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Archive for February 12, 2010

CT: Sex Offender Shot At, and Assaulted

February 12, 2010 Comments off

thehour.com: Sex offender assaulted, bullet shatters car.

A 37-year-old registered sex offender was assaulted and robbed Thursday morning, six hours after a bullet shattered his back windshield while he was driving south on South Main Street, police said. The victim had previously called police Thursday morning at 6:30 a.m. to report that he had been robbed by a group of approximately eight males, police said. He told police he had parked his car near Colonial Village, and the males started punching and harassing him. He said the men called him a rapist, a sex offender and various expletives while they were assaulting him, according to police.

He told police that he has noticed people following him to work for the past week or so. The victim, who was convicted of sexual assault in 2001, also said he heard a woman’s voice in the background while he was being assaulted. He believes the female that he heard in the background may be the victim of the sexual assault, police said.

SD Panel Approves Changes to Sex Offender Registry

February 12, 2010 Comments off

grandforksherald.com: Panel approves changes to South Dakota sex offender registry.

Pierre, S.D. — A South Dakota Senate committee today advanced a bill that would create tiers for the state’s sex offender registry, giving some people a chance to get their names removed from the list eventually.

The measure, which now heads to the full Senate, would create three groups of sex crimes. Those convicted of the most serious ones, including crimes against children, could never get off the offender list. Those convicted of mid-level sex crimes could ask to be removed after 25 years, and those convicted of less serious crimes such as misdemeanor indecent exposure or statutory rape when the offender is 25 or younger could ask to be removed after 10 years.

MD Sex Offender Legislation Would Go Too Far

February 12, 2010 Comments off

baltimoresun.com: Sex offender legislation would go too far.

The Christmastime tragedy of Sarah Foxwell has inspired politicians in Maryland to put forth an astounding number (55 at last count) of bill proposals targeting sex offenders. Although many are duplicative, the effect of even a small number of these, should they become law, would be utterly devastating to the many, many former offenders (and their families) living and trying to be productive citizens in our state.

Many former offenders who are not now required to register would find themselves on the list, and make no mistake, public sex offender registration is a terrible burden that renders registrants virtually unemployable, destroys families and does at least as much to threaten public safety as it does to promote it.

Separate studies by Dr. Jill Levenson and the states of New York and New Jersey illustrate both the terrible harm to families and the futility of public registration for former offenders. More importantly, none of the proposed changes to the sex offender laws currently in place would effectively address what happened to Sarah or prevent similar tragedies from happening to other children.

Sarah’s story is horrific. There is no question that her kidnapping and death, for which a registered sex offender now faces charges, is a nightmare for her family and a terrible loss to the community, and perhaps the knee-jerk response of our elected officials is understandable, but is it wise? The man accused of Sarah’s murder was known to her and to her family, as is the case in well over 90 percent of child sexual abuse. He was not a stranger who snatched her off the street. He was not a predatory neighbor with a hidden past lurking in the shadows. He was not unknown to local law enforcement. How, then, did this happen?

Was Sarah’s killer being adequately supervised? Were those charged with his supervision able to devote appropriate time and resources to his case? Or were they spending their time monitoring those who pose little or no threat? He was “compliant” with the reporting requirements of the registry; was he also compliant with treatment, which might have done far more to address his true risk than supplying information for what has become a bloated and useless list of names? Was treatment even ordered for this man?

But never mind. We’ve been told that registration for sex offenders is for the good of the children, that it is somehow a panacea for an enormously complex problem. So, this man’s registration was public. Sarah’s family has said they knew about his history. That knowledge didn’t keep Sarah safe. Perhaps due diligence both by those charged with protecting Sarah and those who were supposed to be supervising her killer may have prevented her death. We will never know, and I have deep sympathy for those who have to live wondering if they should have done something else, something more, because certainly there were red flags.

This man had a history of repeat offenses against children. Any reasonable person would conclude that such a history would make him high risk to re-offend, unlike the overwhelming majority of registered sex offenders. That is the fallacy of registration laws. Registration does not, never has, and never will, have anything at all to do with reducing risk of re-offending. Yet, our response to her death is more registration?

