Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Should civilly committed sex offenders get in trouble for watching Game of Thrones?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this intriguing local article from Virginia, which is headlined "Sex offender claims he was unfairly punished for watching HBO." Here are the notable details:
A human rights advocate for a state facility that provides treatment for civilly committed sex offenders in Virginia has filed a complaint on behalf of one of those sex offenders alleging unfair treatment.
The complaint was filed on July 21, 2014 with the Virginia Center for Behavioral Services and alleges residents at the Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation (VCBR) were unfairly punished for watching HBO. VCBR is a residential treatment facility for civilly committed sexually violent predators, according to the facility’s website.
“On the weekend of June the 27th, HBO was offered as a promotional by the cable provider,” committed sex offender Elijah Howell said. Howell and fellow committed sex offender Robert Baugh told us they watched “We Are the Millers” that weekend with approval from a VCBR staff member. “He said the programming was pre-approved, and there would be no problem with us watching it,” Howell said.
But, the next day, they said roughly 50 of the more than 200 residents at VCBR were punished for watching nudity on HBO and accused of “sexual behavior.”
“It dropped me down from a blue card to a red…there’s a lot of stuff you can’t do when you become a red card,” Baugh said. The residents worry their time at VCBR will be extended for something they said is not a valid punishment.
“When you go to court and you have a sexual behavior observation note… it’s gonna look like this guy doesn’t understand what he’s doing and still getting sexual behavior notes,” Baugh said.
The human rights advocate at VCBR who filed the complaint, Tammy Long, alleges the residents did not engage in sexual behavior. She cites VCBR’s facility instructions, which state sexual behavior involves physical contact. “These convicted sex offenders in this particular facility have all served their criminal time, and then they’ve been civilly committed, not voluntarily, for treatment,” ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Gastanaga said. “So at this point the purpose is supposed to be therapeutic not punitive.”
Gastanaga said if the complaint is accurate, it shows unfair treatment. “It’s about some people doing it because they can…it’s almost bullying,” Gastanaga said.
A spokesperson for the state agency that oversees VCBR said he cannot comment on specific investigations, but human rights complaints are investigated by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Office of Human Rights.
Monday, July 07, 2014
"Do Residency Bans Drive Sex Offenders Underground?"
The very important question in the title of this post is the headline of this discussion (with lots of links) by Steven Yoder at The Crime Report. Here is an excerpt:
California hasn’t been alone in its tough approach to ensuring that formerly incarcerated sex offenders pose no danger after they are released. As part of a wave of new sex offender laws starting in the mid-1990s, about 30 states and thousands of cities and towns passed such residency restrictions — prompting in turn a pushback from civil liberties advocates, state legislators and registrants themselves who argued the restrictions were not only unduly harsh but counterproductive.
But a court decision in Colorado last year could mark a shift in momentum. In the Colorado case, Stephen Ryals, a high school soccer coach convicted in 2001 for a consensual sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student, was sentenced to seven years’ probation and put on the state sex offender registry. Eleven years later, in 2012, he and his wife bought a house in the city of Englewood. But the police department told him he couldn’t live there because of a city ordinance prohibiting sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools, parks and playgrounds — a law that effectively made 99 percent of its homes and rentals off limits to offenders. Englewood police also warned offenders that even in the open one percent, if they contacted a homeowner whose property wasn’t for rent or for sale, they could be charged with trespassing.
Ryals sued, and last August a federal court concluded that the city’s ban went too far. The judge ruled that it conflicted with the state’s existing system for managing and reintegrating sex offenders and could encourage other towns and cities to do the same, effectively barring offenders from the entire state. Englewood has appealed, but two of the state’s five other cities that have residence bans have softened their restrictions since the decision....
In California, scores of cities are rolling back their restrictions after an Orange County court ruled last April in favor of registrant Hugo Godinez, who challenged the county over its ordinance barring sex offenders from entering parks. Godinez, convicted for a misdemeanor sex offense in 2010, was arrested the following year for what he said was mandatory attendance at a company picnic in a county park. In that case too, a state appeals court decided that the county’s ordinance usurped the state’s authority. The appeals court ruling was upheld by the state’s highest court.
Since the Godinez decision, 28 California cities that have similar “presence” restrictions, which ban offenders from entering places like libraries and parks, have repealed those rules. Another 24 say they are revising their ordinances, according to Janice Bellucci, a California attorney.
Since the April decision, Bellucci, who represents the advocacy group California Reform Sex Offender Laws, has sent letters demanding repeal to cities with presence restrictions. She also has sued a dozen other cities that haven’t changed their rules since the decision.
And this year, California’s Supreme Court could make an even bigger ruling — whether to toss the state’s 2,000-foot law itself. A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge found it unconstitutional in 2010, but the city appealed. The judge cited an increase in homelessness among registrants as a key reason. Statewide, the number of homeless registrants has doubled since the law passed in 2006, according to the 2011 Sex Offender Management Board report.
At least two other states — Rhode Island and New York — have been sued since 2012 over their own residency laws.
One finding in the Ryals’ case in Colorado case could resonate in other states. The judge found compelling a 2009 white paper by Colorado’s Sex Offender Management Board concluding that residency bans don’t lower recidivism and could actually increase the risk to the public. According to the paper, that’s because they drive offenders underground or toward homelessness, making them harder for police and probation officers to track....
Those 2009 findings led the Colorado board to go further in a report this January, which recommended that state lawmakers consider legislation prohibiting cities and towns from enacting their own offender residency rules.
Two other states have moved in that direction. The Kansas legislature banned local residency restrictions in 2010. And in New Hampshire, the state House of Representatives has twice approved a bill that would bar local ordinances, though it’s died both times in the state Senate. Bellucci argues that there’s more to come in other states. The “pendulum of punishment,” she claims, is starting to swing the other way.
“For a long time, ever-harsher sex offender laws were being passed and there was no one opposing them,” she told The Crime Report. “After more than a few lawsuits, elected officials are realizing that there’s a downside to this.”
July 7, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (24) | TrackBack
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Others starting to appreciate "Rand Paul, Criminal Justice Hero"
I am very pleased to see this new Slate commentary by Emily Bazelon headlined "Rand Paul, Criminal Justice Hero: The senator from Kentucky wants to give ex-felons the vote even though they won’t vote Republican." The piece not only highlights the credit Senator Paul should be given for his principled approach to criminal justice reform, it also demonstrates why right now he is arguably the most important active criminal justice reformer in the nation. Here are excerpts:
When libertarian Republicans go on about the “tyranny” of the federal government, as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is prone to do, I tune out. But not today. Paul has been talking for a while about how his conception of tyranny extends to long, draconian prison sentences for mostly poor and black offenders. Now he is introducing a bill that would restore voting rights to nonviolent ex-felons in federal elections. This bill is not about to become law any time soon. But give Paul credit for standing on principle even though he and his party would hardly benefit.
