Archive for July 6, 2009

VT Questions Fairness of Sex Registry

July 6, 2009 Comments off : Fairness of adds to Vt. sex-registry questioned.

Some Vermont sex offenders who thought they had paid their debt to society years ago are expected soon to face a new one — inclusion on the state’s online sex offender registry.

A law passed this year expands from about 400 to about 1,600 the number of people included in the registry available for public viewing. Some 740 of the newly listed people will have already completed their terms of probation and parole.

The change is raising questions about whether it’s fair for the state effectively to change the terms of a plea deal a criminal defendant entered into years before Vermont considered creating such a registry.

“The individuals aren’t getting the benefit of the bargain that they entered into years ago,” said Defender General Matthew Valerio, whose office represents defendants in criminal cases.

“Some of these folks have not had recent contact with the DOC (Department of Corrections) but are subject to an electronic registry that didn’t even exist at the time,” Valerio said.

Georgia Cumming, director of sex offender treatment programs for the department, said some crimes for which people will be placed on the registry likely date from the 1980s. She could not provide exact dates.

Valerio and Allen Gilbert, director of the Vermont office of the American Civil Liberties Union, acknowledged that courts in other states and the U.S. Supreme Court have ruled that inclusion on a sex offender registry isn’t considered punishment and therefore doesn’t violate the constitutional ban on changing the punishment after the crime. Rather, registries are considered a public-safety tool that enables members of the public to know when a person with a sex-crimes record moves into the neighborhood.

Lisa Menard, deputy Corrections commissioner, said nearly one-fifth of the 740 people who are no longer under her department’s supervision but are eligible for inclusion had asked for the paperwork by Thursday, the second day the law was in effect. She expects the number to grow by Oct. 1, when the expanded registry is set to “go live” online.

Sears and Gilbert said they expect the fairness issue to end up in court. Gilbert said the legal question likely would be not whether the constitutional ban on ex post facto punishments was being violated, but whether the state was violating contracts struck in plea agreements. He said more than 90 percent of sex-crime cases are resolved by plea agreement. “Each side is supposed to honor the terms of a contract,” Gilbert said.

Bad Legislation Comes Back to Haunt

July 6, 2009 Comments off

Modesto Bee : Murphy’s Law: Bad legislation comes back to haunt author.

Sometimes bad laws have a way of coming back to bite the people most responsible for enacting them. That’s the case with state Sen. George Runner, the principal sponsor of Proposition 83, the 2006 initiative popularly known as Jessica’s Law, which voters approved overwhelmingly.

Among other things, the law severely restricts where sexual offenders can live after being released from prison. Under its provisions, those convicted of rape or child molestation or even misdemeanor indecent exposure cannot live within 2,000 feet of a school or a park.

As critics of Proposition 83 pointed out, such tight restrictions have the unintended effect of forcing paroled sex offenders either into homelessness or into rural and suburban communities where law enforcement is thin and jobs and counseling services that many offenders need to remain crime-free are virtually nonexistent.

This was not mere conjecture. Law enforcement officials in other states that had enacted similar restrictions reported those results. Because of that, many states sought to repeal or modify their versions of Jessica’s Law.

Runner was fully aware of these concerns. Nonetheless, the Republican from Lancaster continued to press the case for passage.

But even before voters approved Jessica’s Law, The Sacramento Bee’s Andy Furillo reports, Runner had taken exceptional care to see that as few parolees as possible, including ex-sex offenders, would be sent to his suburban Los Angeles district.

Because his district is home to a state prison and has a large supply of affordable housing, Runner says, a disproportionate number of released felons were being housed there.

So, he cut a deal with the Department of Corrections, 10 months before the ballot measure was voted on, to reduce the flow of parolees there.

Under what Runner called a “side agreement,” the Department of Corrections pledged to assign only parolees with “historical ties” to his north Los Angeles County district.

But the deal turns out to have been illegal. State law requires that parolees be returned to their county of origin but does not allow the prison system to direct them to or away from specific communities.

Last year, the department suspended the agreement. So now, Runner’s constituents are in position to experience the full brunt of Jessica’s Law along with the rest of the state. Because the suburban district Runner represents is less populated, its parks and schools more spread out, it means that more sex offenders will likely wind up there.

A special board set up to monitor the effects of Jessica’s Law thinks homelessness among parolees poses a significant public safety threat. Since Runner’s initiative went into effect, the number of homeless sex offenders has jumped from 88 to 1,000.

The costly, dangerous mistake that is Jessica’s Law hurts all of California. Now it will be felt in full force in Runner’s home district — as it should be.