitment."
Other local legislators have their own proposals.
Del. Steve Schuh, R-Gibson Island, and Del. Michael Smigiel, R-Cecil, want to increase mandatory minimum sentences for second-degree rape and sex offense against a child from five to 20 years, and prohibit convicted sex offenders from earning "good time" credits while in prison.
Del. Tony McConkey, R-Severna Park, and Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Pasadena, have sponsored a bill to have information on the sex offender registry posted in plain language, without the use of technical legal jargon.
ATLANTA (AP) -- Georgia defense attorneys on Wednesday challenged the 30-year federal minimum mandatory sentence for those convicted of aggravated child sexual abuse in a case prosecutors warn could set a sweeping precedent throughout the nation.
The case before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has provoked criticism from the House Republicans who drafted the sex offender crackdown that calls for the stiff penalties. It also played a key role in the confirmation hearing for Beverly Martin, the circuit's newest appeals judge, who was the federal judge in the case at hand.
The case revolves around _____, who was arrested in May 2007 after his flight from Texas landed in Atlanta. Prosecutors say he was planning to drive to a suburban Atlanta restaurant to meet and have sex with a single mother and her 10-year-old daughter.
The meeting had been set up after months of online chats between _____ and "Stephanie," a federal agent posing as a 41-year-old woman. _____ was convicted in an April 2008 bench trial of using the Internet to entice a child to have sex and crossing state lines with the intent to have sex with a child.
U.S. District Judge Beverly Martin, who was confirmed by the Senate this month to the appeals court, ruled before sentencing that the 30-year mandatory sentence was "grossly disproportionate" to the crime because there was no harm to the victim and that _____ had no relevant criminal record.
Martin later sentenced _____ to 19 years, prompting a swift appeal from the Justice Department. It also soon became a focus of her Senate confirmation hearings and drew a rebuke from Republican Congressional leaders.
Led by U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, the No. 2 House Republican, several lawmakers filed an amicus brief warning upholding the ruling would "abridge Congress' authority to impose punishment" that it deems appropriate. It also warned it would undermine penalties aimed at criminals who cause "debilitating psychological, emotional and physical trauma" to victims.
Federal prosecutor John Horn echoed those concerns during Wednesday's oral arguments. He said the three-judge panel would be among the first appellate court to strike down a mandatory minimum sentence for a "serious felony" if it doesn't overturn the judge's order.
"We have a serious felony — aggravated sexual abuse — and when you compare it to the severity of offenses, the district court's ruling cannot stand," he said.
Vionnette Reyes Johnson, a federal public defender representing _____, took the opposite tack. She contended Martin followed the correct guidelines when reducing _____'s sentence. And she told the panel that its ruling would not necessarily have a wider impact because the issue is "extremely limited and effects only Mr. _____."
By MARY MITCHELL
How could a young woman get raped in broad daylight, on a public street, in plain view and no one stop it?
That apparently is what happened last Tuesday in Toledo, Ohio, where a 15-year-old is accused of raping a 26-year-old autistic woman.
According to news reports, at least four people witnessed the rape, but they didn't intervene because they did not know a rape was taking place.
One witness explained on CNN that she didn't stop because she had her children in the car.
Two motorists called 911, and one motorist passed by the scene, but returned in time to see the alleged rapist run away.
The victim, identified as a resident of a nearby group home, said the rapist put a pair of scissors to her neck and said he would cut her if she made a sound.
Her attacker pushed her down on the sidewalk, pulled down her sweat pants and raped her.
She was attacked as she was walking to the library.
After the rapist fled, the victim said she asked a passerby if she could use his cell phone to call for help, but the man kept walking.
When something like this happens, it feels as if all the good has been sucked out of the world.
It is just hard to imagine that people actually drove past the rape, thinking the sex act was consensual.
Who has sex on the sidewalks of busy streets except dogs?
Additionally, here is a 15-year-old black youth having sex on a public street with an adult white woman -- and no one suspects that something is terribly wrong?
Did people think this woman was a meth head? A hooker?
Did people worry about how they would be perceived by police if they called to say a black teen was having sex with a white woman on the street?
Were these people just too afraid to intervene? Or did they chalk the lurid scene up as another example of the world going to hell in a hand basket?
Why do we turn away?
At least one woman who called 911 described the race of the man and woman and said she thought it was some kind of an attack.
That helped police track down the suspect, who lives with his mother and a sister.
"He told us that he saw the woman walking alone on the street, and in his mind he determined that he was going to have sex with her," Sgt. Sam Harris told reporters.
- It's not sex if it's not consensual, this was rape. Big difference.
On hearing this, lots of things went through my mind, like what about the boy's father?
Did his parents talk to him about sex?
What is going on in his home that would shed some light on why he has no self-control?
Still, I don't know what is more shocking:
The fact that this 15-year-old boy was so incapable of controlling his sexual urges that he raped a stranger in plain view.
Or that so many adults who saw two people engaged in a sex act in a public place drove right past as if were an ordinary day.
The suspect apparently told police he did hear horns beeping, but the noise wasn't enough to stop the rape.
Afterward, the teen allegedly stole the woman's cell phone.
"I'm ticked off because people were doing nothing. Just driving by. What kind of humans are we becoming?" the woman asked police.
Obviously, the 15-year-old, whom prosecutors want charged as an adult, has some kind of mental disorder.
Hopefully, he will not only be punished for his crime, but he will get psychiatric help.
But what about us?
Have we become so self-absorbed that it's getting harder to get involved with someone else's troubles?
Several months ago, a California high school student was gang-raped in a 2½-hour attack outside of a homecoming dance.
Dozens of people witnessed the assault. But no one tried to help the girl.
With respect to the Toledo case, the victim said she yelled for help, but no one came to her rescue.
That is disgraceful.
See something strange. Call the police. It's better to be wrong than to be sorry.
So when are the politicians going to grandstand about making MySpace and other social networks a safe place for adults as well? Or is it just sex offenders? Well, this was a sex crime, but not against a kid. Or, are they going to discriminate against gays and kick off all gays from MySpace? I wonder if she will be charged with a sex crime and put on the sex offender registry, and also made to not use the Internet?
By Lou Grieco
DAYTON — A woman accused of sexually assaulting another woman she met through the MySpace social networking website will be sentenced Feb. 4 for gross sexual imposition.
_____ pleaded guilty to the charge on Jan. 21 before Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge A.J. Wagner. Four other charges, including kidnapping, attempted gross sexual imposition and two counts of unlawful restraint, were dismissed.
_____, 20, of Dayton, went to the victim’s apartment to watch movies with her when the alleged assault occurred on Dec. 11, police said. A friend of the victim showed up at the apartment and pulled _____ away from the victim, police said.
_____ has been in the Montgomery County Jail since her Dec. 18 arrest.