If Congress really re-enfranchised ex-cons across the land, it would help Democrats. It would probably be enough to swing a close Senate race in some states—or to push Florida into the D column in a presidential election. In 2010, according to this policy brief by the Sentencing Project, 5.85 million people across the country couldn’t vote because they were either in prison or had a felony record (which in 12 states also disqualifies you at the polls)....
To state the obvious, if these ex-cons voted, they would break for Democrats. “African-American voters are wildly overrepresented in criminal justice populations. African-American voters also historically favor Democratic candidates,” says Christopher Uggen, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota. Uggen and Jeff Manza co-wrote an article for the American Sociological Review in 2002 in which they estimated turnout for disenfranchised ex-cons....
o why is Paul pushing for a bill that could actively hurt his party? “Even if Republicans don’t get more votes, we feel like we’ve done the right thing,” Paul told Politico. This sounds like Paul’s (qualified) support for immigration reform: He’s behind it even though in the short-term, it’s probably a loser for Republicans. I don’t mean to sound naive here about Paul’s motives. He sometimes cultivates renegade Tea Party independence, and I realize that he is also appealing to swing voters: moderates who like it when conservative politicians sound concerned about poor people and minorities. And maybe that’s good for the image of the Republican party overall: Rand Paul, softening agent. Uggen says he did a poll a few years ago and found resounding majority support for letting ex-felons vote. But how many of those people care enough about the issue to vote for Paul based on it? That number has to be tiny. And while it’s possible to argue that Republicans have to move toward immigration reform for their long-term survival, given the rising Latino population and the shrinking white one, felon disenfranchisement just doesn’t have the same grip....
It’s worth pointing out, though, that Paul is the sole sponsor for his bill. In Florida in 2011, Republican Gov. Rick Scott went the other way and tightened voting restrictions on former felons, in spite of criticism about the number of black people he was barring from the polls. Paul has more company from fellow libertarians Ted Cruz and Mike Lee in pushing for sentencing reform. This is the larger fight that felon disenfranchisement is a part of: addressing mass incarceration by lowering or eliminating mandatory minimum sentences, especially for nonviolent drug offenders. “I’m talking about making the criminal justice system fair and giving people a second chance if they served their time,” Paul said in February at a gala for the conservative American Principles Project. Give him, and Cruz and Lee, credit for being part of this push. Sentencing reform has justice on its side and budgetary common sense, too, given the huge sums it takes to keep prisoners locked up for years. Too bad other Republicans won’t support that cause, or go for giving former felons the vote either.
Monday, June 16, 2014
Second Circuit rejects array of challenges to lengthy extension of sex offender registration requirement
For a number of years, sex offenders consistently lost in state and federal courts when challenging various sex offender registration requirements and other restrictions on various grounds. In recent years, however, it seems at least a few registered sex offenders are having at least a little success with court challenges to new sex offender registration requirements that seem especially punitive or onerous. But a Second Circuit panel ruling today in Doe v. Cuomo, No. 12-4288 (2d Cir. June 16, 2014) (available here), provides a useful reminder of the uphill battle registered sex offenders face in court. Here is how the opinion starts:
John Doe appeals from the judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Amon, C.J.) granting summary judgment in favor of the Governor of the State of New York and the Acting Commissioner of the State of New York Division of Criminal Justice Services on Doe’s as-applied constitutional challenges to the enforcement of certain amendments to the New York State Sex Offender Registration Act. The amendments we are asked to review were enacted after Doe pleaded guilty to misdemeanor attempted possession of a sexual performance by a child, as a result of which he was classified as a level-one sex offender required to register under SORA. The amendments extended the registration requirement for level-one sex offenders from ten years to a minimum of twenty years and also eliminated the ability of level-one sex offenders to petition for relief from registration. Doe argues, among other things, that requiring him to comply with these post-plea amendments violates the Ex Post Facto Clause and the Fourth Amendment, and deprives him of due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. We disagree and affirm the judgment of the District Court.
Notably, the defendant Doe in this case seems reasonably sympathetic for a registered sex offender: his offense was a misdemeanor charge stemming from possessing a few CP images back in 1999, and he fully complied with all registration requirements for a decade. But, though the defendant presented an array of constitutional claims to argue he should not now be subject to a new extended registration requirement, the Second Circuit said he was Doe out of luck.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
"Collateral Damage: America’s Failure to Forgive or Forget in the War on Crime"
The title of this post is the title of this important new report released this morning by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The genesis of the report and its essential elements are well summarized via the text of an e-mail I received from NACDL about this report. Here is the start of this e-mail:
At an event this morning at the Open Society Foundations in Washington, DC, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) is releasing a major new report -- Collateral Damage: America’s Failure to Forgive or Forget in the War on Crime – A Roadmap to Restore Rights and Status After Arrest or Conviction. With more than 65 million people in America having some form of a criminal record, the universality and import of the problem this nonpartisan report tackles is tremendous. NACDL's Task Force on the Restoration of Rights and Status After Conviction held hearings all over the country, featuring testimony from more than 150 witnesses from every corner of the criminal justice system, as part of the research leading to this report. Included among the witnesses were those who have faced unfair, irrational, and often life-altering barriers arising from a brush with the criminal law. Many of their stories are captured in the report. And many more are available in the complete transcripts of the Task Force’s hearings.
With more than one in four adults in the United States having some form of a criminal record, and more than 2.2 million people currently behind bars in the United States, more than any other nation in the world, the vast impact of the problem of collateral consequences and legal barriers to reentry is undeniable.
- More than 19 million people in America have a felony conviction on their record.
- There are 14 million new arrests each year.
- The burden of the collateral consequences of a conviction, just as arrests figures and so much else about America’s criminal justice system, is racially and ethnically disparate. For example, a criminal record hits black job seekers harder than white job seekers.
- The U.S. lags behind other countries in the area of the restoration or rights and status.
- Giving people the opportunity to move beyond a criminal record enhances public safety and saves money.
- These secret collateral consequences are frequently the result of legislative bodies reflexively and irrationally creating laws as a response to the crime-du-jour, most often without seeking out the appropriate data to craft sound policy.
- At last count, the American Bar Association’s National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction (http://www.abacollateralconsequences.org/) has identified more than 45,000 separate collateral consequences in existence.
Often without any nexus whatsoever to the offense charged and/or for which an individual has been convicted, many people who have a brush with the law lose everything from their voting rights and their Second Amendment right to bear arms, to access to federal student loans. Some even lose their homes as a result of draconian laws designed to exclude entire families from public housing as a result of the alleged misdeeds of a single family member.
