Tuesday, January 24, 2012

NH - Court defeats town's residency restriction

Original Article

01/24/2012

By Lynne Tuohy

CONCORD - A New Hampshire judge says a Franklin city ordinance barring sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of a school is unconstitutional.

Merrimack Superior Court Judge Larry Smukler says city officials failed to show that the restriction protects children.

Registered sex offender [name withheld] sued Franklin city officials who sought to enforce the 2007 ordinance after [name withheld] and a companion moved to Franklin from Massachusetts in 2010.

When [name withheld] registered as a sex offender, he was told he had 30 days to move out of his apartment because it was within 2,500 feet of a school.

The court granted [name withheld] a preliminary injunction in December 2010. The court's ruling now makes that injunction permanent.

Franklin City Manager Elizabeth Dragon says city officials are considering redrafting the ordinance.


NY - Taking DNA From All Criminals Should Be Standard Procedure

Original Article

Why wait until a crime is committed before getting DNA? It should be taken from birth, IMO.

01/23/2012

By CYRUS R. VANCE Jr.

We have a tool that can prevent hundreds of murders, rapes and robberies each year at minimal cost to taxpayers. But we’re not using it in a majority of cases because a state law restricts its use.

DNA evidence solves crimes. Since 1996, when New York State’s DNA databank opened with strong support from my predecessor, Robert M. Morgenthau, the bank’s DNA samples have been linked to more than 3,500 sexual assaults, 860 murders, 1,100 robberies and 3,400 burglaries. Thousands of criminal convictions have resulted. Today, however, we are hamstrung by a law that does not authorize the collection of DNA following convictions of certain misdemeanors. This has meant that we can’t use DNA technology in more than half of our cases. By expanding the collection of DNA to include those convicted of all crimes in New York State’s penal law, as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has called for, we will be better able to identify the guilty, exonerate the innocent, bring justice to crime victims and prevent additional crimes from occurring.
- Once again, more disinformation.  Just because you have DNA on file, doesn't mean it will prevent anything.  It may deter many, but won't prevent crime.

In 2006, lawmakers decided to include some but not all misdemeanors in the DNA databank. Opponents questioned why someone convicted of a low-level misdemeanor — petty larceny, for example — should be required to provide a DNA sample. The answer can be found in the results of that decision: samples collected from people convicted of petty larceny have been linked to roughly 48 murders and 220 sexual assaults. Clearly, the 2006 expansion of the DNA program — which passed with only six dissenting votes in the State Assembly — confirmed that collecting samples from offenders convicted of minor crimes helps solve and prevent more serious crimes.
- And just think of all the crimes that could be solved if it was mandatory that everyone, from birth, give a sample of their DNA, and those who are now adults, must go down to the local police station and submit a sample.

Whom does DNA bring to justice, and how does it prevent future crimes? The case of [name withheld] is instructive. Following his conviction in 2010 for robbing and assaulting a 74-year-old Manhattan man suffering from Parkinson’s disease, Mr. [name withheld] was required to submit a DNA sample, which typically is obtained by swabbing the inside of a person’s cheek. Three days later, that $30 test produced a match linking Mr. [name withheld] to a brutal 2004 assault and attempted rape of a 15-year-old girl in the stairwell of her Manhattan apartment building.

Mr. [name withheld] had been convicted multiple times in Manhattan courts for misdemeanor offenses that did not require providing a DNA sample. Had he been required to provided such a sample after his first misdemeanor conviction, the 2004 case would have been solved earlier and the 2010 attack prevented.
- And if he had been forced to give a sample from birth, less crimes would've been committed because he's probably be in prison.

Crucially, DNA evidence does more than put criminals away; it also exonerates the innocent. One of my top goals as district attorney has been to avoid wrongful convictions. Having a tool like an all-crimes DNA databank at our disposal would go a long way toward helping us achieve that all-important goal of avoiding wrongful convictions.

Despite the truly remarkable benefits of DNA testing, some skeptics have questioned whether it is sufficiently regulated and reliable. This concern is understandable but unfounded. The collection of DNA is highly regulated in the eight state-of-the-art, accredited state labs that conduct criminal forensic analysis. Strict safeguards control the handling of DNA testing and results, including the storage of information by barcode (bar codes can be read) and not name, with criminal penalties for those who violate these rules. When testing leads to a match in the databank, samples are retested at least once and often twice. To date in New York, we have never had a “false positive,” or the misidentification of DNA from one person as the DNA of another.
- I personally don't think DNA is this accurate, false positives have been known to occur.

Collecting DNA from all those convicted of all crimes has received overwhelming bipartisan support from across the state, including from crime victims, their advocates, exonerated defendants, the state and city bar associations, and the state’s district attorneys, police chiefs and sheriffs. But its passage has been stymied because other criminal justice legislation that does not enjoy such broad support has been tacked on to it. Let’s not repeat that mistake this year.
- So, will these same advocates also be willing to submit their DNA as well, so if they ever commit a crime, they can be brought to justice quicker?

