Saturday, November 5, 2011

FL - Life Sentence for Possession of Child Pornography Spurs Debate Over Severity

Original Article

I don't like turning stuff into a race issue, but the man is apparently Hispanic, so I wonder if this were a white man, would he have received the same punishment? See here for some examples.



Does downloading child pornography from the Internet deserve the same criminal punishment as first-degree murder?

A circuit court judge in Florida clearly thinks so: On Thursday, he sentenced [name withheld], a 26-year-old stockroom worker whose home computer was found to contain hundreds of pornographic images of children, to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

But the severity of the justice meted out to Mr. [name withheld], who had no previous criminal record, has led some criminal justice experts to question whether increasingly harsh penalties delivered in cases involving the viewing of pornography really fit the crime. Had Mr. [name withheld] actually molested a child, they note, he might well have received a lighter sentence.

To me, a failure to distinguish between people who look at these dirty pictures and people who commit contact offenses lacks the nuance and proportionality I think our law demands,” said Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University, who highlighted Mr. [name withheld]’s case on his blog, Sentencing and Law Policy.

Sexual offenses involving children enrage most Americans, and lawmakers have not hesitated to impose lengthy prison terms for offenders. In Florida, possession of child pornography is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. Mr. [name withheld] was charged with 454 counts of possession, each count representing one image found on the computer.

Steve Maresca, the assistant state attorney in the case, said that in his view, Mr. [name withheld]received a sentence pursuant to the sentencing guidelines.”

Too many people just look at this as a victimless crime, and that’s not true,” he said. “These children are victimized, and when the images are shown over and over again, they’re victimized over and over again.”

But Lee Hollander, Mr. [name withheld]’s lawyer, called the sentence ridiculous.

Daniel had nothing to do with the original victimization of these people; there is no evidence that he’s ever touched anybody improperly, adult or minor; and life in prison for looking at images, even child images, is beyond comprehension,” he said.

Mr. Hollander said Mr. [name withheld] had consistently said he did not know the images were on his computer. He refused a plea bargain of 20 years in prison, after which the state attorney increased the charges. The sentence will be appealed, Mr. Hollander said.

Troy K. Stabenow, an assistant federal public defender in Missouri’s Western District, noted that most people assume that someone who looks at child pornography is also a child molester or will become a child molester, a view often mirrored by judges.

But a growing body of scientific research shows that this is not the case, he said. Many passive viewers of child pornography never molest children, and not all child molesters have a penchant for pornography.

I’m not suggesting that someone who looks at child pornography should just walk,” he said. “But we ought to punish people for what they do, not for our fear.”

State and federal laws, which generally increase penalties based on the number of pornographic images, reflect the idea that acquiring child pornography requires extensive time and effort and thus is a measure of a defendant’s involvement and interest. But with the rise of the Internet, it is possible to download hundreds of images in a matter of minutes, making the size of a stash a less than reliable indicator, Mr. Stabenow and other criminal justice experts said. It is now a rare case that does not involve the possession of hundreds, or even thousands, of images.

As a result, many federal judges have issued sentences lower than those called for by federal guidelines, which add months for multiple images and other aggravating factors. And even when such sentencing enhancements are enforced, the sentences — which can sometimes be 18 or 20 years — are often well below what Mr. [name withheld] received. The federal guidelines, for example, recommend a minimum of 57 to 71 months in prison for possession of 600 or more images of very young children.

Paul Cassell, a former federal judge who is now a law professor at the University of Utah, said there was no question that “consumers of child pornography drive the market for the production of child pornography, and without people to consume this stuff there wouldn’t be nearly as many children being sexually abused.”
- This is the same stupid argument that can be used for the "war on drugs," or almost any other crime.

Mr. Cassell is involved in efforts to get restitution for victims of child pornography, and has filed a petition in one case with the Supreme Court. But he said that while he was not familiar with Mr. [name withheld]’s case and did not know what other facts might be involved, “in the abstract, a life sentence for the crime of solely possessing child pornography would seem to be excessive.”

A life sentence is what we give first-degree murderers,” he said, “and possession of child pornography is not the equivalent of first-degree murder.”

CO - Denver finds glaring discrepancies in sex offender registries

Original Article

This is the kind of problems you get when you allow multiple agencies access to the data, errors. And other third party sites should be denied access to the registries as well, who just use it to make a quick buck.


By Justin Joseph

DENVER -- Just feet away from a Denver daycare playground, just a few months ago, you'd find [name withheld]'s apartment.

