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May 16, 2013

When can and how should sex offenders be responsible for harming property values?

The provocative question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent local article from Pennsylvania headlined "Judge: Sex offender not required to buy victim's property."   Here are excerpts:

A Lehigh County couple who say a neighbor who admitted molesting their child should be forced to buy their property apparently won't get their wish.

County Judge Michele A. Varricchio has shot down the Upper Milford Township couple's unusual request that sex offender Oliver Larry Beck be required to purchase their $235,000 property, according to court records. Varricchio issued the order last week, explaining that forcing a sex offender to buy the home of a victim living in his neighborhood would "open the proverbial floodgates."

"This court finds it against public policy to require a defendant to purchase a plaintiff's property in a nuisance case," Varricchio wrote. The judge added that ordering the home purchase would "impose almost limitless liability on a property owner by every other neighbor who claims difficulty selling his or her property, regardless of the proximity to the alleged nuisance."

Varricchio was ruling on preliminary objections in a lawsuit filed against Beck, along with Beck's wife and mother. The couple whose daughter was molested by Beck filed the suit in December asking a judge to order Beck to buy their home and pay for the child's pain and suffering and for other damages. They claim the property is virtually unmarketable....

They still are eligible to seek damages for their child's suffering and for the loss in value of their property, although Varricchio said they are not entitled to be paid for the total value of the property. Varricchio's order says that that the victim's family should amend the lawsuit to provide details and proof of the loss in the value of their property.

"There is no doubt that the parents have a right to enjoy their own residence and property without the invasion and interference caused by [Beck]," Varricchio wrote. "Property rights are protected by the United States Constitution, but the equal protection clause affords both plaintiffs and defendants that protection."...

There is some scientific evidence that sex offenders lower property values. Two economics professors at Columbia Business School in 2008 studied the effect, finding that the value of homes within one-tenth of a mile of a sex offender dropped by an average of 4 percent.

The suit accuses Beck of sexual assault, infliction of emotional distress, fraud and negligence, among other claims. It also names as defendants Beck's wife and mother, claiming both knew or should have known of Beck's attraction to young children.

Beck, now 65, pleaded guilty in 2011 to indecent assault of a child under 13 and served time in prison. He is out of prison, but under Megan's Law must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. Investigators said that in February 2011, Beck lured the victim, then 7 years old, into his house by saying he wanted to show her a bear's head mounted in his basement. After telling the girl to feel the bear, Beck told her to take off her shirt and pants and then assaulted her, according to court records.

Beck's attorney, Robert J. Magee of Allentown, wrote in a court brief that the demand for the home purchase was "not appropriate or authorized under a legal or equitable theory." He added that the victim's family is still able to use and enjoy the property. He added, "This is just a type of injury that allows for no recourse, an injury without a remedy."

Varricchio also dismissed the couple's request that Beck pay their attorneys' fees. In addition, she dismissed a claim against Beck's wife that she be held partly liable for their property value loss.

May 16, 2013 at 12:02 PM | Permalink

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When someone holds the crack dealers, domestic/child abusers, and thieves legally responsible for driving down property values, then we can hold sex offenders responsible for the same thing.

Posted by: Brian G. | May 16, 2013 2:28:31 PM

Ha! That's funny.

Let's hold the lying, scumbag, criminal regimes responsible for harming property values. And let's also hold the people who call other people "sex offender" responsible.

That said, people who are listed on the nanny, big government Registries should be very kind, helpful, and generous to any and all neighbors who denounce the Registries and the lying, scumbag, criminal regimes behind them. All the rest of your neighbors are your enemies. Especially the ones who are not happy that you exist near their glorious selves. For those people, you should make especially sure that you are not a good neighbor and that they are right not to want you to live around them. Remember to follow all laws but beyond that, help makes their miserable lives as miserable as possible. That is what they are trying to do every day to you, your spouses, and your children.