Thursday, May 08, 2014
Fascinating discussion of "mom movement" to reform sex offender registration laws
NBC News has this lengthy new piece about efforts to reform sex offender registration laws under the headline "My Son, the Sex Offender: One Mother's Mission to Fight the Law." The full piece is worthy of a full read, and here is how it gets started:
In the run up to Halloween one year, Sharie Keil saw something that really made her jump: Missouri governor Jay Nixon, then the attorney general. He was on television to announce that registered sex offenders were hereby banned from participating in her favorite holiday. On threat of a year in jail, they had to stay inside and display a sign saying they had no candy. The goal was “to protect our children,” as Nixon put it, but Keil heard only a peal of political hysteria.
She is not a sex offender nor, at 63, a new-age apologist for pedophiles or predators. She is a mother, however, and in 1998 her 17-year-old son had sex with a pre-teen girl at a party. He was convicted of aggravated sexual abuse, which got him six months in county jail and a lifetime of mandatory registration as a sex offender. Ten years later, after the Halloween law, Keil felt shocked into action.
”As my husband says, I decided to go on the war path,” she remembers. Today, she’s at the forefront of a growing fight against sex offender registries, a shame-free alliance of offenders and their families, supported by researchers and some advocates who helped pass stringent anti-abuse laws in the first place. They’re organized (albeit loosely) under Reform Sex Offender Laws, a five-year-old lobby that claims 38 state affiliates and a steady patter of legal and legislative victories.
Most of their progress, however, has been limited to a slice of the registry: juvenile offenders. That would remove Keil’s son, but this former soccer mom and chapter head of the League of Women Voters wants to abolish the public registry altogether. She funds a powerful RSOL affiliate, Missouri Citizens for Reform, which has helped push sweeping changes through the Missouri House four years in a row, only to see the effort smothered in the Senate or, last summer, stabbed by a governor’s veto.
“Changing the registry would provide relief for tens of thousands of Missourians,” Keil says. “Since there are nearly 800,000 people on the registry nationally, millions of lives would change for the better.”
As reckless as Keil’s ideas may sound, she and her intellectual allies—among them Nicole Pittman, an attorney who slammed registries in a Human Rights Watch report last year—are fervently opposed to sexual abuse and believe in jail time for law breakers. However, they also hope to realign the law with second-chance ideals and new research that shows rehabilitation is possible, even for America’s last pariahs.
If they succeed, Keil believes, public safety will actually improve. As the registries shrink or disappear, law enforcement will be freed to focus on crime prevention. If the movement fails, she warns, public safety could suffer. Truly dangerous people will be lost in the thousands that police must monitor, while relatively harmless offenders break bad in a system that gives them no hope for a normal future.
Friday, May 02, 2014
"Kids, Cops, and Sex Offenders: Pushing the Limits of the Interest-Convergence Thesis"
The title of this post is the title of this interesting paper newly posted on SSRN and authored by David Singleton. Here is the abstract:
Sex offenders are today’s pariahs — despised by all, embraced by none. During the past twenty years, society’s dislike and fear of sex offenders has resulted in a flood of legislation designed to protect communities from them. These laws include residency restrictions, which bar convicted sex offenders from living near places where children are expected to be found. Given this climate, do lawyers who for sex offenders have any hope of winning justice for their clients?
In 2005, the Ohio Justice & Policy Center (“OJPC”) began a three year-advocacy campaign against Ohio’s residency restrictions. At first OJPC lost badly — in both the courts of law and public opinion. But after losing the initial legal challenge, OJPC transformed its seemingly lost cause into a winning effort. It did so by borrowing an idea from Professor Derrick A. Bell.
Professor Bell is famous, among other things, for his interest-convergence thesis. According to Bell, blacks achieve racial equality only when such progress it is in the interests of whites. The classic example of Bell’s theory is his explanation of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education. According to Bell, the Court desegregated public schools not for moral reasons but because doing so would improve America’s credibility on racial issues during the Cold War.
OJPC eventually prevailed in its challenges to residency restrictions because it aligned the interests of sex offenders with society’s interests in protecting children from sexual abuse. Not only did OJPC win two important legal challenges but it also transformed the local media narrative about residency restrictions.
Kids, Cops and Sex Offenders: Pushing the Limits of the Interest-Convergence Thesis begins by telling the story of OJPC’s advocacy — both before and after employing an interest-convergence strategy. The article then poses and answers three questions: (1) whether it is appropriate to attach the “interest-convergence” label to OJPC’s sex offender advocacy given that Bell’s thesis is “historically descriptive rather than a recommendation for future-oriented strategies,” according to Professor Stephen Feldman, a leading scholar; (2) whether interest-convergence theory explains the victories OJPC won for its clients; and (3) assuming that interest convergence has value as an advocacy tool, whether it potentially presents a downside for the marginalized clients the lawyer seeks to serve. I conclude the article with a discussion of a course I developed called Complex Problem Solving for Lawyers, which teaches law students to incorporate Bell’s interest-convergence theory into advocacy on behalf of despised groups like sex offenders.
May 2, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Recommended reading, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack
Friday, April 25, 2014
Local California sex offender restrictions legally suspect after California Supreme Court (non)action
As reported in this local article, earlier this week that California Supreme Court "left intact a lower-court ruling that invalidates local ordinances aimed at restricting the movements of registered sex offenders in dozens of cities statewide." Local lawyers say this (non)action is a big deal:
The court’s decision Wednesday not to hear a case involving a Southern California sex offender means city and county ordinances banning such offenders from public parks and other public areas no longer may be enforced, attorneys say. Instead, a state law governing where sex offenders on parole may live now stands as the main restriction.
“If I read the tea leaves correctly, it’s probably dead everywhere in California,” Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff to Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said Thursday.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office had led the effort to tighten restrictions on sex offenders and advised communities in that area on how to enact such ordinances. “We still believe that we were right on the law and we respectfully disagree,” Schroeder said. “We don’t regret the choices that we made in trying to keep sex offenders out of parks and keep children safe.”
The state Supreme Court’s action stemmed in part from an Orange County case in which a registered sex offender in Irvine went to a tennis court at a public park in violation of a local ordinance. The offender pleaded guilty, but a public defender appealed the case and won a ruling that state law trumps such local ordinances, Schroeder said. Her office appealed that to the 4th District Court of Appeal, which agreed with the appellate decision, so the Orange County District Attorney’s Office asked the state Supreme Court to hear the matter.
