Experts: Sex Offender Laws Flawed

November 14, 2009

news.cincinnati.com – Experts: Sex Offender Laws Flawed.

The arrest of two sex offenders in Kenton County this year shows the complications of enforcing Kentucky’s strict residence restrictions. A 43-year-old Michigan native was arrested for violating the terms of his bond for allegedly trying to pick up his prescription medication from an Erlanger house he was ordered to move from because it was within 1,000 feet of Railroad Park.

Another sex offender was arrested for not registering after being released from prison, but he claims he is homeless and had no permanent address to give authorities.

“There is not a lot of thought that goes into the residency restrictions,” said Robert Lanning, chairman of the Kentucky Sex Offenders Management Task Force, a group of corrections officials, attorneys, prosecutors and treatment experts. “It’s a knee-jerk reaction sometimes. Because of that, there are unintended consequences.”

While Kentucky’s original residency restrictions said registered sex offenders on probation or parole could not live within 1,000 feet of a school or day cares, it was strengthened in July 2006 to include all registrants regardless of probation or parole status. In addition, it added playgrounds to the list of prohibited areas, and measured the distance from the property line as opposed to the wall of the building. Then, on Oct. 1, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the strengthened restrictions couldn’t be applied to registrants retroactively.

Critics say the residency restrictions law is still flawed because it is imposed equally upon all offenders without regard to whether their crime was committed against a child or adult.

Richard Tewksbury, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Louisville, has studied sex offenders and said one of the unintended consequences of residency restrictions is that they can force offenders from their homes, creating stress that can trigger new offenses. Those offenses range from going underground and not reporting where they live to committing additional sex crimes, he said.

“Sex offender laws have a whole host of negative implications for individuals and the community, Tewksbury said. “The two arrests in Kenton County are not at all an uncommon scenario.”

John Delaney, the head of the public defenders office for Kenton and Campbell counties, said sex offenders are an easy target for authorities trying to look tough on crime. “They are an easy target because no one likes sex offenders,” he said. “Everyone hates sex offenders. No one is going to have any sympathy for a sex offender, even when in reality their sex offenses were not that horrible.”

Delaney said the laws give people a false sense of security. “While registered sex offenders can’t live within 1,000 feet of a school, one could go sit outside of the school on a bench for the entire school day, (legally)” he said.

While the Kentucky Supreme Court had struck down the strengthened restrictions, it didn’t prevent Erlanger police from arresting the Michigan native, Trevor Killey. He was placed on the sex offender registry for 25 years after being convicted of being a peeping tom 14 years ago in Michigan. The equivalent charge in Kentucky doesn’t even require someone to register as a sex offender.

His wife said her husband had just briefly returned to pick up his prescription medication. While police officers didn’t arrest the husband on the spot, Kenton District Judge Douglas Grothaus signed a warrant for his arrest on Sept. 30. It states that Killey was in violation of his bond by going back to the house. His lawyer, Ryan Reed, said by the time his client was locked up, the state Supreme Court had already ruled unconstitutional the law he was accused of breaking. “For Mr. Killey, it is pretty much a black-and-white issue,” Reed said. “His crime occurred prior to July 2006. The registry restrictions don’t apply to him.”

Tewksbury said he doesn’t know how many sex offenders are wrongly being arrested after the supreme court ruling knocked down a portion of the residency restrictions.

“In some way, he may well be inviting more difficulties in his life as people see sex offenders of all varieties as the most heinous and dangerous members of our community when in fact so many of our sex offenders really are not any serious threat to us,” Tewksbury said.

Delaney said he is currently representing a sex offender who was given $20 and a bus ticket back to Kenton County after being released from the Little Sandy Correctional Complex in Sandy Hook. With no money, job or family living outside of 1,000 feet of a school, Delaney said the sex offender had no permanent address.
“He was essentially homeless,” Delaney said, “until authorities arrested him for not registering. Now he is living at the Kenton County jail.” While Delaney didn’t release his client’s name, said the sex offender has chosen to not post his $250 bond and stay in jail because he has no place to go. The sex offender could ultimately be convicted and sent back to prison, Delaney said.

“So now we have taxpayers literally paying the price for a misguided law that has very little positive impact on the community,” Tewksbury said.

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