Posted by: FRegistryTerrorists | May 16, 2013 5:01:58 PM

It is not the sex offender that dropped the value of the property. it is the ability to look up his location on the Registry. The claim was against the wrong party.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 16, 2013 6:40:35 PM

Let me just ask a question here. I'm not looking for a fight. I'm actually looking for information.

One's opinion of these registries seems to depend in large part on who's actually on them. If it's all public urination and Romeo/Juliet romances, that's one thing. If it's all forcible rapists, that's another.

Of course it's not all one category or another. My question is: Nationwide, what is the percentage of each category on the registries?

Is it 90% standard-issue forcible/coerced rape? 50%? 10% What percent is it of public urination or mooning or something (relatively) harmless like that? What percent is it of statutory (as opposed to forcible or coerced) rape?

I'd appreciate it if someone has the answer and could give me a neutral and reliable source. Thanks.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 16, 2013 7:17:27 PM

@Bill:

You ask an excellent question. It would be a gargantuan task to aggregate all offenders into their categories. Different states have different requirements, so it's even harder to quantify. While I can't give an exact answer, one can generalize by comparing registrant "degree of offense" to non-registrant offenders' degree of offense (if I can use that term). In addition, the general societal and professional profile of a sex offender mirrors that of DUI offenders (though highly skews male).

That is my answer. Now, to expand on it for everyone else:

As someone who is both against Internet registries and other public identifiers and restrictions, as well as an advocate for tough sentencing for offenders (first time or otherwise), I am also one for not infusing extremist rhetoric in such arguments. For instance, "tree urinators" and "inadvertent exhibitionists" should not be used in arguments by individuals arguing against the registry, while "pedophiles and child rapists" should not be used in arguments arguing FOR the registry and its ensuing restrictions. It looks great on the campaign trail or in the legislative chamber, but has rendered ill consequences for both offenders and the individuals in affected neighborhoods.

I DO know that over 90% of all registrants committed their sex offenses to either family or someone they know, and that about 5% of all offenses are by non-registered sex offenders. Obviously, such crimes can have lifelong consequences, but relative to community safety as for them being on a public registry, it is virtually pointless. Having said that, one can say, "well, I wish I knew who that rapist was who lived next door to me." Community paranoia cannot be controlled or legislated, though the consequences can result in laws that defy DOJ statistics and rationality.

Posted by: Eric Knight | May 16, 2013 8:11:05 PM

Bill:

Your question would be appropriate if posted on another similar topic. The answer to your question is dependent mostly on state laws. In some states, what used to be called petting will get you on the list if it is with an underage person (17 or younger) typically, if you are above age. Some if you are 16-17 and the age of the other is under 14. In some states, you may be OK if you are within 3-4 years of the "victim".

In most of these cases, force, threats, deception, coercion and incapacitation are not a consideration until the "victim" is 18 or over. Often in these cases it is a he said she said situation. In some states, it is the type of sex - "crimes against nature" or where the sex was performed - married couples in a car in a parking lot.

The NCMEC website has a page listing number of SO's per 100,000 population per state and you can see the wide discrepancy listed state by state. If you require further information to find it I can try to look it up. Your question really requires a thesis of some sort as it is not uniform nor easily obtainable.

What makes the current registry so harmful is that it is useless in defining the misconception of "predatory" behavior. Also note that many states have bent over backwards to make what constitutes the successful prosecution of a sex offense easier and the defense harder by limiting what evidence is admissible.

In any case, the registry paints everybody listed with the same broad brush. Many people have "no" victims, one inadvertent potential CP picture of an underage almost 18 porn actress or thousands of images of real kiddie porn. All are treated the same.
There is a frequent commenter on this sight by the name of Eric. He may have some useful information. He is a public defender but he always has good comments.

Posted by: albeed | May 16, 2013 8:55:41 PM

I see that Eric posted his comment as I was preparing mine.

Thanks Eric!

Posted by: albeed | May 16, 2013 9:00:45 PM

Eric:

"I DO know that over 90% of all registrants committed their sex offenses to either family or someone they know, and that about 5% of all offenses are by non-registered sex offenders."