That court declined to do so Wednesday. It also declined to hear a second, similar case involving an offender who was cited after going to a picnic at a county park. The move effectively invalidates such local ordinances, Schroeder said, and leaves Jessica’s Law, passed by voters in 2006, as the main enforcement tool over paroled sex offenders. That measure, which also has faced court challenges, prevents sex offenders on parole from living within 2,000 feet of schools and parks.
Santa Maria attorney Janice Bellucci, president of a group called “California Reform Sex Offender Laws,” said the Supreme Court’s move is a “major victory” for efforts to provide more rights for individuals who must register on California’s Megan’s Law list of people with sex offenses in their pasts. “It means that our people on the registry — and we have over 105,000 now — can now go to public and private places that they could not go to before,” she said.
Bellucci has been waging a legal battle against such ordinances throughout the state and last month filed suit in U.S. District Court in Sacramento seeking to overturn a South Lake Tahoe measure. The South Lake Tahoe ordinance prohibits sex offenders from being in or within 300 feet of public or private schools, parks, video arcades, swimming pools or other areas where children might congregate. The ordinance allows for single trips traveling past such spots.
Bellucci said 70 cities and five counties in California have enacted such measures, and she has used a client, Frank Lindsay of San Luis Obispo, a registered sex offender, as the face of her lawsuits against such ordinances.... Bellucci said she views the matter as a “civil rights issue” that ultimately should be addressed by legislators to differentiate between people who made a mistake in their past — such as urinating in public or a young adult having consensual sex with a 17-year-old girlfriend, for example — from predators...
El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson said Thursday that the Legislature has failed to address the need for balanced restrictions, something that may lead to new initiative drives. “This is more than anything else due to the Legislature’s inability to craft appropriate legislation to control the behavior and conduct of sex offenders that are out,” Pierson said.
He added that the county had crafted policies he thought were appropriate and similar to those in Orange County, allowing an offender to get written permission from the sheriff to be in certain public places around children. “I think there’s this misimpression that we want to ban sex offenders from going anywhere and doing anything,” Pierson said. “What we’re attempting to do is deal with the unusual situations where they’re predatory. If they go to an ice skating rink because they want to look at the young children, that’s who we’re trying to prevent from being in that kind of situation.”
Thursday, April 10, 2014
First Circuit hears argument on whether Eighth Amendment might limit deportation as collateral consequence
This National Law Journal piece, headlined "Court Weighs Whether Deportation Fits Crime," reports on an interesting case that was argued before the First Circuit yesterday. Here are highlights:
A federal appellate court heard oral arguments Wednesday about whether immigration judges must consider whether deportation amounts to disproportional punishment for a legal permanent resident following a criminal conviction. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit weighed that question in Hinds v. Holder.
Rogelio Blackman Hinds, 59, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, is fighting an August 2013 Board of Immigration Appeals ruling upholding his removal. U.S. Immigration Judge Steven Day ordered Hinds ordered Hinds removed to Panama in March 2013 because of drug and firearms convictions for which he served 18 years in prison.
Hinds claims he should be allowed to stay because he’s lived in the United States for nearly 40 years, is married to a U.S. citizen and fears being targeted by a Panamanian gang to which he says his co-defendant belongs. Moreover, one of his five adult children is severely mentally and physically disabled and requires constant care.
Hinds also claims severe health problems that may be linked to his military service, including epilepsy, anemia, high blood pressure and post-traumatic stress headaches. His brief argues that the Fifth Amendment and Eighth Amendment, which bans cruel and unusual punishment, require proportionality review....
Amici who have lined up to support Hinds include the Center for Constitutional Rights, the American Immigration Council, the Post-Deportation Human Rights Project at Boston College, the American Civil Liberties Union and a group of law professors.
Judges Jeffrey Howard and O. Rogeriee Thompson sat on the panel with District of New Hampshire Chief Judge Joseph Laplante, sitting by designation. Howard asked Hinds’ lawyer, Zac Hudson, an associate at Washington’s Bancroft, “What would be the mechanics of doing the balancing you want to have done?”
Hudson replied that if the court ruled in Hinds’ favor without reaching the constitutional questions it “wouldn’t have to delineate a standard.” The review would be based on the judge’s individual analysis, he said.
Howard then asked Hudson which precedent best supports his argument. “It’s all the due-process cases we cite,” Hudson replied. “Lawful permanent residents have the full protection of the U.S. Constitution.”
Aimee Carmichael of the Justice Department’s Office of Immigration Litigation argued that Hinds wants criminal protections extended to civil proceedings. “The Eighth Amendment does not apply [and he] has not demonstrated that the agency has denied him due process,” she said.
Tuesday, April 01, 2014
"Sex offender housing restrictions do more harm than good"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable Concord Monitor editorial. Here are excerpts:
Of all the constituents that politicians want to help out, sex offenders probably rank at the very bottom of the list. But the New Hampshire Senate should summon the courage to do just that. By helping sex offenders, as strange as it sounds, the Senate will end up making life safer for everyone else.
At issue is legislation that would ban cities and towns from placing broad restrictions on where sex offenders may live. Several communities have attempted such restrictions, and lower-court judges have already struck down two as unconstitutional: one in Franklin and one in Dover. In both cities, local officials wanted to keep convicted sex offenders from living too close to places where children regularly gather: schools, day care centers and playgrounds. Several other communities still have such ordinances on the books, among them Tilton, Sanbornton, Northfield and Boscawen.
The impulse to keep sex offenders away from kids via zoning is completely understandable. But there is strong reason to resist. And there is strong reason to set such policy at the state level, rather than leaving it to individual communities.
A growing body of evidence — gathered not just by civil liberties lawyers, but from law enforcement officers, public officials and child advocacy groups — suggests that residency restrictions are placebo pills at best and counterproductive at worst. Such ordinances give communities a false sense of security while driving sex offenders underground or into rural areas where they can’t access the services that give them the best chance at rehabilitation....
An Iowa study, for instance, showed that sexual-abuse convictions had remained steady since statewide residency restrictions went into effect five years earlier but that the number of sex offenders failing to register their addresses with local police departments, as the law required, had more than doubled.And a study in the journal Federal Probation draws a clear link between housing instability — an obvious consequence of residency ordinances — and criminal recidivism. Instead, it suggests a strategy of identifying and carefully monitoring the highest risk offenders and creating stable lives for the rest through treatment and access to housing, jobs and services.
