Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Seventh Circuit affirms stat-max 90-year sentence for child molester despite ugly childhood

An interesting Seventh Circuit sentencing opinion yesterday in US v. Horton, No. 14-1559 (7th Cir. 2014) (available here), highlights that a horrible criminal offense can (and often likely) will lead to an extremely long prison sentence even when a defendant can presenting evidence of an unusual (and seemingly mitigating) personal history.  Here are the basics of the defendant's crime and his personal history as discussed in the Horton opinion:    

During a 9-month period while Horton was employed at Three Tigers Karate in Belleville, Illinois, Horton created 37 videos depicting himself engaging in sexually explicit conduct with three of his male students (ages 6,7,and 10),and another video showing himself trying to convince another student (age 7) to display his genitals. Horton created the videos in various places: his home, the karate studio, a public park, and the San Antonio home of one the victims....

During his formative years, Horton recounted to [psychologist] Dr. Cueno, his mother worked as a stripper and escort and would leave pornographic magazines, sex toys, and drug paraphernalia strewn around the house. His father was as an alcoholic and drug abuser. Horton watched a XX-rated movie when he was seven and acted out what he saw in the movie by having oral sex with other children. In first grade he was forced to perform oral sex on a classmate, and he began having consensual intercourse when he was 12. According to Dr. Cueno, the “roots for [Horton’s] difficulties can be traced back to a childhood where he was sexualized at an early age, had little stability, and was raised by a drug abusing, stripper/escort mother who provided him with little, if any stability.”

And here is how the Horton court explains its conclusion that a statutory maximum sentence of 90 years in prison was not substantively unreasonable in light of these facts and factors:

Horton has not demonstrated that his de facto life sentence is unreasonable. Although a sentence that is effectively for life “is not to be ordered lightly,” we have upheld such sentences where the sentencing judge recognized “the likelihood of a defendant’s death in prison, but concluded that other factors warranted the particular sentence.” United States v. Vallar, 635 F.3d271,280 (7th Cir. 2011)....  Here,the district court appropriately weighed Horton’s age and difficult upbringing,see 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(1), against the “extremely serious nature of this crime” and the vulnerability of the victims, see id. § 3553(a)(1), (a)(2)(A); New York v. Ferber, 458 U.S. 747, 758–60 & n.9–10 (1982), the need to protect the public from a dangerous child molester, see 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(2)(A),(C), and the availability of sex-offender treatment in prison, see id. § 3553(a)(2)(D). And though Horton would have preferred the district court to have given more weight to his dysfunctional childhood, the court had the discretion to assign it less weight than the other § 3553(a) factors.

October 22, 2014 in Booker in the Circuits, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Reviewing concerns about the efficacy and fairness of sex offender registried

AlJazeera America has this lengthy new piece about sex offender registries headlined "Sex-offender laws are ineffective and unfair, critics say: Experts say public registries don't reduce assault — and sex offenders are increasingly challenging the rules in court." Here are excerpts:

Few groups are as widely despised as sex offenders.  Activities prosecuted as sex offenses vary by state, but can include public urination, consensual sex between teenagers, streaking, prostitution, downloading child pornography and rape.  In some states, law-enforcement officials distribute flyers to notify neighbors of registrants’ convictions. Some registrants are prohibited from using the Internet.  In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that indefinite detention at psychiatric hospitals — or “civil commitment” — of sex offenders is constitutional.

The first law requiring sex offenders to register publicly and for life was passed in California in 1947 and targeted gay men, according to Andrew Extein, executive director of the Center for Sexual Justice.  But many of today’s laws have their origins in the late 1970s, when feminists and social conservatives worked together to publicize high-profile “stranger danger” attacks on children, says Roger Lancaster, anthropology professor at George Mason University and author of “Sex Panic and the Punitive State.”

Beginning in the mid-1990s, several laws went into effect that changed how sex-offense cases were prosecuted.  In 1994, states were required to create databases of sex offenders.  Two years later, Megan’s Law, named for a 7-year-old in New Jersey who was brutally raped and murdered by a neighbor with two previous sex convictions, allowed states to make those registries public.  States passed their own versions of the law; in some cases, they required that neighbors be notified of paroled offenders’ previous convictions.  Later laws moved those sex-offender databases online, created a national registry, required lifetime registration of people 14 years old and up and imposed harsh mandatory minimum sentences for crimes involving children.

But almost 20 years after the passage of Megan’s Law, criminologists and judges, along with a burgeoning movement of sex-offender registrants and their families, are challenging not only the constitutionality of the laws but their effectiveness in reducing sexual assault. In January, a California court ruled in favor of a paroled sex offender who had argued that city and county “child-safety zone” ordinances prohibiting people in the registry from using parks, beaches and similar recreation areas were an unconstitutional form of banishment.  In April, the state Supreme Court upheld the ruling by declining to review it.

Thirty-three states have opted out of at least some aspects of the law that brings registries online.  Many, like New York, take issue with the 2006 federal law that requires states to list every person convicted of a sex offense on a public registry.  Some, like Maryland, are considering removing the names of people who committed less serious offenses.