I think you meant to say 95% of all new sex offenses are committed by someone not currently listed on the registry. Am I wrong?

Posted by: albeed | May 16, 2013 9:11:59 PM

Eric and albeed --

Thank you for your answers. I suspected that giving a nationwide breakdown would be a daunting task because of differences in state laws. So let me ask whether either of you knows of the breakdown of a particular state. Obviously, the more representative the state the better, but beggars can't be choosers.

I'm always leery of characterizations as opposed to facts. Thus, for example, I think it's more revealing if we are able to find out how many forcible rapists, or how many urinators, or how many CP producers, etc., there are on the registry, and what percentage, rather than how many in Risk Category I versus Risk Category II, etc. I don't really know what someone else would define as a "Risk Category," but I have a pretty good idea of what rape is and what mooning is. (Of course everyone who ever when to college knows what mooning is, but we won't go into that).

Thanks again for your answers.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 16, 2013 9:35:16 PM


If one is leery of characterizations as opposed to facts, is it really important to know who is on the registry? Let us assume only predators are on the registry. I want to know whether having a registry of predators at all makes one safe. Is the supposed efficacy of a registry quantified any where? Without such data, I suspect that a registry is merely prophylactic.

Posted by: ? | May 16, 2013 10:35:09 PM

? --

"If one is leery of characterizations as opposed to facts, is it really important to know who is on the registry?"

It is if knowledge is better than ignorance.

I see all the time on this blog that the registries consist of urinators, mooners and Romeo/Juliet types. That might be true, or it might not. I'd like to know rather than make assumptions or just guess.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 16, 2013 10:50:47 PM

Bill:

I will have to think over how to best tackle your request of 9:35 for a given state and see what I can find (if possible). It might be best to look at the list in a given state and look at their age (current), date of the crime and determine the age when the crime was committed, and if possible (hard to get accurate information) the nature of the crime - maybe a random sample of 200-300 people. Unfortunately, I will be gone most of tomorrow and maybe Eric can come up with something better.

All I can think of is that being in "middle school" in the mid 60's, a significant proportion of my classmates would be labeled offenders in todays environment - if they were caught - and I mean both sexes and no, they didn't go all the way as that was the common saying in that age.

Posted by: albeed | May 16, 2013 11:16:53 PM

This discussion/argument about if the Sex Offender Registries are filled with child molesters or mooners is just old and unimportant. The fact is that it doesn't matter if the Registries only listed child molesters and rapists, the Registries would still be a terrible idea and counterproductive. The Registries protect no one and lead to more sex crimes.

Also, it is completely obvious that all, or nearly all, of the criminal regimes have listed people on their Registries that should have never, ever been on them. And that is just more complete proof that the criminal regimes are just far too stupid to do anything intelligent/responsible with such a wonderful grandstanding opportunity as the Registries are for them. They simply cannot be trusted not to be criminals. They mess with the lives of families on a whim and when there are "unintended consequences", they just say "oh well" and of course are never held accountable for it in any way.

So where are the rest of the Registries? The Sex Offender Registries are among the absolute most useless of any Registry "needed". To protect my children, I had zero need for any Registry. In fact, I'm sure I was better off without using them. Because what I knew was that I needed to protect my children from all people. So I wasn't worried whether or not someone with a child molestation conviction was living next door to me or not. If the person next door was breathing, I was protecting my children from them. And nearly all child molesters are quite easily thwarted, unlike so many other types of former criminals who are not Registered and do more harm.

I don't know the past of any of my neighbors and some of them could be quite dangerous. The closer I get to any of them, the more I will know about them. I personally wouldn't mind having a dossier on all my neighbors but I don't think its my business and I really don't want to live in that kind of world. And I certainly don't want HUGE, broke, nanny governments that are constantly grandstanding and trying to deliver that information to me all the time. I would like my governments to concentrate on important, useful things instead.