In fact, registration of so many very low risk offenders, those who are first-time, non-violent, non-contact offenders, for example, or “Romeo and Juliet” offenders, or those whose offenses were many years ago and who have not re-offended, renders the registry far less useful as a tool for parents and law enforcement. Tightening registration, expanding the list, lengthening the term of registration, and imposing residency restrictions and public notification requirements, as has been proposed in the legislature, will only bloat the registry even more. It will make it harder for former offenders who pose little or no risk to reintegrate into society, expose them and their families to serious risk of harm at the hands of those who misuse registry information to harass, threaten and even kill registrants, and cost the state money that would be far better spent on closer supervision of the truly predatory.

The Maryland legislature needs to think again before it responds to this senseless tragedy with knee-jerk, feel-good laws that would not have saved Sarah and will not protect other children from a similar fate.

Sex Offender Residency Law Rescinded

February 12, 2010 Comments off

weny.com: Sex Offender Residency Law Rescinded.

Watkins Glen, NY — The Schuyler County Legislature met this evening and voted to rescind a major sex offender law, following a State Supreme Court ruling. The law in question is the county’s sex offender residency law. But tonight, the law was deemed unenforceable and is effectively wiped off the books.

Legislators first passed the law in December 2008. It prohibited all level 2 and level 3 sex offenders from living within 500 feet of a school, playground or daycare center. However, a Montour Falls couple filed a lawsuit challenging the county, after they say police told them to move because of their proximity to a playground. The husband and wife were both convicted of being sex offenders in Florida, before moving to the Southern Tier.

County Legislators now say their hands are tied. James Coleman, Schuyler County Attorney says, “the combined opinion of four New York state courts thus far is this is an area for exclusive state regulation and not local law passage.” Tim O’Hearn, Schuyler County’s Administrator says, “the state has deemed that sufficient. The county, while not necessarily agreeing with that is not inclined to pursue it at this time.”

The State Supreme Court has overturned similar laws in three other New York counties. Right now, the legislature has no plans to fight the ruling.

Watch Video here.

OK: Panel Approves Death Sentence for Child Rapists

February 12, 2010 Comments off

kswo.com: Panel Approves Death Sentence for Child Rapists.

Oklahoma City (AP) – Repeat sex offenders convicted of raping a child 6 years old or younger would be eligible for the death penalty under a bill passed by a House committee.

The bill by Rep. Rex Duncan was overwhelmingly approved Monday by the House Judiciary Committee, despite a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that such laws were unconstitutional.

The Sand Springs Republican says he feels the court erred in its decision and that he believes a new court could uphold the law.
(apparently, this idiot legislator does not understand that his role is within the legislative branch, not the judicial branch)

In a Louisiana case in which a man was sentenced to death for raping an 8-year-old girl, the nation’s highest court ruled that allowing the death penalty in such cases violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

FBI Posts Fake Links to Snare Porn Suspects

February 12, 2010 Comments off

news.cnet.com: FBI posts fake hyperlinks to snare child porn suspects.

AUDIO- Download mp3 (6.36MB)

The FBI has recently adopted a novel investigative technique: posting hyperlinks that purport to be illegal videos of minors having sex, and then raiding the homes of anyone willing to click on them. Undercover FBI agents used this hyperlink-enticement technique, which directed Internet users to a clandestine government server, to stage armed raids of homes in Pennsylvania, New York, and Nevada last year. The supposed video files actually were gibberish and contained no illegal images.

A CNET News.com review of legal documents shows that courts have approved of this technique, even though it raises questions about entrapment, the problems of identifying who’s using an open wireless connection–and whether anyone who clicks on a FBI link that contains no child pornography should be automatically subject to a dawn raid by federal police.

