Saturday, January 18, 2014

PA - Juvenile Law Center Wins Second Ruling Declaring Pennsylvania's Juvenile Sex Offender Registration Requirements Unconstitutional

Juvenile sex offenders
Original Article

01/17/2014

For the second time in the last three months, a Pennsylvania judge has ruled that Pennsylvania’s juvenile sex offender registration requirements are unconstitutional. On January 16, 2014, Monroe County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Margherita Patti-Worthington ruled that Pennsylvania's law requiring juveniles convicted of sexual offenses be subjected to lifetime sex offender registration violates their rights under the Pennsylvania Constitution. (Read Judge Patti-Worthington’s opinion here.)

In 2012, the General Assembly enacted new legislation (SORNA) requiring children convicted of certain sexual offenses to register for life on a sex offender registry. Shortly after the law went into effect, Juvenile Law Center, along with local counsel, Syzane Arifaj of the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office, filed motions on behalf of five youth adjudicated delinquent for offenses committed prior to the law’s effective date. The motions challenged SORNA under several provisions of the Pennsylvania and Federal constitutions as well as the Pennsylvania Juvenile Act.

In a well-reasoned decision, the Monroe County Court held that registration is unconstitutional because it infringes on the youths’ fundamental right to reputation and creates an irrebuttable presumption of dangerousness in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution’s guarantee of due process. The Court based its decision on a historical analysis of the right to reputation and due process in Pennsylvania, as well as a review of SORNA’s impact on youth as compared to previous versions of Megan’s Law.

The Court drew upon recent U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence to find that the label of “sex offender” creates harm to a youth’s reputation because it connotes a degree of dangerousness not typically present among youthful offenders. “Being a child implies a unique reputation in our society … Children’s habits are not solidified and this is contemplated in the law ... Where a child’s serious transgressions might have been looked on with a more lenient eye, especially as time passed and wounds were healed, [SORNA] will remind us that this person is a sexual offender and this reminder will persist for the rest of the juvenile’s life.”

The Court also considered the rate of recidivism among youth who commit sexual offenses to determine that the statute is not narrowly tailored to the compelling state interest in protecting the community. The extremely low rate of recidivism indicates that children are not dangerous and therefore do not require costly and burdensome monitoring and registration well into their adulthoods. The lack of any individualized inquiry prior to the imposition of registration further renders SORNA problematic. This presumption that the youth are dangerous without an opportunity to be heard until twenty-five years have passed does not provide meaningful due process.

Juvenile Law Center also challenged SORNA on behalf of juveniles subject to registration in Lancaster County, PA. We are awaiting a decision in that case. In November 2013, Juvenile Court Judge John C. Uhler of York County, PA ruled SORNA unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment, as well as the Due Process Clauses of the U.S. and Pennsylvania Constitutions (In the Interest of J.B. et al.). This case is currently on appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Petitioners were represented by Marsha L. Levick and Riya Saha Shah of Juvenile Law Center, and Syzane Arifaj of the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office. The Defender Association of Philadelphia also contributed assistance to the briefing.


FL - Pinellas County Sheriff's Office to stop posting online mug shots

Extortion
Original Article

01/09/2014

By Laura C. Morel

LARGO - Mug shots of inmates at the Pinellas County Jail will no longer be posted on the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office website starting Monday.

Since 2005, the Sheriff's Office has allowed public access to mug shots, which are photographs of inmates who are booked into the jail.

But Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced Thursday that his office will stop posting the photos online because commercial websites continue to scrape mug shots from his office's "Who's In Jail" web page. Other websites then repost them, and some charge fees if people want their mug shots removed.

"The reposting of their booking photo isn't illegal," Gualtieri said, but added that charging a fee is "unconscionable, verging on blackmail and clearly taking advantage of someone's circumstances."

Last year, mugshots.com advertised removal packages ranging from $399 for removal of one arrest to up to $1,799 for five. But on Thursday, removal costs were not available on the site. Mugshots.com operators could not be reached for comment. Because websites may charge different fees, "a person may have to pay an exorbitant amount of money" to remove each post, the sheriff added.

People searching the "Who's in Jail" site will still be able to access information, such as an inmate's name, charge and date of birth, but photos won't be available online. However, public records requests will be honored, the Sheriff's Office said.

About 50,000 people are booked into the Pinellas County Jail every year. A Florida Sheriff's Association spokeswoman said Thursday that the organization had not heard of any other sheriff's agencies considering removing all booking photos.

Other sheriff's offices in Tampa Bay have not planned to follow suit, but Pasco sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll called the Pinellas change "an interesting development."

"We would just like to see how it works for the time being," he said, adding that arrest information could still be obtained by the commercial websites, even if the photos are not available online.

But Gualtieri said residents he spoke with whose arrest records had been picked up by the websites were mostly concerned about the photos. Gualtieri's decision is among several recent efforts to deter the websites from cashing in on people's arrests.

In June, _____, 44, was arrested by Largo police on a domestic battery charge and booked into the Pinellas County Jail. The next month, the charge was dropped. But _____'s mug shot remains online.

She is the plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against several mug shot websites, including mugshots.com and arrests.org, that was filed in November. Her attorneys are seeking class-action status.

Among them is Tampa lawyer Matthew Crist, who said Gualtieri's decision was "really good news."

"It will stop these websites from being able to acquire content, at least from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office," he said. People "won't face the same problems that Ms. _____ did."

A similar lawsuit was filed in Toledo, Ohio, which resulted in a settlement last year that included an agreement with two websites, BustedMugshots.com and MugshotsOnline.com, to stop charging fees for mug shot removals.