The Sex Offender Registries could probably have existed usefully if people in the U.S. had any sense. The Registries could have been okay if everyone who had been convicted of a crime was listed on a Registry, they were not required to do anything, and the Registries were only used for information. But clearly we've seen that people in the U.S. cannot have and use Registries responsibly. There is not a single good American who supports what they became. And that is why we will continue to be at war as long as the Registries exist. I personally guarantee, at least with respect to me, they will do nothing positive and bring nothing but trouble.

Posted by: FRegistryTerrorists | May 17, 2013 10:53:46 AM

Bill, FWIW I heard a cop testify in a TX legislative hearing this year that 5-10% of those on the registry would be considered sexual predators and the rest were less dangerous folk that didn't need as intensive supervision. I'm not sure on what basis he made that comment - whether he's judging only by the offense or taking into account other risk factors.

Quite a few TX probation directors would like to see the registry limited because a broad registry diverts resources from more intensive monitoring of actually dangerous people.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | May 17, 2013 11:04:37 AM

Grits --

Thank you for the info. I think that in order to track this down as specifically as I would like, we'd need more than one Texas cop giving his anecdotal impression. We'd also need to know what his definitions are of "predator" and "less dangerous." Cops have their biases (as does everyone else).

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 17, 2013 11:25:08 AM

albeed --

Thanks. I did not intend to enlist you as an unpaid research assistant, but I'll be grateful for what you can dig up.

I cannot agree with other commenters that it's unimportant to know who's on there registries. If, in fact, they consist of nothing but mooners and urinators, then it's hard to see why anyone would be interested in having them. If they consist of the Ariel Castro's of the world, it's a different discussion entirely.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 17, 2013 12:01:52 PM

Here are some stats for Connecticut, although they're a few years out of date. There's a lot of fuzziness in the data (998 registrants were on the registry for "unclassified offenses," and the category of "sexual offenses against a minor" includes child porn) but it may be a start. It seems that at least in Connecticut, more than half of registrants in 2006 were on the list for sexually violent offenses and/or contact offenses against minors.

(Also, with respect to Grits' comment, "predator" is a legal term in many states, including mine; I'm not sure if that's the case in Texas, but if so, the cop may have been using a precise definition.)

Posted by: Jonathan Edelstein | May 17, 2013 12:35:17 PM

Jonathan Edelstein --

Thanks. Why don't you comment more often?

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 17, 2013 2:40:44 PM

Bill:

A short report for you to consider can be found at the following site. Some summary data from Georgia and a link to a good article from the Economist are provided:

http://techliberation.com/2009/08/08/rethinking-sex-crimes-and-sex-offender-registries/

Also, though I don't think it is sufficiently quantitative for your specifications, some light reading can be found in a fresh perspective by googling numerous articles from Lenore Skenazy - Free Range Kids. I don't always agree with her but am deeply troubled by the attitudes of her skeptics. - Obviously only if and when the term is over for light summer reading.

The best I can recommend is specific advanced google searches.

Also there is a DOJ report from 2003-2004 which has the best data I have seen on recidivism (follows 9000+ released offenders).

As you note, we want to know the Ariel Castro's of the world. As I understand it, he wasn't on any list at the age of 50+.

Posted by: albeed | May 17, 2013 7:40:04 PM

this is very good FR!

"The Registries could have been okay if everyone who had been convicted of a crime was listed on a Registry, they were not required to do anything, and the Registries were only used for information."

Of course that is the registry the USSC said was legal in 2002. You know the one that had no in person reporting requirments, no living restrictions, no working restrictions, they could live where they wanted, work where they wanted, breath where they wanted. Their ONLY requirment and it was considered a minimum intrustion was to return a 3x5 post card ONCE A YEAR!

That is what they said was legal Everything passed in the decade since as far as i'm concerned is illegal on it's face based on that 2002 decison.