Roderick Vosburgh, a doctoral student at Temple University who also taught history at La Salle University, was raided at home in February 2007 after he allegedly clicked on the FBI’s hyperlink. Federal agents knocked on the door around 7 a.m., falsely claiming they wanted to talk to Vosburgh about his car. Once he opened the door, they threw him to the ground outside his house and handcuffed him. Vosburgh was charged with violating federal law, which criminalizes “attempts” to download child pornography with up to 10 years in prison. Last November, a jury found Vosburgh guilty on that count, and a sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 22, at which point Vosburgh could face three to four years in prison.

The implications of the FBI’s hyperlink-enticement technique are sweeping. Using the same logic and legal arguments, federal agents could send unsolicited e-mail messages to millions of Americans advertising illegal narcotics or child pornography–and raid people who click on the links embedded in the spam messages. The bureau could register the “unlawfulimages.com” domain name and prosecute intentional visitors. And so on.

“The evidence was insufficient for a reasonable jury to find that Mr. Vosburgh specifically intended to download child pornography, a necessary element of any ‘attempt’ offense,” Vosburgh’s attorney, Anna Durbin of Ardmore, Penn., wrote in a court filing that is attempting to overturn the jury verdict before her client is sentenced.

In a telephone conversation on Wednesday, Durbin added: “I thought it was scary that they could do this. This whole idea that the FBI can put a honeypot out there to attract people is kind of sad. It seems to me that they’ve brought a lot of cases without having to stoop to this.”

Durbin did not want to be interviewed more extensively about the case because it is still pending; she’s waiting for U.S. District Judge Timothy Savage to rule on her motion. Unless he agrees with her and overturns the jury verdict, Vosburgh–who has no prior criminal record–will be required to register as a sex offender for 15 years and will be effectively barred from continuing his work as a college instructor after his prison sentence ends.

How the hyperlink sting operation worked

The government’s hyperlink sting operation worked like this: FBI Special Agent Wade Luders disseminated links to the supposedly illicit porn on an online discussion forum called Ranchi, which Luders believed was frequented by people who traded underage images. One server allegedly associated with the Ranchi forum was rangate.da.ru, which is now offline with a message attributing the closure to “non-ethical” activity.

In October 2006, Luders posted a number of links purporting to point to videos of child pornography, and then followed up with a second, supposedly correct link 40 minutes later. All the links pointed to, according to a bureau affidavit, a “covert FBI computer in San Jose, California, and the file located therein was encrypted and non-pornographic.”

(Excerpt from an FBI affidavit filed in the Nevada case showing how the hyperlink-sting was conducted.)

Some of the links, including the supposedly correct one, included the hostname uploader.sytes.net. Sytes.net is hosted by no-ip.com, which provides dynamic domain name service to customers for $15 a year.

When anyone visited the upload.sytes.net site, the FBI recorded the Internet Protocol address of the remote computer. There’s no evidence the referring site was recorded as well, meaning the FBI couldn’t tell if the visitor found the links through Ranchi or another source such as an e-mail message.

With the logs revealing those allegedly incriminating IP addresses in hand, the FBI sent administrative subpoenas to the relevant Internet service provider to learn the identity of the person whose name was on the account–and then obtained search warrants for dawn raids.

(Excerpt from FBI affidavit in Nevada case that shows visits to the hyperlink-sting site.)

The search warrants authorized FBI agents to seize and remove any “computer-related” equipment, utility bills, telephone bills, any “addressed correspondence” sent through the U.S. mail, video gear, camera equipment, checkbooks, bank statements, and credit card statements.

While it might seem that merely clicking on a link wouldn’t be enough to justify a search warrant, courts have ruled otherwise. On March 6, U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt in Nevada agreed with a magistrate judge that the hyperlink-sting operation constituted sufficient probable cause to justify giving the FBI its search warrant.

The defendant in that case, Travis Carter, suggested that any of the neighbors could be using his wireless network. (The public defender’s office even sent out an investigator who confirmed that dozens of homes were within Wi-Fi range.)

