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August 9, 2007

Sex offender panic reaching juve offenders

A helpful reader sent me a link to this article detailing that Florida has now put its juvenile offenders on its sex offender registry.  Here are the basics:

Young teens convicted of sex crimes behind the closed doors of juvenile court will now end up on the state's public registry of sex offenders. A state law that went into effect July 1 will list teens as young as 14 on the same Web site as adults who are convicted pedophiles and sexual predators. The designation will follow them and their families as they enter schools, move to new communities and eventually apply for colleges, trade schools and jobs.

Some public defenders and legal experts describe the law as revolutionary because it makes public the actions of juvenile court.  They say it may hinder rehabilitation of those who commit relatively minor offenses by publicly labeling them as sex offenders. Public defenders plan to challenge the law, saying it sentences juveniles as adults without allowing jury trials.

And some specialists in the field say parents, often the first to learn of teens' sex crimes, may be reluctant to seek help for their children if they will be labeled and their families' homes identified on the sex offender list. "Their names, their home address, and other information are going to be there for the public to see," said Jan Abee, who is helping the Department of Juvenile Justice carry out the law. "That means a lot for their families, too, because they'll be living at the same address."

Florida legislators unanimously approved the measure to comply with the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act and to qualify for millions of dollars in federal funding. The Adam Walsh Act, which went into effect last year, requires children 14 and older who engage in genital, anal or oral-genital contact with children younger than 12 to be included in community-notification laws, such as the predator list. The intent of the federal law, according to state officials, was to add juveniles who use force or coercion while committing sex crimes to the state and national sex offender lists.

August 9, 2007 at 01:39 PM | Permalink

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There has been an increasing trend to target juvenile sex offenders in various restriction and punishment schemes. Sentencing Law Policy points to a recent article about the reason for this trend:A state law that went into effect July 1 will [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 9, 2007 11:19:50 PM

Comments

Seems Florida does not know what one hand is doing with the other hand. This is not at all surprising. Recently Florida passed a law that would remove Romeo & Juliet cases from the sex offender registry. See:
http://www.myfoxtam pabay.com/ myfox/pages/ News/Detail? contentId= 3993868&version=2&locale=EN-US&layoutCode=TSTY&pageId=3.2.1
"But this summer the Romeo and Juliet law took affect. It gives a judge the power to remove a sex offender status in certain cases."
Now, it looks as though Florida also has passed: "A state law that went into effect July 1 will list teens as young as 14 on the same Web site as adults who are convicted pedophiles and sexual predators."

Which is it? Is Florida totally confused with this issue? One must wonder just what it is when the lives of our children are concerned. One must also wonder just what the legislative body in this mixed up stste intends. Will they or will they not have their entire lives destroyed?

Parents of these children must be just as confused as both the legislative body and judicial system. Will a judge condemn a child for have teen age experimental sex by placing them on the sex offender registry, knowing full well the tragic outcome of being on this registry will be, or giving the same a stern warning about teen sexual activity and possible results should this occur in a different age factor.

This looks like it needs to be answered before another life is ruined by an uncaring, unknowing legislature who has no idea just what they have done, both on the same date

Posted by: kiokwus WV | Aug 9, 2007 5:21:52 PM

kiokwus WV, if you don't see the distinction, let me spell it out.

A 14-year-old who sexually assaults or forcibly rapes another person is a "teen as young as 14" who might be "on the same Web site as adults who are convicted pedophiles and sexual predators."

That person is not, however, a "Romeo and Juliet case."

Posted by: | Aug 9, 2007 5:52:50 PM

Here's something we should all think about. Answer the following questions in the privacy of your own mind. At what age did you have your first sexual experience? (I know, you are attorneys. You didn't even think about such things until you were 18.) How old was the person you had it with? If the other person was under 18, YOU could be a sex offender. And you wouldn't be a lawyer. And, gentlemen, if you did what used to be called "getting lucky" with an older woman (think Mrs. Robinson), SHE would now be considered a sex offender. And if your experience had been video-taped and shown to a jury or state legislators, they wouldn't be the least bit disgusted, right?

And did you ever play doctor or peek at other kids who had their clothes off? What about the little boy who used to run around the neighborhood with his you-know-what hanging out. He got a couple of good spankings and grew up to be, as far as I know, perfectly normal. What about the girl who was a tomboy and used to wrestle with the boys? What about the 8-year-old who pulled up a female classmate's skirt (girls wore dresses back then)? What about the boy (age 10) who convinced his sister to take her clothes off in the tool shed? (He got a major rear-end tanning as well and grew up to be a cop.)

