Wednesday, April 30, 2014

CA - California bill targets websites engaged in 'mug shot racket'

Original Article


SACRAMENTO (Reuters) - California lawmakers took steps on Monday to bar so-called extortion websites from posting mug shots of people who have been arrested and then demanding payment to remove the photographs, even from people who are never charged with a crime.

A bill to make it unlawful to solicit or accept payment to remove, correct or modify mug shots online was unanimously passed by the California state senate on Monday, in the latest effort by more than a dozen U.S. states to stop such practices.

The California measure was inspired by the case of Bob DeBrino, who was arrested but never charged for driving under the influence while on prescription medication for an impending surgery, according to the bill's author, state senator Jerry Hill.

DeBrino's booking photo was posted online, and the film producer said he lost business as a result, Hill said in a news release. The websites that posted the picture are demanding thousands of dollars from DeBrino to remove the image, said Hill, a Democrat who represents the San Francisco suburb of San Mateo.

In what legislative researchers for the senate called an unintended consequence of laws making mug shots and other arrest information available to the public, a growing industry has developed that publishes mug shots on a website and then charges those depicted in the photos to remove their images.

"This practice is part of a growing niche industry, 'the mug-shot racket,'" senate researchers wrote in their analysis of the bill.

The bill, which goes next to the state assembly, would impose fines on violators of $1,000 or force them to pay damages and attorneys fees for victims.

If it passes, California would become the sixth state to make it illegal to charge people to remove mug shots from websites, after Georgia, Illinois, Oregon, Texas and Utah, Hill's office said. Another 14 states are considering such legislation, his office said.

CA - California courts strike down local sex-offender ordinances

Original Article


By Sam Stanton

The California Supreme Court has left intact a lower-court ruling that invalidates local ordinances aimed at restricting the movements of registered sex offenders in dozens of cities statewide.

The court’s decision Wednesday not to hear a case involving a Southern California sex offender means city and county ordinances banning such offenders from public parks and other public areas no longer may be enforced, attorneys say. Instead, a state law governing where sex offenders on parole may live now stands as the main restriction.

If I read the tea leaves correctly, it’s probably dead everywhere in California,” Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff to Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said Thursday.

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office had led the effort to tighten restrictions on sex offenders and advised communities in that area on how to enact such ordinances.

We still believe that we were right on the law and we respectfully disagree,” Schroeder said. “We don’t regret the choices that we made in trying to keep sex offenders out of parks and keep children safe.”

The state Supreme Court’s action stemmed in part from an Orange County case in which a registered sex offender in Irvine went to a tennis court at a public park in violation of a local ordinance.

The offender pleaded guilty, but a public defender appealed the case and won a ruling that state law trumps such local ordinances, Schroeder said. Her office appealed that to the 4th District Court of Appeal, which agreed with the appellate decision, so the Orange County District Attorney’s Office asked the state Supreme Court to hear the matter.

That court declined to do so Wednesday. It also declined to hear a second, similar case involving an offender who was cited after going to a picnic at a county park.

The move effectively invalidates such local ordinances, Schroeder said, and leaves Jessica’s Law, passed by voters in 2006, as the main enforcement tool over paroled sex offenders. That measure, which also has faced court challenges, prevents sex offenders on parole from living within 2,000 feet of schools and parks.

Santa Maria attorney Janice Bellucci, president of a group called “California Reform Sex Offender Laws,” said the Supreme Court’s move is a “major victory” for efforts to provide more rights for individuals who must register on California’s Megan’s Law list of people with sex offenses in their pasts.

It means that our people on the registry – and we have over 105,000 now – can now go to public and private places that they could not go to before,” she said.

Bellucci has been waging a legal battle against such ordinances throughout the state and last month filed suit in U.S. District Court in Sacramento seeking to overturn a South Lake Tahoe measure.

The South Lake Tahoe ordinance prohibits sex offenders from being in or within 300 feet of public or private schools, parks, video arcades, swimming pools or other areas where children might congregate. The ordinance allows for single trips traveling past such spots.

Bellucci said 70 cities and five counties in California have enacted such measures, and she has used a client, _____ of San Luis Obispo, a registered sex offender, as the face of her lawsuits against such ordinances.

A previous suit against El Dorado County led to a countywide ordinance being rescinded.

The ordinances have became popular statewide in recent years in light of high-profile cases involving sex offenders.

In El Dorado County, for instance, such restrictions were put in place in the wake of the notorious case of Phillip Garrido, who abducted 11-year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard from a South Lake Tahoe street in 1991 and held her as a sex slave and hostage for 18 years.

Garrido was arrested in August 2009 and jailed in Placerville until his guilty plea in 2011 resulted in a 431 years-to-life sentence.

Cases like his and others in California resulted in a wave of new ordinances that severely restricted where registered sex offenders could go, even if they were years removed from being on parole or probation.

Bellucci said she views the matter as a “civil rights issue” that ultimately should be addressed by legislators to differentiate between people who made a mistake in their past – such as urinating in public or a young adult having consensual sex with a 17-year-old girlfriend, for example – from predators such as Garrido.

_____’s lawsuit against the South Lake Tahoe ordinance was filed March 31 and stated that he is a “law-abiding citizen in good standing within his community.” The Megan’s Law registry lists the 61-year-old plumber as having a 1979 conviction for lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14.

_____ has written a book about his life as a registered sex offender. Bellucci said she would not discuss his past.

But _____’s lawsuit said the restrictions could stop a sex offender from visiting doctor’s offices, hospitals or even businesses they might own that are adjacent to places barred to offenders.