No law enforcement tool is perfect, and, as with a fingerprint, a DNA match at a crime scene is an investigative tool, not proof positive of guilt. But DNA is by far the most reliable evidence we have today — more than eyewitness accounts, testimony and even confessions. And importantly, as we try to make our justice system more fair, DNA is truly color blind.
- Many innocent people are in prison because of eyewitness accounts, testimony and confessions.


NJ - Red Lights Newest 'Precrime' Technique


MN - Minnesota's sex offenders -- dealing with the worst in a better way

Original Article

01/23/2012

By D. J. TICE

The convening of a new legislative session wouldn't be complete without more or less far-fetched hopes of greater bipartisan harmony. Yet on one particularly toxic issue, Minnesota's leaders really have begun a calmer, more constructive discussion worth noting and encouraging.

Last week, a daylong conference at William Mitchell College of Law explored the many problems facing the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.

Hosted by Commissioner Lucinda Jesson of the Department of Human Services (which runs the program), and the law school's dean, Eric Janus, a longtime critic of MSOP, the event was attended by key Republican and DFL legislators, along with scores of criminal-justice, corrections and mental-health officials.

What was striking was the respectful tone of the affair -- the apparent willingness of all to assume that all have good motives, even though the conference's basic message has in the past proved politically poisonous.

That message is that even Minnesota's scariest sex criminals have rights, which the state may be violating, and that we need to consider ways to release at least some of them into less restrictive forms of supervision, if only because the cost of keeping them all locked up forever is unaffordable.

This mess goes back to the mid-1990s, when, following a unanimous vote in the Legislature, Minnesota expanded efforts to maroon what it deems its most dangerous sex offenders in a kind of jail/hospital, even after they've completed prison sentences for their crimes.
- Yes, that is double punishment.  Prison, then civil commitment.  Why not just convict them to civil commitment in the first place?

It's supposed to be a treatment center, and making it look like a treatment center makes the program expensive -- about triple the cost of prison. Yet no one has ever gotten better and been released from the program.
- I doubt the last statement.  I'm sure some have gotten better, it's just the system doesn't want to release them and something happen, it makes them look bad.

Nineteen other states have somewhat similar arrangements for dealing with sexual "predators."

But Minnesota is a national leader in the field, with more permanent patients per capita than any other state. Our population of 600-plus committed offenders has about tripled in the last decade; without changes it will continue to soar.

Predatory politics caused Minnesota to lose control of this program.

In 2003, word leaked out that the new administration of then-GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty was considering making changes in MSOP practices rather like those being pondered today. DFL leaders denounced the idea as a plan to sacrifice public safety to save a buck.

Those accusations grew many times louder following a sensational rape/murder by an offender who could have been committed to MSOP but wasn't.

In response, Pawlenty's administration and local prosecutors across the state started seeking commitment for many more offenders. All thought of reforming the MSOP program was forgotten.

Until last year. Republicans in the Legislature and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's administration deserve credit for managing to restart a re-examination of MSOP -- without, so far, anybody accusing anybody of dark desires to unleash monsters on the community.

Costs are only part of the trouble. Janus began last week's conference by explaining the legal danger that MSOP could be declared unconstitutional, as a form of retroactive punishment masquerading as treatment.

His questioning of a panel of officials involved in selecting offenders for commitment to MSOP confirmed that, despite the best intentions, those decisions can be arbitrary and inconsistent, and that some offenders who pose little threat are almost certainly caught in the MSOP net.

The panelists agreed that a key problem with Minnesota's program is the lack of any third alternative, something between either turning dangerous sex offenders loose or permanently locking them up.

Presentations from officials representing sex offender programs in New York, Wisconsin and Texas illustrated what's missing.

Each of those states has a program of intensive supervised release for less-threatening offenders, involving GPS tracking, frequent check-ins and quick reincarceration for violations of rules. Those arrangements are far cheaper and constitutionally more defensible than full commitments.

It may be a measure of Minnesota's malfunction that on this issue the state can take a lesson from Texas on enlightened criminal-justice policy. Even so, the tone of last week's forum suggests change may be possible.

In a final panel discussion, Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, and Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, among others, cordially discussed the challenges in finding agreement on how to better balance public safety, constitutional rights and the efficient use of limited resources.

Limmer, Cornish and other lawmakers are working on legislation that would centralize the process of committing offenders to MSOP and considering releases, perhaps under the auspices of a special court of retired judges. That could add consistency and reduce political pressures.

They are also contemplating lengthening prison sentences for some sex offenses, which could eliminate some constitutional concerns, if only over time.

Cornish emphasized at the conference that "politics can't be separated" from this debate because "perception is reality" and the public's fear of sexual predators is justified as well as intense. He's right, of course.
- I disagree, perception is not reality, and the public has been force fed disinformation for years about high recidivism rates, etc, and now they believe it.  The states need to stop this non-sense and start giving people real facts, and not just what makes them look good to the people and helps their own careers.

But the politics of dealing candidly with this difficult issue don't have to be as paralyzingly dangerous as they've been in the past, and it's good to see policymakers working on that.