Critics say the registries’ emphasis on public tracking of sex offenders after their release from prison does not make people safer.  Ninety-five percent of those arrested for sexual offenses have no prior convictions.  Recidivism rates are low: A study conducted by the Canadian government looked at data from 10 studies on sex-offender recidivism in Canada, the United Kingdom, Wales and the United States and found that “after 15 years, 73% of sexual offenders had not been charged with, or convicted of, another sexual offence.”

In most sex-abuse cases — 93 percent, according to a Department of Justice report — the child knows the perpetrator.  Nearly half of abusers are family or extended-family members.  A 2008 American Psychological Association report concurs: “Despite the public perception that sex offenders are strangers stalking playgrounds and other areas where children congregate, the majority of offenses occur in the victim’s home or the home of a friend, neighbor, or relative.”

A 2008 Justice Department study examined recidivism among sex offenders before and after the law requiring community notification.  “Megan’s Law showed no demonstrable effect in reducing sexual re-offenses,” it concluded.

Says a 2009 report by Princeton University and the Brookings Institution: “None of these high-profile strategies has been built on empirical evaluation, and virtually all have gone to national scale without research or even much pilot testing.”

What registration laws do is make it nearly impossible for those listed to find or keep jobs and housing, advocates say.  Residency restrictions in California have created a housing crisis for convicted sex offenders. According to the California Sex Offender Management Board, the number of homeless registrants has increased 217 percent, to 6,500, over the past eight years....

Supporters of registering and limiting the movement of paroled sex offenders, including Tony Rackauckas, one of the first district attorneys in California to support countywide child-safety zones, however, are not persuaded by these arguments and say the registries do prevent attacks. “We’re not going to know how many kids were not molested or groomed for later sexual contact as a result of this law,” he told The New York Times.

October 18, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Author John Grisham says "we've gone nuts with this incarceration" of child porn downloaders

One of my (many) wonderful students alerted me to this notable UK press piece reporting on an interview with famous law author John Grisham who had some interesting (and likely-to-be-controversial) comments about tough sentencing for those who download child porn.  The article is headlined "John Grisham: men who watch child porn are not all paedophiles," and here are excerpts:

America is wrongly jailing far too many people for viewing child pornography, the best-selling legal novelist John Grisham has told The Telegraph in a wide-ranging attack on the US judicial system and the country's sky-high prison rates. Mr Grisham, 59, argued America's judges had "gone crazy" over the past 30 years, locking up far too many people, from white collar criminals like the businesswoman Martha Stewart, to black teenagers on minor drugs charges and — he added — those who had viewed child porn online.

"We have prisons now filled with guys my age. Sixty-year-old white men in prison who've never harmed anybody, would never touch a child," he said in an exclusive interview to promote his latest novel Gray Mountain which is published next week.  "But they got online one night and started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons, went too far and got into child porn."

The author of legal thrillers such as The Firm and A Time to Kill who has sold more than 275m books during his 25-year career, cited the case of a "good buddy from law school" who was caught up in a Canadian child porn sting operation a decade ago as an example of excessive sentencing.  "His drinking was out of control, and he went to a website. It was labelled 'sixteen year old wannabee hookers or something like that'. And it said '16-year-old girls'.  So he went there. Downloaded some stuff — it was 16 year old girls who looked 30.

"He shouldn't ’a done it.  It was stupid, but it wasn't 10-year-old boys.  He didn't touch anything.  And God, a week later there was a knock on the door: ‘FBI!’ and it was sting set up by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to catch people — sex offenders — and he went to prison for three years."

"There's so many of them now.  There's so many 'sex offenders' — that's what they're called  — that they put them in the same prison.  Like they're a bunch of perverts, or something; thousands of ’em.  We've gone nuts with this incarceration," he added in his loft-office in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Asked about the argument that viewing child pornography fuelled the industry of abuse needed to create the pictures, Mr Grisham said that current sentencing policies failed to draw a distinction between real-world abusers and those who downloaded content, accidentally or otherwise.  "I have no sympathy for real paedophiles,” he said, "God, please lock those people up.  But so many of these guys do not deserve harsh prison sentences, and that's what they're getting," adding sentencing disparities between blacks and whites was likely to be the subject of his next book.

There are currently some 2.2m people in jail in the US — or more than 750 per 100,000 population — which makes the US by far the heaviest user of prison sentences in the world. By contrast, Britain imprisons just 154 per 100,000 population.  However Mr Grisham’s remarks are likely to anger child-rights campaigners that over the past decade have successfully lobbied the US Congress to demand tougher sentences for those who access child pornography online.

Since 2004 average sentences for those who possess — but do not produce — child pornography have nearly doubled in the US, from 54 months in 2004 to 95 months in 2010, according to a 2012 report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. However the issue of sex-offender sentencing has sparked some debate in the US legal community after it emerged that in some cases those who viewed child porn online were at risk of receiving harsher sentences than those who committed physical acts against children.

A provocative article in the libertarian magazine Reason headlined "Looking v Touching" argued last February that something was "seriously wrong with a justice system in which people who look at images of child rape can be punished more severely than people who rape children".  And in January this year the US Supreme Court was unable to resolve a debate over whether a man who viewed images of a child rape should be as liable to pay the same financial compensation to the victim as the original perpetrator of the crime.