But the magistrate judge ruled that even the possibilities of spoofing or other users of an open Wi-Fi connection “would not have negated a substantial basis for concluding that there was probable cause to believe that evidence of child pornography would be found on the premises to be searched.” Translated, that means the search warrant was valid.

Entrapment: Not a defense

So far, at least, attorneys defending the hyperlink-sting cases do not appear to have raised unlawful entrapment as a defense.

“Claims of entrapment have been made in similar cases, but usually do not get very far,” said Stephen Saltzburg, a professor at George Washington University’s law school. “The individuals who chose to log into the FBI sites appear to have had no pressure put upon them by the government…It is doubtful that the individuals could claim the government made them do something they weren’t predisposed to doing or that the government overreached.”

The outcome may be different, Saltzburg said, if the FBI had tried to encourage people to click on the link by including misleading statements suggesting the videos were legal or approved.

In the case of Vosburgh, the college instructor who lived in Media, Penn., his attorney has been left to argue that “no reasonable jury could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Vosburgh himself attempted to download child pornography.”

Vosburgh faced four charges: clicking on an illegal hyperlink; knowingly destroying a hard drive and a thumb drive by physically damaging them when the FBI agents were outside his home; obstructing an FBI investigation by destroying the devices; and possessing a hard drive with two grainy thumbnail images of naked female minors (the youths weren’t having sex, but their genitalia were visible).

The judge threw out the third count and the jury found him not guilty of the second. But Vosburgh was convicted of the first and last counts, which included clicking on the FBI’s illicit hyperlink.

In a legal brief filed on March 6, his attorney argued that the two thumbnails were in a hidden “thumbs.db” file automatically created by the Windows operating system. The brief said that there was no evidence that Vosburgh ever viewed the full-size images–which were not found on his hard drive–and the thumbnails could have been created by receiving an e-mail message, copying files, or innocently visiting a Web page.

From the FBI’s perspective, clicking on the illicit hyperlink and having a thumbs.db file with illicit images are both serious crimes. Federal prosecutors wrote: “The jury found that defendant knew exactly what he was trying to obtain when he downloaded the hyperlinks on Agent Luder’s Ranchi post. At trial, defendant suggested unrealistic, unlikely explanations as to how his computer was linked to the post. The jury saw through the smokes (sic) and mirrors, as should the court.”

And, as for the two thumbnail images, prosecutors argued (note that under federal child pornography law, the definition of “sexually explicit conduct” does not require that sex acts take place):

The first image depicted a pre-pubescent girl, fully naked, standing on one leg while the other leg was fully extended leaning on a desk, exposing her genitalia… The other image depicted four pre-pubescent fully naked girls sitting on a couch, with their legs spread apart, exposing their genitalia. Viewing this image, the jury could reasonably conclude that the four girls were posed in unnatural positions and the focal point of this picture was on their genitalia…. And, based on all this evidence, the jury found that the images were of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct, and certainly did not require a crystal clear resolution that defendant now claims was necessary, yet lacking.

Prosecutors also highlighted the fact that Vosburgh visited the “loli-chan” site, which has in the past featured a teenage Webcam girl holding up provocative signs (but without any nudity).

Civil libertarians warn that anyone who clicks on a hyperlink advertising something illegal–perhaps found while Web browsing or received through e-mail–could face the same fate.

When asked what would stop the FBI from expanding its hyperlink sting operation, Harvey Silverglate, a longtime criminal defense lawyer in Cambridge, Mass. and author of a forthcoming book on the Justice Department, replied: “Because the courts have been so narrow in their definition of ‘entrapment,’ and so expansive in their definition of ‘probable cause,’ there is nothing to stop the Feds from acting as you posit.”

Allen Hunt Show: Sex Offenders Revisited

February 12, 2010 Comments off

allenhuntshow.com: Sex Offenders Revisited.

We did a show the other day on Sex Offenders under a bridge and I was amazed at the email and voicemail volume afterward. So I decided to revisit the topic to allow those not in markets we are live in to get their voice heard (most were not happy with me).

Listen to broadcast below (MP3) :