We really need to think about what we mean by a sex offender, especially where juveniles are concerned. Yes, some states are passing "Romeo and Juliet" laws, but some things that would be considered perverted behavior in adults are normal in children, even if we adults disapprove. And many of these problems used to be solved by parents making it abundantly clear to their children that such behavior was not acceptable.
This does not mean that there are not children out there with serious problems. But every time one kid touches another, it is not necessarily evidence of being a future serial rapist.

Legislators appear to be running around like chickens with their heads cut off passing contradictory legislation, fueled by what they think a public which has been told (by the media and those legislators) to be afraid of their own shadows wants. Another example of this (not involving juveniles) is in Georgia, where, as described in an Aug. 2 New York Times article, they have passed laws which make it very difficult for sex offenders to find a place to live. In the case described, an offender who has registered in the past is now facing life in prison for not registering. The sheriff is quoted as saying that the man is required to have an address. However, the man is homeless because the only two addresses in the city which would be far enough away from everything he can't be near are two hotels which he can't afford to live in.

Prosecutors and judges have to act in accord with the laws passed by the legislators, even if the laws are contradictory and nuts, right? So where in all this is the mechanism which can stop the runaway train?

Posted by: disillusioned layman | Aug 9, 2007 8:01:23 PM

Not to make light of kiokwus' distinction, but please consider where intent usually gets us when we're dealing with legislatures.

"The intent of the federal law, according to state officials, was to add juveniles who use force or coercion while committing sex crimes to the state and national sex offender lists."

As we all know, the "intent" is, in most cases, very far from the eventual manifestation of a law. May I offer as an example the Alabama legislature's "intent" to put on the drivers' licenses of registered sex offenders a mark that is identifiable by law enforcement. OK, I don't see the need, given the technical sophistication of law enforcement in this day and age to ascertain the status of the offender in a mere keystroke, but I digress.

Any guesses as to the form taken by the mark "identifiable by law enforcement? The first two guesses don't count. Correct! The words "SEX OFFENDER" in bright red, and in all caps, across the top of the license. Now, tell me what the true intent of that was. Anyone?

Easy. It's designed to make it more difficult for the offender to get housing and employment, and even to conduct day-to-day business.

So, as for this distinction among juvenile sex offenders and violent juvenile sex offenders, I'd say all the kids better start practicing their poses for the photos. After all, every face on the registry is another purseful of federal money for the great state of Florida. Now, there's your REAL intent . . .

Posted by: slim | Aug 10, 2007 7:27:55 PM

>>After all, every face on the registry is another purseful of federal money for the great state of Florida.>>

Except that the federal money promised by the Adam Walsh Act hasn't been appropriated, and may never be.

Posted by: Jay Macke | Aug 11, 2007 11:11:27 AM

Jay, do you think it should be funded? Is there an actual rational basis for parts of this law or does it do more harm than good? Since the justification is a rational basis for public safety, hence the need to regulate, do subsequent studies overrule, so to speak, the rational basis?

The funny thing is, it need not actually be rational but can merely be experimental. If a state wants to build Frankenstein, it is free to do so as long as it claims it is for public safety.

Posted by: George | Aug 11, 2007 12:20:23 PM

I am not sure how valuable the sex offender registry was when only a few persons who were significant threats to public safety were listed and it was kept up to date. The situation in my state (Iowa) is that many more people are supposed to be listed and most of the new listings are not much of a threat. Because there are so many more persons listed law enforcement agencies cannot afford the resources needed to track so many people and the registry is no longer up to date.

A further complication is the 1000 foot rule for sex offender residences resulted in a large fraction of the sex offenders not reporting their new address. What was suppose to be a public safety improvement has turned into a big waste of police resources. I suspect the police now think of it as a low priority program they will do when they have time. What appears to have happened is if a sex offender is arrested for any reason they add the charge of failure to register to the list of charges.

The members of Congress have no idea what it costs to implement some of their initiatives. The general attitude is "What is the worst thing that will happen to me if I ignore Congress?" If it is not too bad they ignore Congress.

Posted by: JSN | Aug 11, 2007 3:17:07 PM

This is an example of the sick american society, which is working to create offenders, instead of helping to cure them.

Stigmatizing people and even youth like this, will increase the number of sex offenders and make vulnerabøle persons really act out their problems instead of learning to cope with them.

When will you stop this US madness and learn from countries who knows better.