When a sex offender has served his sentence, it is in everyone’s interest that he succeed on the outside. Passing this bill would help.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Illinois commission advocates against putting all juve sex offenders on registry
As explained in this AP article, headlined "Commission: Remove Juveniles From Sex Offender Registries," a new public policy report urges Illinois officials to no longer require juvenile sex offenders to register. Here are the basics:
Requiring juveniles to register as sex offenders impairs rehabilitation efforts for a crime that very few of them ever commit again, according to a study released Tuesday. The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission’s report recommends ending the practice of making offenders younger than 17 add their names to sex-offender registries, which can negatively affect an offender for years. Every juvenile convicted of a sex crime must register, and 70 percent of the 2,553 currently registered must do so for life, the report said.
The 150-page review of laws and treatment practices regarding juvenile sex crimes calls for the state to abolish the categorical requirement for young offenders’ registration. The report [available here], which the General Assembly requested in 2012, says sex crimes committed in youth are seldom repeated in adulthood and that individualized, community-based treatment plans are highly effective and more productive than incarceration.
“Automatic, categorical registries do not protect public safety,” commission chairman George Timberlake, a retired chief circuit judge from Mount Vernon, told The Associated Press. “There’s no evidentiary basis that says they do and more importantly, they have very negative consequences in the effects they have on the offenders’ life, and perhaps the victim’s life.”
Timberlake said the victim, often a family member, loses confidentiality through offender registration and can also suffer from not being able to resume a familial relationship with an offender who is required to register. He added that a registry might be appropriate based on risk. Many states offer courts flexibility.
The report recommends developing statewide standards and training for courts and law enforcement professionals for intervening with young sex offenders and victims. It also calls for a consistent assessment tool for evaluating risks an individual juvenile poses. Also, the report says, offenders whenever possible should be kept in treatment programs in their homes that involve parents as opposed to locking them up.
March 25, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Should sex offenders be prohibited from winning lottery jackpots?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new FoxNews report headlined "Massachusetts official seeks to prevent sex offenders from collecting large lotto payouts." Here are excerpts:
A Massachusetts state senator is pushing to close a lottery loophole that allows sex offenders to pocket huge payouts and potentially use their winnings to buy their victims' silence.
"Should someone on the sex offender list purchase a ticket and win, I think we should find a way from preventing them from enjoying the proceeds," state Sen. Richard Moore told The Boston Herald. "This doesn't smell right to start with."
Moore's concern came as it was revealed that a Level 3 serial child predator walked away with a $10 million win in 2008 and used his winnings to buy gifts for a boy he was allegedly abusing. Daniel T. Snay, 62, was convicted four separate times of indecent assault and battery on a person 14 years or older from 1974 to 1987. He pleaded not guilty Monday at his arraignment on charges including indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of 14 and other charges....
"I guess he bought my silence by giving me gifts and stuff," the boy, now 16, told police, according to a transcript released in court, the paper reported. The alleged abuse occurred about the same time he won the lottery and it continued until March 1, 2012, the report said.
Police Chief Jeffrey Lourie said Snay's "windfall aided the commission of the crimes" by helping him gain favor with people. Sam Goldberg, Snay's attorney, told the paper the allegations are "very easy to bring ... especially when you know this is someone who’s already been a lightning rod ... because of the lottery winnings."
The director of the state's lottery told the paper that winnings can be intercepted by the IRS or Department of Revenue, but a payout cannot be withheld “based on someone’s character."
Friday, March 07, 2014
"Criminal Records, Race and Redemption"
The title of this post is the title of this notable paper I just noticed via SSRN authored by Michael Pinard. Here is the abstract:
Poor individuals of color disproportionately carry the weight of a criminal record. They confront an array of legal and non-legal barriers, the most prominent of which are housing and employment. Federal, State and local governments are implementing measures aimed at easing the everlasting impact of a criminal record. However, these measures, while laudable, fail to address the disconnection between individuals who believe they have moved past their interactions with the criminal justice system and the ways in which decision makers continue to judge them in the years and decades following those interactions. These issues are particularly pronounced for poor individuals of color, who are uniquely stigmatized by their criminal records.
To address these issues, this article proposes a redemption-focused approach to criminal records. This approach recognizes that individuals ultimately move past their interactions with the criminal justice system and, therefore, they should no longer be saddled by their criminal records. Thus, the article calls for greatly expanding laws that allow individuals to remove their criminal records from public access and, in the end, allow them to reach redemption.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Notable emphasis on CJ reform in AG Holder speech to National Association of Attorneys' General
In Washington DC this morning, Attorney General Eric Holder delivered these remarks at the National Association of Attorneys General Winter Meeting. Here are sections that should be of distinct interest to sentencing fans:
In recent years, no fewer than 17 states — supported by the Department’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative, and led by state officials from both parties — have directed significant funding away from prison construction and toward evidence-based programs and services, like supervision and drug treatment, that are proven to reduce recidivism while improving public safety. Rather than increasing costs, a new report — funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance — projects that these 17 states will save $4.6 billion over a 10-year period. And although the full impact of our justice reinvestment policies remains to be seen, it’s clear that these efforts are bearing fruit — and showing significant promise across the country.
From Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, and Ohio — to Kentucky, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, and far beyond — reinvestment and serious reform are improving public safety and saving precious resources. And I believe that the changes that have led to these remarkable results should be carefully studied — and emulated.
That’s why, last August — in a speech before the American Bar Association in San Francisco — I announced a new “Smart on Crime” initiative that’s allowing the Justice Department to expand on the innovations that so many states have led; to become both smarter and more efficient when battling crime, and the conditions and choices that breed it; and to develop and implement commonsense reforms to the federal criminal justice system.
Under this initiative, we’re ensuring that stringent mandatory minimum sentences for certain federal, drug-related crimes will now be reserved for the most serious criminals. We’re taking steps to advance proven reentry policies and diversion programs that can serve as alternatives to incarceration in some cases. And as we look toward the future of this work, we’ll continue to rely on your leadership — and close engagement — to keep advancing the kinds of data-driven public safety solutions that many of you have championed for decades.
This also means making good on our commitment to provide formerly incarcerated people with fair opportunities to rejoin their communities — and become productive, law-abiding citizens — once their involvement with the criminal justice system is at an end. With the Justice Department’s strong support, the ABA has done important work in this regard, cataloguing tens of thousands of statutes and regulations that impose unwise collateral consequences — related to housing, employment, and voting — that prevent individuals with past convictions from fully reintegrating into society. As you know, in April 2011, I asked state attorneys general to undertake similar reviews in your own jurisdictions, and — wherever possible — to mitigate or eliminate unnecessary collateral consequences without decreasing public safety. I’ve made the same request of high-ranking officials across the federal government. And moving forward, I’ve directed every component of the Justice Department to lead by example on this issue — by considering whether any proposed rule, regulation, or guidance may present unnecessary barriers to successful reentry.