UPDATE: As I expected, John Grisham's child porn sentencing comments has stirred controversy and he has already issued a formal apology.  This CNN story provides the basics of the early aftermath:

Those comments and the nature in which Grisham discussed the very serious issue of child pornography incited a flood of hurt, disappointed and angry reactions from fans.

"The day that you came out in an interview and said that watchers of child porn get too stiff of a penalty for it (you said 10 years was too much) makes you someone that I cannot support nor no longer want to read," a reader named Kendra Benefield Lausman shared on Grisham's Facebook page; another posted that she's taken her entire Grisham library to her "burn barrel" with the intent to set the books on fire.

"How do you think child porn is made?" a poster named John Kelly asked on Grisham's page. "Someone is still getting hurt you imbecile. I'm sad to say that I will never purchase, nor consume, one of your books ever again. I am disgusted."

After the uproar began, Grisham issued an apology.

"Anyone who harms a child for profit or pleasure, or who in any way participates in child pornography -- online or otherwise -- should be punished to the fullest extent of the law," the author said in a statement. "My comments made two days ago during an interview with the British newspaper The Telegraph were in no way intended to show sympathy for those convicted of sex crimes, especially the sexual molestation of children. I can think of nothing more despicable. I regret having made these comments, and apologize to all."

That may not be enough for some of his former followers. "You clearly said in the interview that people (like your drunk friend) who look at child porn don't deserve severe punishment," Facebook user Raylene Jolly Wheeler posted in response to Grisham. "Not sure how you can backtrack that statement."

October 16, 2014 in Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Documenting a notable California legal crusade against sex offender restrictions

This lengthy local article, headlined "Pair seeks repeal of sex-offender laws in California," provides a detailed review of a notable effort to take down via court challenges local sex offender restrictions. The piece merits a full read, and here are a few highlights:

A crusading civil rights attorney and a registered sex offender have partnered in a legal battle that has prompted dozens of California cities to repeal or revise what the pair believe are unconstitutional ordinances restricting the activities of sex offenders.

Since March, Santa Maria attorney Janice Bellucci and Frank Lindsay, a 62-year-old water-treatment specialist from Grover Beach and registered sex offender for 35 years, have filed 18 lawsuits in federal court challenging ordinances in cities from Stockton down to National City.

To date, Bellucci has settled 15 of the lawsuits, while 38 other cities have avoided litigation by agreeing to repeal their ordinances. Six other cities have voluntarily suspended enforcement of their ordinances, while ordinances in another 18 cities are still under review.

“The way I look at it is that I’m protecting the Constitution of the United States as well as the state of California,” said Bellucci, president of California Reform Sex Offender Laws, a nonprofit she launched three years ago as an affiliate to the national Reform Sex Offender Laws organization.

While Bellucci believes she’s fighting for the rights of oppressed sex offenders, others say she’s endangering the state’s youth. “As an elected official and as a mother, I’m concerned about the health and safety of our young people who don’t have a voice,” said Carson Councilwoman Lulu Davis-Holmes. Carson is one city sued by Bellucci that plans to fight the lawsuit. “Our kids did not make the choice to be molested,” Davis-Holmes said. “I personally think we need to do more to protect those who cannot protect themselves,”

Bellucci’s flurry of lawsuits was prompted by a 4th District Court of Appeal’s decision in January that found sex offender ordinances in Orange County and the city of Irvine cannot impose restrictions more stringent than state law, which only restricts sex offenders who are on parole and whose victims were under the age of 14 from visiting public parks without the express permission of their parole agent.

In addition to the suits she filed with Lindsay, Bellucci has filed two lawsuits on her own, challenging ordinances in Canyon Lake and Commerce. Those complaints do not name Lindsay as a plaintiff because ordinances in those cities do not apply to sex offenders whose convictions are as old as Lindsay’s.

In April, the state Supreme Court declined a petition by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office to review the appellate court ruling, leaving it intact. The appellate court ruling, coupled with the spate of litigation initiated by Bellucci, could have a major impact on the lives of California’s 107,913 registered sex offenders, roughly 14 percent of the nation’s 774,600, as cities and counties are forced to either repeal their ordinances or make them uniform with state law.

This companion article, headlined "Sex-crimes convict says registration has ruined his career, endangered his life?," provides a profile of the sex-offender who is the plaintiff in much of the discussed California sex offender litigation.

October 12, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Teacher resentenced to 10 years in notorious Montana rape case

As reported in this AP piece, a "Montana teacher was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison in a notorious student rape case that dragged on for years and led to the censure of a judge who partially blamed the victim." Here is more about the latest (and last?) development in a long-run controversy:

Stacey Dean Rambold, 55, was resentenced by a new judge exactly a year after he completed an initial one-month prison term for the crime. Rambold appeared to grimace as Friday’s sentence was read by Judge Randal Spaulding. He then was handcuffed and led away by deputies, pausing briefly to exchange words with family as he exited the courtroom.

Rambold pleaded guilty last year to a single count of sexual intercourse without consent in the 2007 rape of 14-year-old Cherice Moralez, a freshman in his Billings Senior High School business class. She committed suicide in 2010.

