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April 30, 2018

New York Court of Appeals upholds most serious sex offender registration despite defendant's acquittal on most serious charges

Over at Reason, Jacob Sullum has this effective new review of a notable example of "acquitted conduct" being used to justify a severe collateral consequence.  The posting's full headline provides the basic story: "A Jury Rejected the Charges, but He Still Has to Register As a Sex Offender for Life: New York's highest court says accusations can be considered for registration purposes even when the defendant was acquitted." Here are some of the particulars:

Quinn Britton's 13-year-old niece, identified in court documents as A.B., accused him of raping her during a Thanksgiving Day visit to her grandmother's home in Brooklyn, where her uncle lived, when she was 11. Britton denied any inappropriate behavior, and his mother said A.B. had spent the whole evening watching TV in the living room with her.... The jurors struggled to make sense of these conflicting accounts.  Since there was no physical evidence, the case came down to a question of whether to believe A.B. or Britton. During three days of deliberations, the jurors sent the judge three notes indicating that they were deadlocked. Each time he told them to keep deliberating.

Finally the jurors emerged with a verdict that seemed to split the difference between those inclined to believe Britton and those inclined to believe A.B.  They found Britton guilty of second-degree sexual abuse, a misdemeanor, based on the allegation that he kissed A.B.'s breasts, but not guilty of three felonies: first-degree rape, based on the allegation of penetrative sex, and two counts of a first-degree sexual act, based on allegations that he performed oral sex on the girl and forced her to perform oral sex on him.

During a post-trial hearing, the judge nevertheless assumed that Britton had committed the felonies and therefore assigned him to risk level two under New York's Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA), which triggers lifetime registration. Had the judge considered just the crime of which Britton was convicted, he would have been assigned to risk level one, which requires registration for 10 years.

In a 6-to-1 ruling last week, the New York Court of Appeals upheld Britton's classification, noting that it was supposed to be based on "clear and convincing evidence," a less demanding standard than the proof beyond a reasonable doubt required for a criminal conviction.  It is possible, in other words, for an alleged crime to figure in a defendant's risk level even when there is not enough evidence for a guilty verdict.

Writing in dissent, Judge Jenny Rivera charges her colleagues with improperly applying the "clear and convincing evidence" standard, which requires "a high degree of probability" that an allegation is true. A.B.'s testimony should not be treated as reliable under SORA, Rivera argues, because the jury did not find it credible.

April 30, 2018 at 03:20 PM | Permalink

Comments

"We have the best Justus System ever created."

I'm calling Bullsh-t! God Help Us.

Oh, I forgot, only the 9 Royal Baboons in black pajamas are gods, or legends in their own tiny, narrow little minds.

Posted by: albeed | Apr 30, 2018 5:22:03 PM

"Finally the jurors emerged with a verdict that seemed to split the difference between those inclined to believe Britton and those inclined to believe A.B. They found Britton guilty of second-degree sexual abuse, a misdemeanor, based on the allegation that he kissed A.B.'s breasts, but not guilty of three felonies: first-degree rape, based on the allegation of penetrative sex, and two counts of a first-degree sexual act, based on allegations that he performed oral sex on the girl and forced her to perform oral sex on him."

We like to blame prosecutors and judges for many of the problems the law faces but it has always seemed to me that juries need to take their share of the blame. This verdict is irresponsible. Someone lied. Someone told the truth. If one can't figure it out, hang. Let some other people have a go at it. These split the difference verdicts are just bad policy and this case shows why. I wonder how many of the people who gave in to the demands to convict him of something would have done so if they had known he was still going to face a lifetime of registration?

By the way, I wonder if there is any 8A problem with LIFETIME (anything) for a misdemeanor. It seems to make a mockery of what that word usually means.

Posted by: Daniel | Apr 30, 2018 6:55:50 PM

Folks, we need to get rid of juries immediately. A criminal case can NEVER be decided by "whom does the jury believe" and yet it so often is. People just don't seem to understand that a person has be PROVEN guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. It certainly sucks that oftentimes we will not be able to convict guilty people simply because there is not enough proof, but we MUST accept that. We CANNOT be convicting innocent people. It's immoral.

The vast majority of people obviously don't have nearly enough sense to be true juror. Many people couldn't distinguish their opinion from a fact if their life depended on it. We all need to stop believing that having juries is just, fair, or okay. It's not.

Also, it is crystal clear to all informed, moral, intelligent, un-biased Americans that Nanny Big Government's SEX Offender Registries (SORs) are not REALLY for public safety, protecting children, or any of the rest of the lies everyone tells. There is no way that any American can support the SORs, and its continually increasing, fact-less, baseless, useless harassment/restrictions/punishments, today. The SORs are truly idiotic social policy that should've been destroyed a decade ago.

The SORs have all of us in more danger than we would be if they didn't exist. The SORs aren't needed or significantly beneficial either. The simple fact is that if a person is ACTUALLY going to protect himself and his family, then he must protect from ALL people, Registered or not. It gives a person zero benefit to know if a person is Registered or not. A big fat zero.

Today, more than ever, we all need to concentrate on facts and not feelings.

Posted by: FRegistryTerrorists | May 1, 2018 1:04:17 PM

The sad thing--this guy may be innocent.

And Daniel's point is well-taken.

Posted by: federalist | May 1, 2018 7:29:31 PM

the jury should have hung. baby-splitting is obviously unjust.

the trial did not take place under the "clear and convincing" evidence standard, and the jury was not asked to make findings under that standard. it appears to me that imposing what amounts to an aggravated registration requirement would violate Cunningham v. California.

what seems to have happened here is that the judge disagreed with the jury's conclusion and abused his discretion to stick it to the defendant. then, on appeal, a bunch of judges who had no sympathy for the "icky, gross" child molester, and who ALSO wrongfully presumed him to be guilty of the acquitted conduct, went looking for an excuse to affirm, and did so. it has nothing to do with the law, and everything to do with sex offense defendants not being given protection of the law in the US, and basically being subjected to a separate shadow legal system where their rights are routinely violated because they hated, seen as radioactive, and nobody has the strength of character or moral/ethical fortitude to stand up in their defense because the higher principles of the law and Constitution are more important that how gross you think some defendant is.

Posted by: lawguy | May 5, 2018 5:22:00 AM

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