Two weeks ago, at Georgetown University Law Center, I called upon state leaders and other elected officials to take these efforts even further — by passing clear and consistent reforms to restore voting rights to those who have served their terms in prison or jail, completed their parole or probation, and paid their fines. I renew this call today — because, like so many other collateral consequences, we’ve seen that the permanent disenfranchisement of those who have paid their debts to society serves no legitimate public safety purpose. It is purely punitive in nature. It is counterproductive to our efforts to improve reentry and reduce recidivism. And it’s well past time that we affirm — as a nation — that the free exercise of our citizens’ most fundamental rights should never be subject to politics, or geography, or the lingering effects of flawed and unjust policies.
I applaud those — like Senator Rand Paul, of Kentucky — who have already shown leadership in helping to address this issue. And I encourage each of you to consider and take up this fight in your home states.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
"Eric Holder makes case for felons to get voting rights back"
The title of this post is the headline of this new Washington Post report on the latest policy advocacy by the US Attorney General concerning criminal justice reform. Here are the notable details:
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Tuesday called on states to repeal laws that prohibit ex-felons from voting after their release from prison, urging reforms that could allow millions more former convicts across the country to cast ballots.
In a speech at Georgetown University Law Center, Holder said: “It is time to fundamentally reconsider laws that permanently disenfranchise people who are no longer under federal or state supervision.” Current laws forbidding felons from voting make it harder for them to reintegrate into society, he said.
Holder said that current laws forbidding felons from voting make it harder for them to reintegrate into society. He pointed to a recent study, which showed that felons in Florida who were granted the right to vote again had a lower recidivism rate. “These restrictions are not only unnecessary and unjust, they are also counterproductive,” Holder said. “By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes.”
Holder does not have the authority to force states to change their laws, but his request could influence the debate to restore voting rights. His appeal is part of a broader effort currently underway by the Justice Department to reform the criminal justice system, which U.S. officials say often treats minority groups unfairly.
The attorney general said that after the Civil War, laws that prohibit ex-felons from voting were a way for post-Reconstruction states to keep blacks from casting ballots. Today, an estimated 5.8 million Americans are not allowed to vote because of current or previous felony convictions. Of those, nearly 38 percent are black.
The Justice Department said that 23 states since 1997 have enacted voting-rights reforms. They include Nebraska, Nevada, Texas and Washington state.
The Justice Department said that 11 states, including Florida and Kentucky, restrict voting rights for ex-felons. Holder said that 10 percent of Florida’s population is disenfranchised.
Voting-rights activists are trying to change the law in that state to make it easier for “returning citizens” to vote. The push could become a campaign issue in Florida’s gubernatorial election this year. In Kentucky, a bill to restore felon voting rights to those not convicted of certain lascivious or violent crimes gained momentum last month in the state legislature. “These laws deserve to be not only reconsidered, but repealed,” Holder said.
There is even more of note in the full speech given today by AG Eric Holder at Georgetown University Law Center, the text of which is available here. I now have to go teach, so I will not be able to comment further until late tonight, but here are parts of the discussion of voting rights referenced above:
These laws deserve to be not only reconsidered, but repealed. And so today, I call upon state leaders and other elected officials across the country to pass clear and consistent reforms to restore the voting rights of all who have served their terms in prison or jail, completed their parole or probation, and paid their fines. I call upon experts and legislators to stand together in overturning an unfortunate and outdated status quo.
And I call upon the American people – who overwhelmingly oppose felony disenfranchisement – to join us in bringing about the end of misguided policies that unjustly restrict what’s been called the “most basic right” of American citizenship.
I applaud those who have already shown leadership in raising awareness and helping to address this issue. Later today, this conference will hear from Senator Rand Paul, who has been a leader on this matter. His vocal support for restoring voting rights for former inmates shows that this issue need not break down along partisan lines.
Bipartisan support will be critical going forward because, even in states where reforms are currently taking hold, we need to do even more. And we need to make sure these positive changes are expanded upon – and made permanent.
Some prior related posts:
- Senator Rand Paul talking up restoring voting and gun rights for felons, as well as sentencing reform
- Big new Sentencing Project report on felon disenfranchisement
Sunday, January 26, 2014
"Sex offender fights registry by registering his registerers"
The title of this post is the headline of this interesting Washington Post article discussing an efforts of, and challenges facing, one registered sex offender seeking to showcase the realities of being a registered person. Here are excerpts:
If nothing else, Dennis Sobin is not your typical ex-con.
At first glance, he looks like the model returning citizen: After serving more than a decade in prison, Sobin, 70, returned to the District, started a gallery for prison art and ran for mayor. His nonprofit organizations have received grants from George Soros’s Open Society Institute and the National Endowment for the Arts and, in 2010, he appeared on the cover of the Washington City Paper .
But Sobin is also sex offender. A former pornographer who’s appeared on “The Sally Jesse Raphael Show” and “Geraldo,” Sobin was convicted of sexual performance using a minor in 1992 in Florida. So, every 90 days, Sobin must report to D.C.’s Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA), and his photo appears on D.C.’s public registry.
Sobin thinks it’s unfair. So, for his latest act, Sobin has decided to protest his treatment by creating his own online data base and registering the people who monitor him at the sex offender registry. Now, in an unusual case that will be heard on Tuesday, a D.C. Superior Court judge will decide whether a court employee can file a civil protection order to prevent Sobin from posting her photo on his anti-registry registry, www.idiotsregistry.info, and distributing her photograph on fliers.
“Here at www.IdiotsRegistry.info you will find the names of politicians and public figures who have encouraged the creation of, or have refused to denounce, government registration websites that target citizens for harassment,” Sobin’s site reads. “In the tradition of Nazi registration of Jews and Gypsies and the Salem lists of alleged witches, modern government registries are unfair and un-American.”
Stephanie Gray, who works for CSOSA, is asking the court to force Sobin to remove her picture from the site. Sobin, who was under Gray’s supervision until she got another position at the agency, did not mince words when criticizing Gray. “Face of Evil: ‘Registry Specialist’ Stephanie Gray shoots icy stare,” Sobin posted under a photo of Gray. “Gray requested and received a transfer due to the guilt she felt in her loathsome job.”
Sobin said his action was inspired by Supreme Court rulings which hold that sex offender registries are not punitive and do not constitute double jeopardy. “If it’s not punishment to be on a list, we thought we’d put the people who do the registering on a list,” he said.
Gray took another view. “He writes derogatory information about me,” Gray wrote in her request for a protection order. “I have been move[d] from the Sex Offender Registry and he continues to trash the bldg. where I am with pictures he has taken of me without me knowing.”