South Lake Tahoe City Attorney Thomas Watson said the ordinance is not currently being enforced because of the legal challenges and that the city has been in talks with Bellucci. The action by the state Supreme Court could mean the council may have to rescind the ordinance, and the topic will be addressed at the next council meeting, he said.

El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson said Thursday that the Legislature has failed to address the need for balanced restrictions, something that may lead to new initiative drives.

This is more than anything else due to the Legislature’s inability to craft appropriate legislation to control the behavior and conduct of sex offenders that are out,” Pierson said.

He added that the county had crafted policies he thought were appropriate and similar to those in Orange County, allowing an offender to get written permission from the sheriff to be in certain public places around children.

I think there’s this misimpression that we want to ban sex offenders from going anywhere and doing anything,” Pierson said. “What we’re attempting to do is deal with the unusual situations where they’re predatory. If they go to an ice skating rink because they want to look at the young children, that’s who we’re trying to prevent from being in that kind of situation.”

Conversely, Pierson said, there is no intent to bar registered sex offenders from being able to drop off their own child at school.

It’s trying to balance the competing rights here in an appropriate way that safeguards the children,” Pierson said.

Any further efforts to change sex offender laws now must be made by legislators, Schroeder said, adding that her office still feels such local limits are appropriate.

We felt like, for what it’s worth, I think it’s good for sex offenders not to be around children,” she said.

IL - Ex-Illinois lawmaker (Keith Farnham) charged with child porn possession, in graphic federal complaint

Keith Farnham
Keith Farnham
Original Article


An Illinois state lawmaker who resigned his House seat in March was charged Monday with possession of child pornography, in a federal complaint that detailed graphic online chats.

Former Rep. Keith Farnham, a 66-year-old Democrat, was accused of having two child porn videos on a computer seized from his state office.

The complaint described alleged online chats between an email address linked to Farnham and others in which they discussed their child porn preferences.

"12 is about as old as i can handle. i love them at 6 7 8," read one message, allegedly from the address associated with Farnham, in a chat from November.

The same user, in a chat later that month, also allegedly recalled sexually molesting a 6-year-old girl.

The complaint contains graphic details about pornographic images and videos allegedly traded and sought by Farnham; some of the images were of children under 10 years old and at least one is an infant, the filing said.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Farnham twice co-sponsored bills that would toughen penalties for child porn offenses.

The lawmaker has not been arrested but is scheduled to make an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Chicago on Wednesday. Farnham has not responded to requests for comment.

Several computers and electronic storage devices with child pornography were discovered in searches on March 13 at Farham's office and home in Elgin, just west of Chicago.

Farnham, who was first elected in 2008, resigned his seat on March 19 -- days after the search warrants were executed. He said at the time that he had to attend to "battling serious health issues."

Suspicion fell on Farnham after authorities linked an email used to trade child pornography online to the then-legislator, the complaint said.

A conviction on a single count of possession of child pornography carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

See Also:

CA - North State Psychotherapist wants changes to Megan's Law

Dawn Horwitz-Person
Dawn Horwitz-Person
Original Article


Dawn Horwitz-Person is a Sex Offender Treatment Specialist in Chico. She deals with some of the most violent and dangerous convicted sex offenders in the north state. She has also been featured on "Oprah," and "Anderson Cooper 360." Oprah Winfrey flew to Chico in 2010 to meet with Horwitz-Person and four of her patients, who openly discussed how and why they chose their victims.

Horwitz-Person is one of many California Phycho-therapists hoping for changes to the California Department of Justice's sex offender registry Megan's Law, because she says it is misleading. Says Horwitz-Person, "If 90 percent of the people are offended by someone they know and love and trust, how is knowing where somebody lives going to keep your child safe?" She describes what she calls three fundamental problems with Megan's Law. She says it gives people a false sense of security, because they look at the dots on the sex offender map, determine they don't live close to any offenders, and feel safe. She says, "Ok, nobody lives by me. This is safe, and they forget that most offenders offend because they're family. People they know and love and trust. They're people they allow into their homes." Horwitz-Person adds that the registry makes people think about the stranger in the van down the street, instead of focusing on those who are allowed in the home, and given access to their kids. She says, "If it's focused on keeping that stranger danger myth alive, how are we really protecting our kids if they're not getting accurate information? We need to have conversations with our children about 'OK touch' and 'Not Ok touch.' Ninety percent of the current sex crimes are committed by people who have never been arrested, before we know who they are law enforcement knows who they are." Horwitz-Person says many predators are able to plea bargain off the registry, even though they are at high risk to re-offend. She says, "Something that may start out as felony rape will be plea bargained to somebody accepting a felony sexual battery. Felony sexual battery doesn't have to register. That person could be a really dangerous person, and they're not on Megan's Law." She cites one former patient who lives in Chico with multiple sexual battery offenses, who was able to stay off the list. She says, "I'm talking somebody who has crossed all barriers, with children, adults, men, women, animals, you name it. And this person, nobody knows about, and he's not on the registry." She says the final problem with Megan's Law is that it lumps in all offenders together, without taking into consideration the type or date of offense, and the risk assessment. She says it's a waste of money and resources to monitor some offenders, while others who are considered high-risk are not monitored once they're off probation.

The California Sex Offender Management Board has asked Governor Jerry Brown to create a risk-tier system, so that the most dangerous offenders can be more closely monitored. To watch Horwitz-Person's appearance on Oprah, click here.