Posted by: rodsmith | May 18, 2013 1:04:06 AM

What's next?
Sex offenders do their prison time, are subjected to the Registry, their lives and their families lives are essentially ruined, and now "the neighbors" want a piece of the pie too!. Buy them out because they claim their property values have dropped because they live next door. Ridiculous! And not only do they want a piece of the sex offender's pie, they want pieces of his family's pie too, because "They know him". Give me a break. Sorry people, there comes a time when enough is enough!

Posted by: kat | May 18, 2013 10:00:24 AM

rodsmith and kat:

In a perfect and just society, you are both 100% correct.

Angry townsfolk with pitchforks and torches are hard to reason with.

Posted by: albeed | May 18, 2013 8:14:16 PM

LOL not really albeed. there is still like 2 or 3 guns in american for every man, woman and child. just time for those on the registry to use em!

Posted by: rodsmith | May 18, 2013 9:18:03 PM

So people want Registries so we can have people like Ariel Castro on them? He's a great example of how useless the Registries are. If he was Registered and wanted to commit another crime like he did, the Registries would help prompt him to do it. They would also remind him to be a lot more careful and realize that he needed to kidnap someone far from where he lives (a random crime that is much harder to solve). His home would surely be a lot more secretive and it would be protected from visits from employees of criminal regimes. Police or neighbors would never get close to it.

We have the Registries in order to harass people. Some people dream that they may actually thwart the Castros of this country. The opposite is true. All the while, the Registries harass families who are just living like everyone else.

The Registries are unacceptable every day. People who are listed on them must retaliate every day, completely within the law of course. The past week was insanely productive for me. What did you do for the criminal regimes and the terrorists who support them?

Posted by: FRegistryTerrorists | May 20, 2013 8:31:49 AM

I'd appreciate it if someone has the answer and could give me a neutral and reliable source. Thanks.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 16, 2013 7:17:27 PM

^ I would like to know the same thing. I think it would be very hard to know this unless an actual study was done and broke down the people on the list by the code section of their violation. This would take an actual funded study either by a state or otherwise, and I'm not sure who benefits enough from that study enough to fund it.

A drunk guy urinating in public would get a "lewd conduct" charge the same as a flasher. I'm not sure it is statistically possible to differentiate those cases without a very in-depth study, which could only take place if a smaller subset of a registry was analyzed.

I think California has over 100k people on its registry, for example.

Another approach would be to find the total prosecutions for rapes, molestations, etc that would have been subject to mandatory registration, and then compare that to the total population of registrants. If the total registrants were 100k, and you could find out the total convictions for those crimes were 20k or 80k it would certainly be helpful.

Posted by: lawguy | May 30, 2013 6:51:07 PM

I only want to point out a few unmentioned facts, in reference to the family suing the man that molested their daughter...
1. The property used to belong to the molestors family, it was actually a reasonable solution as the molestors family was upset that it had been sold to "outsiders".
2. The molestor, his mother and a recently passed on uncle, own all the surrounding property...the victim's family is an island, if you will. The molestors family even owns the driveway that the victim and her family must use to access their "island".
3. There is no "forcing" the molestor to purchase the property, it was a proposed solution, listed in the public civil complaint is the statement that says an alternate solution could be acceptable.
4. As the victim's attorney mentioned in an interview with CBS, "this is case specific...not intended to set precedent for any offender lowering property values." As you can see by items 1, 2, 3...this is not just a case of "an offender lives in my neighborhood and now my house is worth less". WHO will buy this house knowing the offender and his family own all the surrounding property including the driveway they need to access the property?
There are many other facts to consider, but I find it utterly ridiculous that folks think they can have an intelligent conversation on the topic based on what was reported in the newspaper.....As if they know it all and know what's best for this victim and her family.... Shameful, frankly...the lack of sympathy for this child, her sisters, etc. Folks even accusing the parents of improper supervision of the child, being oblivious to the fact that the neighbors had endeared themselves to the family...they served the ultimate betrayal....of the trust of a child and her family. Sickening.

Posted by: Jennifer | Sep 8, 2013 2:03:31 AM

And I am in the medical field....also a volunteer for girl scouts.

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