Should Sobin prevail,“It would send a message to all sex offenders in the District of Columbia,” according to a petition filed by Gray’s attorneys which accused Sobin of stalking. “Convicted criminals required to report to CSOSA could harass them with impunity under the guise of protected political speech.” Gray, through her attorneys, declined comment, as did CSOSA.
Sobin has found an ally: the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed an amicus brief on his behalf. “We think there are some significant First Amendment issues,” said Art Spitzer, legal director of ACLU’s D.C. office, who pointed out that Gray is not alleging physical harm. “Domestic violence laws are supposed to protect people from crimes, but not hurt feelings. . . . People are allowed to embarrass each other and make each other feel bad when making a political point.”...
Should Sobin win, Gray’s civil protection request will be denied, but D.C.’s sex offender registry will not be affected. But, Sobin said, he’ll have struck a blow for free speech and shown the flawed logic behind the registry — even if there’s collateral damage.
“Ms. Gray happens to be a very sensitive, compassionate individual who is on the registration list,” Sobin said. “It’s a war. . . . They’re involved in this registration thing and unless they move themselves out, we’re going to oppose them.”
January 26, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack
Thursday, January 16, 2014
Orange County DA hoping California high court will rescue local sex offender park ban
As reported in this local article, headlined "D.A. will take sex-offenders fight to state Supreme Court," a California prosecutor is planning to seek review in the Supreme Court of a lower state appellate court ruling that struck down local laws banning sex offenders from parks. Here are the details:
The Orange County District Attorney's Office plans to go to the California Supreme Court to defend local ordinances that ban registered sex offenders from city parks. A state appeals court on Friday struck down an Irvine law that barred registered sex offenders from city parks without written permission from police, a ruling that will become legal precedent. The court also struck down a similar Orange County law.
About a dozen other Orange County cities passed similar ordinances banning sex offenders from parks at the urging of District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. Rackauckas helped craft Orange County's law with county Supervisor Shawn Nelson. “Protecting children from dangerous sex offenders is an ongoing war, and we believe that it's one of the most important jobs we have at the D.A.'s (office),” said Susan Kang Schroeder, Rackauckas' chief of staff.
Janice Bellucci, president of California Reform Sex Offender Laws, said of the pending appeal. “I think they're foolish to do it. They're wasting taxpayer money.” Bellucci said her organization will urge Orange County cities that adopted similar legislation to pull the laws off their books or face a lawsuit.
Opponents criticize the ordinances as overly broad and an infringement on civil rights. They are “unenforceable,” Bellucci said. “These ordinances give a false sense of security to parents. They don't really protect their children from those who are most likely to assault their children,” Bellucci said....
The Orange County ordinance, which became a model for local cities, made it a misdemeanor for any registered sex offender to enter a county park, beach or other recreational area without permission from the Orange County Sheriff's Department. Those convicted would face six months in jail or a $500 fine.
In Friday's ruling, a panel of judges said state laws regulating sex offenders pre-empt any local ordinances. State law has long overseen sex-offender registration, the opinion said. State law already regulates where sex offenders may live and also identifies certain sex offenders who must be monitored by law-enforcement via GPS.
Offenders whose victims were younger than 14 may only enter parks where children gather with permission from their parole agents. The laws create a comprehensive system regulating sex offenders' daily lives, the court said. No outright ban on sex offenders in parks is included in state law, an omission that “manifests a legislative determination that such a ban is not warranted,” the court said. Any such local laws undermine the decisions of the Legislature, the court said.
Friday, January 10, 2014
"A Field Study of the Presumptively Biased: Is There Empirical Support for Excluding Convicted Felons from Jury Service?"
The title of this post is the title of this very interesting new empirical paper by James Michael Binnall now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
In the United States, a vast majority of jurisdictions statutorily exclude convicted felons from jury service. Justifying these exclusions, lawmakers and courts often cite the inherent bias rationale, which holds that convicted felons harbor a prodefense/antiprosecution pretrial bias that would jeopardize the impartiality of the jury process. The inherent bias rationale has never been the subject of empirical analysis. Instead, authorities seemingly accept the logic of the rationale unconditionally.
This study (1) explores the prevalence, strength, and direction of convicted felons' pretrial biases; (2) compares the group‐level pretrial biases of convicted felons, nonfelon eligible jurors, and nonfelon law students; and (3) examines if and how a felony conviction shapes pretrial biases. The results of this study indicate that a majority of convicted felons harbor a prodefense/antiprosecution bias and, in this way, differ from eligible jurors generally. Yet, the results of this study also show that many convicted felons are neutral or harbor a proprosecution pretrial bias, and that the strength and direction of convicted felons' group‐level pretrial biases are similar to those of other groups of nonfelon jurors. In sum, this study suggests that while felon jury exclusion does not offend applicable constitutional standards, it is an imprecise and perhaps unnecessary practice that may come at substantial costs.
Thursday, January 09, 2014
"Are there no limits on Second Amendment rights?"
The title of this post is the title of this new entry by Lyle Denniston at the "Constitution Daily" blog of the National Constitution Center. After I reprint some excerpts, I will explain why I see more limits on Second Amendment rights than any other right in the Constitution:
In only one place in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights is there a provision that flatly bars the government from regulating one of the protected rights. That is in the First Amendment, declaring that “Congress shall make no law respecting” the rights listed in that Amendment. The “right to keep and bear arms” is not one of those rights; it is contained in the Second Amendment.
The Second Amendment’s text, of course, does say that the right it protects “shall not be infringed.” Is that the same thing as saying that government may pass “no law respecting” gun rights?...
The only place that Americans can look for a binding interpretation of what the Constitution’s words mean – other than to the people acting through the amendment process to make a new constitutional declaration – are the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court....
Over the time since 1791, when the Bill if Rights was ratified, the Supreme Court has given its blessing to an entire governing edifice that regulates First Amendment rights: the laws of libel and defamation, limits on publishing secret military strategy, regulation of “obscene” and “indecent” expression, and limits on “hate speech.” Famously, the court has said that one has no right to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Even the right to worship freely sometimes is curbed by laws that regulate conduct that has religious meaning.
In contrast to the First Amendment, there is very little constitutional history about the meaning of the Second Amendment. In fact, until just five years ago, the “right to keep and bear arms” was not generally understand as a personal right to have a gun, even for self-defense. It was only in 2008 that the Supreme Court declared that such a personal right does, indeed, exist.
That decision, in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller, is – so far – the most important decision the court has ever issued on the scope of the “right to keep and bear arms.” But in that very ruling, the Court said explicitly: “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” It went on to say just as clearly that it was not barring the government from imposing “reasonable regulation” on that right.
Is a “reasonable regulation” of gun rights, then, an “infringement” on those rights? If the word “infringement” means to encroach on something, as one does when one “trespasses” on someone else’s private property, that does not support the idea that Second Amendment rights are absolutes. Government can “trespass” on private property to put out a fire, for example....