Rambold’s attorney had argued for a two-year sentence, pointing out that the defendant had no prior criminal record, underwent sex offender treatment and was considered by the state as a low risk to reoffend.

Spaulding indicated that the nature of the crime outweighed those factors. “I considered your abuse and exploitation of your position of trust as a teacher, and specifically Cherice’s teacher,” Spaulding told the defendant.

The state Supreme Court in April overturned Rambold’s initial sentence, citing in part comments from Judge G. Todd Baugh, who suggested the victim shared responsibility. Baugh was censured and suspended for 31 days. He’s stepping down when his terms ends in January....

Rambold broke down crying during a brief statement to the court. He said he was sorry for his actions and had worked hard to make himself a better person. In a recent letter to the court, he lamented the international publicity the case attracted. “No one can really appreciate and understand what it feels like to have so many people actually hate you and be disgusted by you,” Rambold wrote. “I do not mention this for the sake of sympathy, but it has been hard.”...

During last year’s sentencing, Baugh suggested Moralez had as much control over her rape as the defendant and said she “appeared older than her chronological age.” He gave Rambold a 15-year term with all but one month suspended. That triggered an appeal from the office of Attorney General Tim Fox, and ultimately resulted in the case being reassigned to Spaulding.

Prior related posts:

September 27, 2014 in Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Absent evidence of threats to humans, is incarceration for five years for animal abuse needed (or helpful)?

Justice_4_rose_tshirt-rf92764868c3241a48727a11177e14794_804gy_512Like all good people, I really like puppies and really dislike animal abuse.  Still, after being drawn in to this Florida sentencing story by the headline "Man Rapes Pit Bull Puppy, Sentenced To Five Years In Jail For Sexually Abusing Dog," I kept wondering what else the defendant must have done other than abuse his dog in order to be sentence to half a decade behinds bars.  But the most complete story I could find about this "puppy rape" case, here from the Daytona Beach News-Journal, heightens my concern that Florida taxpayers are now going to have to spend a lot of money incarcerating a disturbed old man who presents no obvious threat to humans and clearly needs treatment to deal with his affinity for bestiality. Here are the basics:

A man whose sexual battery of a pit bull puppy did not rise to the level of state prison time, nonetheless received five years behind bars Friday afternoon after Circuit Judge Leah Case compared the crime to “systematic” and “chronic” child abuse.

When Case announced her decision to imprison James Bull of Daytona Beach, a crowd of mostly female animal advocates cheered and cried.  Many of the advocates wore T-shirts bearing the pit bull puppy’s picture and the words “Justice For Rose.”  The dog’s name was Coco, but the New York City rescue organization now fostering the milk-chocolate-colored canine renamed her Rose.

The case is the first time in Volusia or Flagler counties that a person has been convicted on the charge of sexual activity with an animal, a first-degree misdemeanor, State Attorney spokesman Spencer Hathaway said.  Bull was also convicted of two counts of felony cruelty to animals and cruelty to animals.  According to an article in the Mayport Florida Mirror in January, a St. Augustine man was convicted of bestiality with his dog and was sentenced to eight years in prison under the same state statute that was applied to Bull on Friday, Sept. 19, 2014....

Prosecutor Nathaniel Sebastian told Case that Bull did not score enough points criminally to be sentenced to state prison.  He said perhaps the defendant could get additional jail time, probation and psycho-sexual counseling.  Bull’s attorney Peter Kenny didn’t present much of an argument in his client’s favor, but did ask Case to spare Bull from prison because of his age and because he has a “bad back.”

While Case acknowledged that indeed Bull didn’t score high enough for prison, she also repeated the jarring testimony given a few minutes earlier by the state’s four witnesses regarding the dog’s daily suffering.  “Although he (Bull) doesn’t score, it’s more about the intentional infliction of pain on an animal over and over again,” Case said.  “It’s like child abuse. It often happens in secret behind closed doors.”

Prosecutors called three witnesses to the stand — their fourth witness, Halifax Humane Society veterinarian Tom Frieberg, testified via telephone — who provided graphic testimony about the animal’s living conditions and Bull’s abuse.  Bull’s neighbor Dean Ray Gill testified that he constantly heard the dog yelping and “screaming.” Gill said that one day in March he was “fed up” and went to the back apartment to see what was happening to the animal.  Gill said the door to Bull’s apartment was slightly ajar and he could hear the radio or a stereo blaring inside.  Nonetheless, he could still hear the canine yelping above the music. Gill said he saw Bull sexually abusing the animal.  Bull threw the dog aside and closed the front door, the neighbor testified.

Daytona Beach animal control officer Eva Burke said that when she arrived at Bull’s residence on March 18, the dog was chained to a porch and could not move because the chain was too short. Burke also said the animal’s rib cage was showing.  Both Sebastian and Assistant State Attorney John Reid showed their witnesses photographs of the dog when police arrived on scene.  Hathaway, the assistant state attorney who initially had the case, said the pictures were horrifying.  Kenney did not call any witnesses on behalf of Bull.

