The N.H. Supreme Court is pondering the fate of a man convicted, several decades ago, of sexually assaulting his teenage stepdaughter. The man has served out his prison sentence, undergone years of counseling and been deemed “rehabilitated” by the court. Now in his 60s, he is disabled.
None of which would be fodder for the state’s highest court, except that since he was released from prison in 1990, the state has repeatedly enacted laws calling for those convicted of sexual assault against children to register with the police, so a legal — and public — eye can be kept on them. And yes, such laws include those who were sentenced long before the new laws were enacted.
The man now before the Supreme Court seeking relief from these laws has been dubbed John Doe to protect his anonymity. It’s ironic that Mr. Doe can hide his identity from the public in court, because the reason he’s there is that he can’t hide it anywhere else. Thanks to these laws — both state and federal — John Doe and others must allow not only the police to know where they are, they must let everyone know, by keeping their current address in a database accessible to anyone online.
And in many cases, they must do so for life. There is no mechanism for getting off the list, and failure to keep the information updated carries harsh penalties in itself.
If all this seems over the line of reasonable punishment, in many cases we agree. However, the state has argued inclusion on this public online registry is not a punishment, but a regulatory matter.
We think that reasoning is absurd. Clearly, it is a punishment, tantamount to those on the list being forced to wear a large letter “P” pinned to their chests in public.
And while belling the cat may be a good idea for those whose crimes indicate they will continue to pose a threat, there are some crimes designated as sexual in nature that may not, such as public urination.
This is not to ignore the real danger posed by sick minds — the hardcore predators who will never be rehabilitated. Given the recidivism rates involved in sexual assault cases, especially those victimizing children, there’s a lot to be said for keeping the public informed of legitimate threats. There does need to be some way for the public to be informed.
- What recidivism rate? You mean that sex offenders have one of the lowest recidivism rates of any other ex-felon?
Hearing the arguments of the John Doe case earlier this month, the justices seemed taken aback by the logic of the laws. One argued a paraplegic on the registry who now poses no threat to anyone could himself become a victim of vigilantes who look up his address online. If that seems far-fetched, consider the case of Stephen Marshall, who in 2006 killed two men whose names and addresses he’d looked up on Maine’s sex-offender registry.
We, too, worry that inclusion on a public registry could make a target of people who have otherwise served their sentence for crimes committed. We hope the court’s review will result in a close look at the state’s sex-offender registry, including how long someone who has been deemed rehabilitated by the courts should be on it and whether the list of crimes for which one qualifies needs to be culled.
- It also puts the lives of family members (innocent people) in danger as well, not just the ex-offenders!
Friday, May 23, 2014
|Congressman Chris Smith|
By Brendan McGrath
A local congressman is pushing a bill that would bring Megan’s Law, which has led to the creation of registries for child sex offenders across the country, onto the world stage.
- Not everybody on the online sex offender registries (hit-lists) are child sex offenders!
The International Megan’s Law, sponsored by Congressman Chris Smith (R-4th Dist.), was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives today.
The bill is named after Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old from Hamilton who was killed by a repeat sex offender living nearby her house 20 years ago.
“Sex offenders around the world are now able to cross borders and oceans easily to carry out their horrible designs against children under the cloak of anonymity and then disappear before a child is able or willing to reveal the crime,” Smith said today.
Smith has introduced versions of this bill multiple times over the past few years, including in 2010 when it passed the House, but it has never made it through the Senate.
This bill, H.R. 4573, was introduced two weeks ago and was passed unanimously by the House Foreign Affairs Committee before being passed by the House today.
The legislation is not just intended to prevent U.S. offenders from hurting children overseas, Smith said, but also to establish a reciprocal relationship.
“The International Megan’s Law would establish the model needed for the U.S. to persuade other countries to take action to stop both child sex tourism within their borders and protect children in the United States and elsewhere,” Smith said today.
Megan Kanka’s parents, Richard and Maureen, called the proposed law a “step in the right direction.”
“We must not only show the world that we will not tolerate these perverted acts in the United States but internationally also,” the Kankas said in a statement.
If the bill is passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Barack Obama, it would provide a legal framework for the Angel Watch Center, which is currently a one-person operation in the federal Immigration and Citizenship Enforcement agency that notifies destination countries of intended travel by offenders with a serious registered sex offense against a child, Smith’s release said.
“The stories of the victims are tragic — ruined childhoods, devastated families, lifetimes of memories of assaults and sometimes worse,” Smith said.
The bill also would work to establish better lines of communication to effectively share information about the travel of child sex offenders between federal agencies, the release said.
The Government Accountability Office issued a report in 2010 that said that in fiscal year 2008 at least 4,500 passports were issued to registered sex offenders by the U.S., the release said.
Location: Washington, DC, USA