The Supreme Court, of course, could re-enter into that national debate if it felt a need to clarify just what kind of “regulation” of gun rights is allowed without being found to violate the Second Amendment. Up to now, however, the Court does not seem to sense that need. It has issued only one significant gun rights decision since the 2008 ruling, and that 2010 decision in McDonald v. Chicago expanded the personal right to a gun to exist at the state and local level, as well as at the federal level. The court did not go further to explain what it would allow in gun regulation by state and local governments.
It has been asked, every year since then, to take on a variety of new cases, to answer some of the lingering questions: does the personal right to have a gun extend beyond one’s own home, who can be forbidden to have a gun at all, when can a gun be carried in public in a concealed way, what types of guns or ammunition can be regulated or even banned, what places in a community are too sensitive or too prone to violence to allow guns in them, how can the government trace a gun that has been used in a violent incident, how freely should gun shows be allowed to operate?
However, the Court has resisted giving an answer to any follow-up questions. And what that has meant, in the national conversation over gun rights, is that anyone’s argument about the extent of those rights is just as good as anyone else’s, and neither side needs to listen to the arguments that the other side makes.
As regular readers know, I have long highlighted (and lamented) that so far the Second Amendment has been interpreted by lower courts to mean that, if an American ever does one bad thing once (a felony or certain misdemeanors), she can forever be subject to a criminal convction for exercising Second Amendment rights. I know of no other express right set forth in the Bill of Rights that a person forever forfeits based on a single prior bad act. Thus, from my perspective, the Second Amendment is subject to many more rigid limits than any other constitutional right.
Monday, January 06, 2014
"Sex offender seeks admission to Kentucky bar"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new AP article discussing a notable dispute concerning the potential professional collateral consequences of getting convicted of downloading the wrong dirty pictures. Here are the details, followed by a bit of commentary:
Guy Padraic Hamilton-Smith graduated in the top third of his law school class at the University of Kentucky, but the state Supreme Court blocked him from taking the bar exam because he is a registered sex offender. In the first case of its kind in Kentucky, the court rejected Hamilton-Smith’s bid and a move by the state Office of Bar Admissions to create and endorse a blanket rule that would have kept all registered sex offenders from gaining access to the bar.
“Rather, we believe the better course would be to allow any applicant for bar admission who is on the sex offender registry the opportunity to make his or her case on an individualized basis,” Chief Justice John D. Minton wrote in the Dec. 19 opinion on Hamilton-Smith’s case and the proposed rule.
Hamilton-Smith, who was convicted of a charge related to child pornography in 2007, has until Jan. 13 to ask the court to reconsider its decision. In an email, Hamilton-Smith referred Associated Press questions to his attorney, who said the reconsideration request will be filed.
Nationally, cases of felons seeking admission or re-admission to the bar are common. But situations of registered sex offenders attempting to do so appear to be rare. Beyond a recent rejection in Ohio and an ongoing case in Virginia, legal experts and those who work to rehabilitate sex offenders couldn’t recall a similar situation arising in recent years.
But Shelley Stow of Reform Sex Offender Laws — a Massachusetts-based organization that seeks to ease restrictions on offenders and promote rehabilitation — said she wouldn’t be surprised to see more cases out there. “It is so difficult for registrants to even get jobs and support themselves and function day to day, let alone pursue a law career,” she said.
The Kentucky case brings up the question of how to treat someone who has admitted to criminal activity, wants to rehabilitate himself and serve others, but is still monitored by law enforcement, said Hamilton-Smith’s attorney, Scott White, of Lexington. “It’s a highly stigmatized thing,” White said.
Hamilton-Smith pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of matter portraying a sexual performance by a child in March 2007. He received a five-year prison sentence, which was suspended, and was required to register as a sex offender for 20 years — until 2027.
After disclosing the conviction and sex offender status on his applications, Chase Law School at Northern Kentucky University and Brandeis Law School at the University of Louisville both rejected him in 2008. But the University of Kentucky College of Law accepted him in 2008 and he graduated in 2011. Hamilton-Smith later competed on the National Trial Team and National Moot Court Team, and he had a piece published in the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal through the University of California law school.
Since graduating in 2011, Hamilton-Smith has held a non-lawyer position for Baldani, Rowland and Richardson. The Lexington firm has filed letters in support of Hamilton-Smith taking the bar exam, White said. But Hamilton-Smith still has not been cleared by the Kentucky Office of Bar Admissions to take the exam that would allow him to practice law.
White called Hamilton-Smith “a classic sex addict.”
“The classic example is somebody who just downloads buckets of pornography,” White said. “In that download, there just happened to be child pornography.” In this case, Hamilton-Smith has gone through Sex Addicts Anonymous, despite a few admitted relapses with adult, but not child, pornography, White said.
White also said his client used law school as a redemptive and rehabilitative effort while owning up to his criminal conduct. “He just hasn’t let it define him,” White said....
For the justices, the nature of the crime defines someone lacking in the “requisite character and fitness” to be admitted to the bar. “Indeed, our certification could significantly mislead the public into believing that we vouch for (Hamilton-Smith’s) good character,” Minton wrote. “Consequently, a client’s subsequent discovery of the registry listing could then justifiably lead him to question the value of this court’s certification of the good character of those who are permitted to take the bar examination.”
I find this matter interesting for lots of reasons, especially because I suspect that Hamilton-Smith's personal background and recent professional challenges are likely to make him a much better lawyer to serve the (ever-growing) legal needs of the (ever-growing) sex offender population. Indeed, were I running a law firm that often dealt with sex offense cases and offenders, I would be very eager to hire Hamilton-Smith to help me serve this client population whether or not he ever gets admitted to the bar.
That said, it is quite possible (even likely?) that Hamilton-Smith is eager to develop a legal practice that has nothing to do with sex offenders. If that is true, I cannot help but wonder and worry that his status as a registered sex offender may always serve as a problematic disability in the competitive legal marketplace: I fear Hamilton-Smith's adversaries may be inclined (even perhaps eager) to use the modern stigma associated with sex offenders to harmfully impact both Hamilton-Smith and his clients.
More broadly, if the goal of the barring process was only to ensure that only those capable of being a competent lawyer served in this profession, it would be clear that Hamilton-Smith should be allowed to sit for the bar exam. Conversely, if the goal the barring process was only to ensure that nobody with a blemished past could become a lawyer, it would be clear that Hamilton-Smith should not be allowed to sit for the bar exam. But because it seems the goal of the barring process is a little of both, this is an interesting case.
Cross-posted at PrawfsBlawg