At the risk of being labelled "soft on puppy rapists" or not loving animals, I cannot help but wonder and worry about the quality of representation this defendant received and about the need for such a lengthy term of incarceration if there is was indeed no evidence this defendant ever hurt a human or had plans to abuse humans. This defendant is plainly disturbed and his mistreatment of animals should be punished, but will a five-year jail term help this defendant get needed treatment or help safeguard the community upon his eventual release? Especially because there is considerable evidence suggesting certain types of offenders become MORE likely to recidivate as a result of a term of incarceration, I fear that this kind of "Justice for Rose" will actually entail greater expenses and an eventual greater threat to public safety for the people of Florida.

September 24, 2014 in Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Split NJ Supreme Court holds that state's sex offender GPS tracking is punishment subject to ex post facto limits

As reported in this local article, headlined "Some sex offenders can't be forced to wear GPS monitors, N.J. Supreme Court rules," the top state court in the Garden State issued a significant constitutional ruling concerning GPS tracking of sex offenders.  Here are the basics:

New Jersey cannot force sex offenders to wear GPS tracking devises if they were convicted before the monitoring program was signed into law seven years ago, the state Supreme Court ruled in a split decision today.

The court voted 4-3 to uphold an appellate panel's decision that said it was unconstitutional for the state Parole Board to require George C. Riley to wear the ankle monitor when he was released from prison in 2009 after serving 23 years for attempted sexual assault of a minor.

Justice Barry Albin wrote today that the Riley, 81 of Eatontown, should not be subject to the 2007 law because it constitutes an additional punishment that was not included in the sentence he already served.... A spokesman for the Parole Board did not respond when asked how many released sex offenders could be affected by the ruling.

Riley was convicted of trying to have sex with an 11-year-old girl in 1986. At the time, New Jersey law did not allow a sentence that included parole for life. But while Riley was in prison, the state enacted Megan's Law in 1994, requiring sex offenders to not only register with local authorities upon release but be placed under parole supervision for life. Then, in 2007, Gov. Jon Corzine signed the Sex Offender Monitoring Act, requiring the state's most dangerous sex offenders to wear GPS devises.

When Riley was released two years later, court papers say, he was not subject to any parole supervision. But he was designated a Tier III offender under Megan's Law — which applies to those who are considered a high risk for committing another offense. Under that tier, Riley was subject to "Internet registration and the most comprehensive degree of community notification," court papers say.

Six months later, though, Riley was told he would need to wear the pager-sized monitor on his ankle 24 hours a day and 7 days a week and carry a cell phone-sized tracking unit when he left his home, the papers say The devise must also be plugged into an electrical outlet to be charged one to two hours each day, the papers say. During that time, Riley could not move further than the length of the cord. And he was assigned a parole officer with access to his home. Riley would be subject to prosecution for a third-degree crime if he didn't comply....

The Supreme Court ... agreed with the lower court that the "retroactive application" of Riley to the GPS program violates the ex post facto clauses in the U.S. and state Constitutions, which safeguard against imposing "additional punishment to an already completed crime." The court also rejected the state's argument that the GPS monitor is not punitive but "only civil and regulatory."

"Parole is a form of punishment under the Constitution," Albin wrote for the high court. "SOMA is essentially parole supervision for life by another name." Albin added that "the disabilities and restraints placed on Riley through twenty -four-hour GPS monitoring enabled by a tracking device fastened to his ankle could hardly be called 'minor and indirect.'" The court also rejected the state's assertion that the Parole Board made its decision as a result of the Megan's Law designation, saying that designation "was based primarily on Riley’s previous sexual-offense convictions."

The full ruling in Riley v. New Jersey State Parole Board, No. A-94-11 (NJ Sept. 22, 2014) is available at this link.

September 23, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Sunday, September 21, 2014

"Under Pressure: The Hazards of Maintaining Innocence after Conviction"

The title of this post is the title of this intriguing new piece authored by Daniel Medwed and now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Innocent people convicted of child abuse or sexual offenses face a classic “Catch-22” situation that has ramifications on their prospects for parole and for exoneration in court. If prisoners continue to maintain their innocence while imprisoned, then corrections officials may interpret this behaviour as demonstrating a key trait of sex offenders — “denial” — and make them ineligible for treatment programs that are a prerequisite for parole in many jurisdictions. Even if they are technically eligible to apply for parole, inmates who claim innocence before parole boards harm their chances for release based on the belief that those unable to admit guilt are likely to re-offend; they are perceived as lacking in remorse and failing to address their offending behaviour.

Prisoners who pursue their innocence through post-conviction litigation also face an uphill climb. This is attributable in part to cognitive biases that affect how prosecutors treat innocence claims in the aftermath of conviction and all too often lead them to discount their potential legitimacy. Considering the hazards that inmates encounter in maintaining their innocence in parole and post-conviction litigation settings, there is reason to think that many of them are not in denial, but rather the victims of profound miscarriages of justice. This Book Chapter will explore this conundrum in these two settings before concluding with some thoughts on reform.