My son is only ten years old and he was scared,” says the mother of his latest alleged victim.

She says [name withheld] kidnapped and molested her son in August, but because Colorado’s system for tracking dangerous men like him doesn’t always work, she could never have known he lived so close.

I think it's erroneous to think the database is perfect,” says Lance Clem who is the spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Public Safety and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation which runs the state of Colorado's sex offender registry.

We showed Clem numerous omissions we found on both the state’s registry and its city counterpart called the Unified sex offender registry or SOTAR, which you can access from most cities’ home pages.

That’s the problem. Like the 10-year-old boy’s mother, most people don’t know that there are several databases for finding who lives next door. As FOX31 Denver uncovered, depending on which database you access, if your neighbor is a registered sex offender, it may show him and it may not.

We tested five different zip codes around the metro area in each of the two registries and found alarming results.

In Englewood's zip code 80112 we found 24 sex offenders registered on the Unified Registry who never appeared in that zip code on the state’s registry. On the state’s registry that same zip code showed 18 other sex offenders who never appeared in that zip code on the Unified registry.

In the Denver 80211 zip code, 17 sex offenders showed up on the Unified registry who never appeared on the state's registry, and the state’s site showed 15 offenders living in that 80211 zip code that the Unified registry did not.

It was a problem in all the zip codes FOX31 Denver tested. The discrepancies appeared in the Arapahoe county 80122 zip code, in the Jefferson County 80002 zip code, and in the Denver 80210 zip code.

We have something like 12 to 15 thousand sex offenders, that's a lot of people to keep track of,” said Clem. “It’s a problem in how the law was written.”

Douglas County runs the Unified Sex Offender Registry and says Colorado law is to blame for the reason the databases are so different.

They say, by law, the C.B.I. can list only the most dangerous sexually violent predators, and the Unified registry is less restrictive. Even so, we found dozens of names of violent and non-violent offenders missing on both databases.

FOX31 Denver also found instances where the addresses on the two databases are different.

Out of the total numbers of people that we're talking about and we're talking about 10,000, to have a few dozen where the information isn't up to date it's always going to happen,” said Clem.

Dr. Jerry Yager is director of training for the Denver Children's Advocacy Center which helps children who have been sexually assaulted.

I think the utility of those lists is to inform the public there is something in your neighborhood that has a history of this,” said Yager. He says incomplete databases are only part of the problem. He suggests the more serious concern is that police don’t always know where sex offenders are really living. Case in point, [name withheld] who lived right next to a daycare.

Why did we make laws that say these people have to register? It's so we can track them and know their whereabouts and know what's going on and if we're not doing a good job with that then that's a problem,” said Yager.

Representatives for both the state’s registry and the Unified Registry say because of the different laws governing both databases, parents will always get the most complete information from their local law enforcement agency.

Dr. Yager also suggests just talking to your children about what is and is not appropriate touching. He says if children are properly prepared, they are much less likely to be victimized.

[name withheld] is currently in jail awaiting trial for the sexual assault and kidnapping of the 10-year-old boy.

AL - Former police officer (Michael Wayne Wooten), Birmingham and Shelby schools employee arrested in child porn case

Original Article


BIRMINGHAM - FBI agents today arrested a retired Birmingham police officer who was also a former Birmingham schools security officer and substitute bus driver for Shelby County schools on child pornography charges, authorities announced.

An investigation by Birmingham police and the FBI led to the arrest of Michael Wayne Wooten, 60, of Alabaster, said U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance and FBI Special Agent in Charge Patrick J. Maley.

Wooten was arrested in Bessemer and is charged with receiving child pornography and with possessing a computer, computer disk, and other material containing child pornography, according to a statement from Vance's spokeswoman, Peggy Sanford.

Wooten made an initial appearance this morning before a magistrate and will return to court Monday afternoon.

"This investigation uncovered sexually explicit photographs we believe were taken in a studio Wooten set up in a closed Birmingham school building," U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance said in the release. "Not all victims shown in the photographs have been identified, and the investigation continues."

Vance asked anyone with possible knowledge related to the case to contact the FBI at 1-866-372-0209.

Officials identified the Birmingham school as the shuttered Dupuy Elementary. They quoted a Birmingham schools spokeswoman as saying Wooten worked for city schools from July 1997 to May 2011. Shelby County school officials also confirmed Wooten was a substitute bus driver for their system who had passed a criminal background review. They said he had worked on 21 days in the current school year.