Sissel Egeland

Posted by: Sissel Egeland | Aug 11, 2007 6:36:24 PM

Now here's an interesting thought. Once released, sex offenders are part of the public which the legislators are supposedly keeping safe. So making them use license plates with flashing neon "sex offender" designations will protect them from people who want to kill them how? If you don't care about them, what about their wives, husbands, parents and kids (yes, some sex offenders do have those!) who have to drive the same car? Are they fair game for the nutcases as well? So do we just keep redefining this "public" that we want to keep safe to include fewer and fewer people?

I return to the concept that most sex offenders have legs and feet capable of carrying them a distance of 1000 or 2000 feet. If they are so motivated, they can go anywhere they want without a license plate. When are we going to figure out that legislating vindictiveness and hate doesn't make anyone safer?

Posted by: disillusioned layman | Aug 12, 2007 9:42:01 AM

There are really two general issues 1) crimes against children and 2) crimes committed by children. Our present system is to apprehend, convict and severely punish persons who commit crimes against children. Would we be better off if in addition we put in place measures that would reduce the risk to children (education on risk reduction and closer supervision are examples)?

The problem with crimes committed by children is that some of the crimes are very serious and they are transferred to adult court and the adult criminal code applies. I agree that juvenile court was not designed to deal with serious crimes but on the other hand the adult criminal code was not designed to be applied to children. I think we need to talk about what type of criminal code is appropriate for children who commit serious crimes. Another thing that concerns me is the decision to transfer to adult court is made by the county attorney often under the glare of TV camera lights. Are there any agreed upon criteria that can be used in making such a decision?

Posted by: JSN | Aug 12, 2007 3:34:10 PM

> Jay, do you think it should be funded? Is there an actual rational basis for parts of this law or does it do more harm than good?

It shouldn't be funded, it should be repealed.

Posted by: Jay Macke | Aug 14, 2007 8:05:11 PM

My son is 15 years old and was recently convicted of a sex crime in Florida. He was told by the judge he would have to register for life. He is 15 and had no idea about the crime he was committing. Sex is posted now everywhere you look, how are we supposed to keep it away from our children. My son happens to be ADHD with impulse problems. How is this supposed to help his life? He was a highschool band student with a future and now no college will ever except him. We have a college fund he may never be able to use. I am truly looking for help on this matter. Any suggestions?

Posted by: upset parent | Oct 21, 2007 11:31:35 PM

Reading these post have me even more confused then before, what is to become of a boy at age 15 who has a sexual encounter with a girl at age 13? Children of any age are prone to experiment with their bodies and yet Romeo and Juliet Laws only cover the "victim" starting at age 14. Both children have about the same mentally age and yet the male, even though he is only two years the elder, can be prosicuted by the courts even though the parents have taken corrective actions with both children and, in the best interist of their children, do not want further litigation. Under Texas law he will be listed as a sex offender for at least 10 years, the very years that are some of the most important years of a young mans life. What recourse does this young man have and how could a lawyer properly defend him? This is an actual case which will be taken to trial before a jury in the state of Texas. It seems our courts are not seeking justice or what is in the best interest of our children and are intent on issuing punishment that far exceeds any useful purpose. Parental discipline should not be a matter for the courts when good parents resolve a matter when a child acts like a child and recieves due and just punishment for their actions. How is it that we are told to accept the actions of gay individuals as normal and punish our children in the courts for being children just as we were at one time?

Posted by: William | Nov 8, 2007 8:38:04 PM

I hired an attorney to help my son on sex offender charges. He costed me $9000 and could not help in anyway. The attorney was Robert Whittel in Spring Hill Florida. His office first lied to me to get me there, they told me the prosecutor was lying to me about trying my son as a juvenile. I later found the only honest person in the case was the prosecutor. My lawyer did nothing to help my son got the same sentence he would have without council. He also has to register for life as a sex offender. I just want people to be aware of how crooked our legal system is.

Posted by: upset parent | Nov 14, 2007 8:44:04 AM

My brother was accused of a sexual offense at 18 with a minor(14)due to her lieing about her age. So, is it fair for him to be labeled a sexual offender all his life or should the parents take some responsibility for these girls attracting older boys with good looks, and a car. My heart cry for the innocent children that adults pray on but I think we should take some responsibity as parents, because I work with female youths whom I've caught on the phone lieing about how old they are, but I politely explain the laws to these young men to hang up the phone because you will be labeled as a SOF....My family spent over $15,000 in legal fees trying to help but the judicial system in Santa Rosa County isn't fair.
Again, stop putting all the blame on SOF and start looking at your parenting skills because I was raised by a single mother and wasn't enticed by boys due to my mother rules and she gave me the love these girls are looking for in a guy.....You don't know until it happen to a love one of yours.

Posted by: Deborah | Nov 24, 2007 12:59:44 PM

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