September 21, 2014 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Monday, September 08, 2014

Intriguing concurring sentiments about federal child porn downloading cases from Judges Noonan and Reinhardt

Late last week, two judges on the Ninth Circuit made noteworthy an otherwise forgettable decision in US v. Hardrick, No. 13-50195 (9th CIr. Sept. 4, 2014) (available here), through their concurring opinions in a run-of-the-mill affirmance of federal conviction of a child pornography downloader.  Here is the text of Judge Noonan's Hardrick concurring addition:

I write to underline the need for further action to discourage a crime whose actual extent is unknown but whose commission is increasingly prosecuted as a serious federal offense. As pointed out in a thoughtful communication by Alexandra Gelber, Assistant Deputy Chief, Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice: Those convicted of the crimes of possessing, receiving, or distributing child pornography typically have no criminal record but “include professors, teachers, coaches, fathers, lawyers, doctors, foster parents, adoption agency owners, and more.”  See Alexandra Gelber, Response to “A Reluctant Rebellion” 7 (July 1, 2009), http://www.justice.gov/criminal/ceos/downloads/ReluctantRebellionResponse.pdf. Obviously, lack of criminal history is not a defense.  It is equally obvious that this kind of defendant is normally law-abiding and, unless suffering from some psychological impairment — the probability Judge Reinhardt effectively develops — could be expected to obey the law in this area if aware of its provisions and especially if aware of its sanctions. Why should the government not advertise the law and its penalty?  Better to stop a crime’s commission than mop the consequences.

Judge Reinhardt's comment are a bit more extended, and here are excerpts:

Like Judge Noonan, I concur in the unanimous opinion of the court. Also, like Judge Noonan, I am disturbed about the practical impact of the child pornography laws upon otherwise law-abiding individuals.  I do not agree, however, that advertising the legal consequences is a solution to the problem.  Rather, it is my view that “psychological impairment” is in most, if not all, cases the cause of the criminal conduct.  Whether psychiatric treatment rather than incarceration would be the proper response by state authorities is a matter that I would hope would be given more serious consideration than it has until now.  Surely sentences of five to twenty years for a first offense of viewing child pornography are not the solution.  See 18 U.S.C. § 2252(b)(1).  Nor are mandatory sentences of fifteen to forty years for a second.  See id.....

I do not profess to know the solution to the problem of how to cure the illness that causes otherwise law-abiding people to engage in the viewing of child pornography.  I know only that lengthy sentences such as the one in this case, ten years (and below the guidelines at that) for a first offense, cannot be the answer.

There is nothing new in what I say here, but it is a problem that I believe deserves more attention than we have given it thus far.  Many lives of otherwise decent people have been ruined by psychological problems they are not presently capable of controlling. Incarcerating them will not end the horror of child pornography or the injury it inflicts on innocent children.  All it accomplishes is to create another class of people with ruined lives — victims of serious mental illness who society should instead attempt to treat in a constructive and humane manner.

September 8, 2014 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Third Circuit panel splits over whether placing child porn in shared folder constitutes distribution

A Third Circuit panel today split on an interesting question of computer crime law involving child pornography.  Here is how the majority opinion in US v. Husmann, No. 13-2688 (3d Cir. Sept 3, 2014) (available here) gets started:

David George Husmann placed various images of child pornography in a shared computer folder connected to a file sharing network. Based on that conduct, a jury convicted him of three counts of distributing child pornography.  At trial, the government did not present evidence that any person had actually downloaded or obtained the materials that Husmann made available.  The issue we address is whether the mere act of placing child pornography materials in a shared computer folder, available to other users of a file sharing network, constitutes distribution of child pornography.  We conclude it does not.  A conviction for distributing child pornography cannot be sustained without evidence that another person actually downloaded or obtained the images stored in the shared folder.  Accordingly, we vacate Husmann’s conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(2) and remand for resentencing.

And here is how the dissenting opinion, per Judge Van Antwerpen, gets going:

I cannot join my colleagues in the narrow definition of “distribution” they would apply to child pornography cases.  George Husmann was convicted by a jury of three counts of distributing child pornography pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(2).  Husmann placed images of child pornography into a shared folder accessible to all global users of the peer-to-peer (“P2P”) file sharing program 360 Share Pro.  Once in the shared folder, a search term and a click of a mouse allowed access to these images by any user on the system.  My colleagues definition of “distribution,” under 18 U.S.C. § 2252, would create a system in which a person who intentionally posted child pornography on the Internet, knowing it is accessible to hundreds, if not millions, of individuals, is not “distribution.” This is certainly not what Congress had in mind and following the majority’s approach, the crime of distribution would not be complete until a police officer downloaded the image.  This is a distinction without merit.  Given the plain meaning of the term, the intent of Congress, the advancement of technology, as well as a series of recent sentencing cases, the placing of child pornography into a shared file accessible over a peer-to-peer file sharing network, alone should constitute “distribution.”  Husmann took all the necessary steps to make a product available to the public in a publically accessible location, and whether or not a party took that product is irrelevant to both the purpose of § 2252 and to his role as distributor.  For that reason, the conviction of Appellant George Husmann for “distribution” under 18 U.S.C. § 2252 should be upheld.