The pictures appear to have been taken in the office of Dupuy Elementary, a closed Birmingham city school, according to the affidavit. Wooten worked as a security officer for Birmingham City Schools from July 1997 until May 2011. Wooten retired from the Birmingham Police Department in 1997, said Birmingham police Sgt. Johnny Williams Jr.

As a security guard, Wooten did not have unsupervised access to students, according to Birmingham Schools spokeswoman Michaelle Chapman.

The release from Vance's office said: "Wooten told investigators in April 2010 that he shared the office at Dupuy Elementary School with another security guard. Wooten said he set up a studio at the office to photograph children in order to build his art portfolio."

"A Birmingham Police officer and an FBI agent searched the office in April 2010 after law enforcement was alerted that Wooten had taken a 9-year-old girl to the empty school and photographed her in several outfits, including sexually explicit costumes, the affidavit states."

"In the search, the officers found five plastic bins containing girls' clothing, including dresses, bathing suits and thong underwear."

One 9-year-old girl has been identified and interviewed by investigators. Assisting in the investigation are security officials from Birmingham schools and Hoover and Alabaster police.

FL - The end of ‘Bookville’ homeless camp under the Tuttle?

Original Article



Where did all the sex offenders go after their eviction last year from under the Julia Tuttle Causeway? Reporter Robert Lyle’s WLRN radio series tracked down several former residents of this unlamented monument to the law of unintended consequences, and we want to add further information.

The causeway colony, the subject of lurid international headlines and a recent novel by Russell Banks, resulted from local laws that restrict sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet — one-half mile — from places that children gather, like schools, parks and school bus stops. In a dense urban county like ours, there is almost no affordable housing outside these boundaries. The inevitable consequence of these laws was to force sex offenders into homelessness.

The state had already passed a carefully-considered 1,000-foot law that would have allowed shelter for most of the county’s offenders. Furthermore, a geo-mapping survey proved there were far more registered sex offenders in the county than affordable housing units outside the 2,500-foot zone. Finally, social scientists have achieved rare unanimity about two issues: (1) housing instability increases the risk of recidivism among all offenders, and (2) residing near a school or park does not increase the already-low recidivism rate by the vast majority of sex offenders.

But lobbyist Ron Book, driven by his daughter’s widely-reported abuse by the family nanny, championed the residency restrictions. He insisted they were necessary to protect children, and that there was adequate housing outside the banishment zone. He derided those who disagreed as advocates for predators; he called their studies “suspect.”

The link between Book’s campaign and the causeway colony was so direct that those who lived there came to call it “Bookville.”

Once Bookville became an international embarrassment, it paradoxically fell to Book, as chairman of the Homeless Trust, to find shelter for its occupants. After boarding up the camp, Book used federal stimulus money to buy short-term stays (6-12 months) in housing, costing up to $1,000 a month for offenders who, without Book’s laws, could have lived for free with friends and family.

These arrangements were controversial for reasons other than funding source, duration and cost. Book placed 13 predators (“real bad guys,” he said) within a half-square mile in the quiet family neighborhood of Shorecrest. “We ran the Shorecrest ZIP code and it just popped up as an eligible site. So I drove it and determined that it would be a good fit to relocate the sexual predators,” Book explained. Shorecrest’s residents do not agree with Book’s assessment of “fit.” He placed another 43 in a cramped trailer park “teeming” with children.

Whatever the merits of Book’s resettlement efforts, he cautioned they were temporary: “I can’t pay rent for these people forever. It runs for a period of time and runs out.” Indeed, soon afterwards, Book declared an end to the Trust’s aid for the Bookville exiles: “As far as we’re concerned, our help for people under the bridge is done.” He acknowledged, however, that without this aid, many would “end up back somewhere on the streets,” adding ominously “We just don’t know where.”

How right Book was. Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s registry (the numbers change monthly) reveals that of 1,960 sex offenders/predators in Miami-Dade County, 256 — about one out of seven — have absconded. Absconders are those sex offenders who have stopped reporting their whereabouts, or cut off their ankle monitors, or otherwise escaped supervision. Of those who have not yet absconded, 191 are homeless. They sleep under bridges, or in lots and fields throughout the county. Somewhere between this rainy season and the end of winter, some of these homeless offenders may also abscond.

Boarding up Bookville hasn’t solved the problem of these laws. It has merely created another set of problems.

Valerie Jonas is a South Florida attorney specializing in criminal defense appeals. Dr. Walter G. Bradley is professor and chairman emeritus of the Department of Neurology at the University of Miami medical school.