September 3, 2014 in Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Thursday, August 28, 2014

At third federal sentencing, elderly child porn defendant gets one year in prison and lawyer pledges SCOTUS appeal

Regular readers and hard-core federal sentencing fans are familiar with the long-running dispute over the sentencing of child porn downloader Richard Bistline.  The latest chapter of this saga, but apparently not the last, unfolded in federal district court yesterday as reported in this Columbus Dispatch article, headlined "Child-porn possessor finally gets harsher sentence: 1 year in prison." Here are excerpts:

A Knox County man at the center of a fight about prison sentences for people convicted of possessing child pornography won’t be out of the spotlight anytime soon.  Richard Bistline, 71, was sentenced yesterday to a year and a day in federal prison by U.S. District Judge George C. Smith, who also ordered 10 years of supervised release.  Bistline also must register as a sex offender.

Bistline’s attorney, Jonathan T. Tyack, immediately said he will appeal the case in the hope that it eventually will be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court....

It was the third time that Bistline, of Mount Vernon, had been sentenced for his 2009 conviction on one count of possession of child pornography.  Sentencing guidelines set Bistline’s prison term at five to six years, although judges have discretion.

His case pingponged from district court to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals twice after federal Judge James Graham refused to sentence Bistline to lengthy prison time. Instead, he sentenced him in 2010 to one day in prison, 30 days of home confinement and 10 years of supervised probation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Solove appealed, arguing that prison time was needed, and the 6th Circuit ordered Graham to resentence Bistline.  In 2013, Graham ordered the same sentence with three years of home confinement. Solove appealed again, and the 6th Circuit ruled that the sentence still was not adequate.

Graham was removed from the case, paving the way for Smith’s sentence yesterday.  “The 6th Circuit has clearly spoken and is requiring me to impose a custodial sentence,” Smith said.  “I hope my colleagues and the sentencing commission continue to shed light on these very important policies.”  Smith then stayed the sentence and said Bistline could remain out on bond until his appeal is decided.

Tyack had asked Smith to sentence his client to one day in prison and 10 years of supervised probation.  “At the end of the day, the Court of Appeals is attempting to dictate to this court what sentence it should impose,” Tyack said. “It’s inappropriate.”

Tyack said he hopes the Supreme Court will arrive at that conclusion in Bistline’s case. “He’s caught up in a legal fight that will ultimately define the boundaries between the court of appeals and district court,” Tyack said.

Bistline, a former Michigan schoolteacher with no criminal record, was arrested after a task force investigating online crimes against children downloaded images of child pornography that had come from Bistline’s home computer. A search of the computer revealed 305 images and 56 videos of children posing naked or involved in sex acts with adults. Solove said Bistline sought out child pornography for more than a year for sexual gratification. She asked for a five-year prison sentence.

Tyack said in court documents in May that “a 71-year-old inmate with Mr. Bistline’s health problems is likely to suffer greater punishment than the average inmate because the Bureau of Prisons often fails to provide adequate or even necessary medical treatment.” Bistline has a pacemaker, high blood pressure and hearing loss, among other medical problems.

Graham has been outspoken about Bistline’s case and about the federal sentencing guidelines for defendants who have been charged with possession of child pornography. He wrote a lengthy law-review article about the case that was published in December, and he has spoken about the guidelines at court hearings for other defendants charged with child-porn possession.

August 28, 2014 in Booker in district courts, Booker in the Circuits, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Will third time be a charm in federal sentencing of child porn defendant Richard Bistline?

Regular readers and those who follow closely federal sentencing of child pornography offender will recall the name Richard Bistline: as detailed in posts linked below, the Bistline's sentencing created a kind of battle royale between US District Judge James Graham and the Sixth Circuit.  This coming week, as reported in this Columbus Dispatch article, Bistline is scheduled to be resentenced yet again, this time by a different district judge after Judge Graham's prior sentences were twice found to be substantively unreasonable by the Sixth Circuit.  Here are excerpts from the Dispatch article providing the backstory:

Are federal sentencing guidelines for possessing child pornography too harsh?  Calling the guidelines “draconian,” U.S. District Judge James L. Graham has become increasingly vocal in his criticism from the federal bench in Columbus.

Possessing child porn is vastly different from distributing or producing it, Graham said in an interview last week. “The purveyors or producers of these images deserve the most severe punishment we can give them.  My concern is the people who end up possessing it.”

Richard Bistline, a Knox County man, is to be in federal court on Wednesday to be sentenced for the third time for child-porn possession.  His case thrust Graham into the spotlight in 2010 after the judge sentenced Bistline, of Mount Vernon, to one day in prison, 30 days of home confinement and 10 years of probation.  The recommended sentence under federal guidelines was five to six years.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah A. Solove appealed Graham’s sentence to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the penalty did not reflect the seriousness of the offense.  The appeals court ordered Graham to resentence the defendant.  But a defiant Graham again sentenced Bistline to a single day in prison, although he increased the home confinement to three years.  Solove again appealed, and the 6th Circuit court again ruled that Graham’s sentence was too lenient.  The court removed Graham from the case.

Judge George C. Smith is to sentence Bistline on Wednesday....

Graham says the guidelines for child-porn possession are outdated.  Adding points for looking at child porn on a computer is unjustified, he said, because nearly all of it is accessed that way.  Adding points for possession of numerous images is unjustified because “current technology produces numerous images with one key stroke or mouse click,” he said....

In its second Bistline ruling, the appeals court wrote that possessing child porn “is not a crime of inadvertence, of pop-up screens and viruses that incriminate an innocent person.”  Possession becomes a crime “when a defendant knowingly acquires the images — in this case, affirmatively, deliberately and repeatedly, hundreds of times over, in a period exceeding a year."

Graham isn’t alone in his contention that the guidelines are outdated.  A 2013 U.S. Sentencing Commission report on federal child-porn guidelines noted that many of the sentencing enhancements designed to further punish the worst possessors now apply to most offenders....

Other men who have pleaded guilty to one count of child-porn possession in federal court in Columbus, as Bistline did, have received multiple-year sentences.  Among them: former special deputy sheriff Todd R. German of Union County, sentenced last year to four years; former Reynoldsburg teacher Matthew Fisher, sentenced in 2011 to three years; and former Columbus doctor Philip Nowicki, sentenced in 2011 to two years.

Graham said most of the child-porn-possession defendants he sees have no previous criminal record and “are involved in viewing these images as a result of what appears to be a form of addiction I think is becoming more and more prevalent in today’s society, affecting people of all ages.”  Just by being found guilty, he said, they face ruined lives, for both themselves and their families.  “They need to stop it,” he said. “The men who are doing this are going to get caught.”

Prior related posts:

August 24, 2014 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Residency restrictions keep NY sex offenders confined after serving their senetence

The problematic consequences of some sex offender residency restrictions is highlighted in this recent New York Times article headlined "Housing Restrictions Keep Sex Offenders in Prison Beyond Release Dates." Here is how the article starts:

Dozens of sex offenders who have satisfied their sentences in New York State are being held in prison beyond their release dates because of a new interpretation of a state law that governs where they can live.

The law, which has been in effect since 2005, restricts many sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school. Those unable to find such accommodations often end up in homeless shelters.

But in February, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, which runs the prisons and parole system, said the 1,000-foot restriction also extended from homeless shelters, making most of them off limits because of the proximity of schools.

The new interpretation has had a profound effect in New York City, where only 14 of the 270 shelters under the auspices of the Department of Homeless Services have been deemed eligible to receive sex offenders. But with the 14 shelters often filled to capacity, the state has opted to keep certain categories of sex offenders in custody until appropriate housing is found.

About 70 of the 101 sex offenders being held are New York City residents, prison authorities said. Some have begun filing habeas corpus petitions in court, demanding to be released and claiming the state has no legal authority to hold them.

The onus of finding a suitable residence upon release is on the sex offender; the state authorities will consider any residence proposed, but will reject it if it is too close to a school or violates other post-release supervision conditions.

Before February, those who could not find suitable housing would typically be released to shelters like the men’s intake center at 30th Street and First Avenue in Manhattan, once known as the Bellevue Men’s Shelter. But the corrections department changed its approach this year, after reports by a state senator, Jeffrey D. Klein, detailing how sex offenders were living within 1,000 feet of a school, often in homeless shelters. Prison authorities say they are holding the sex offenders until the shelter system notifies them of additional space in the few shelters far enough away from schools, such as on Wards Island.

August 23, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Noting a legal mess with sex offender registries that is not ok in OK

This local article, headlined "Confusion Continues Over Sex Offender Registry In Oklahoma," spotlights some of the legal challenges that can arise when a jurisdiction keeps tinkering with its sex offender registration laws. Here are excerpts:

After years of revisions laws concerning Oklahoma sex offenders, there is still confusion over the offender registry. Seven years ago, Oklahoma amended the state's Sex Offender Registration Act that requires the Department of Corrections to assess offenders by assigning them to one of three risk levels.

A sex offender's level determines how long they have to register. "Except, this is the confusing part, unless your case was before 2007, and if it was before 2007, those rules don't apply to you unless aggravated applies to you," said defense attorney David Slane. "The legislature has changed the rules repeatedly, then the Department of Corrections is trying to interpret it to thousands of people, and in the meantime, the average policeman is trying to figure out what am I supposed to do, am I supposed to arrest this individual or not."

Slane said the rules are not as black and white as they used to be and calls it legal chaos. Last month, a convicted sex offender was arrested in Edmond for public intoxication. He had been living by a school and told police the 2007 law prevented him from having to re-register as a sex offender. We tried looking the offender up on the Oklahoma Sex Offender Registry, but he wasn't even listed.

The confusing laws are troubling for parents. "Of course it concerns me, you know, especially, when you have little kids around, I would like to know who is living next door to me," said Ivan Alvarez or Tulsa. Stephanie Rodriguez of Amarillo, said she's used the App "MobilePatrol" to see a list of sex offenders nearest her....

There are currently more than 7,000 offenders on the Oklahoma Sex Offender Registry. The Department of Corrections say it is currently reviewing about 1,000 sex offender cases.

August 17, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Friday, August 15, 2014

More effective Slate coverage of extremes of (and problems with) sex offender registries

As noted in this prior post, this week Slate has published a series of commentaries spotlighting areas in which sex offender registries have become extreme and problematic.  All four pieces in the series are now available, and here are the full titles and links to these pieces:

August 15, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"Sex Offender Laws Have Gone Too Far"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Slate commentary authored by Matt Mellema, Chanakya Sethi, and Jane Shim which appears to be the first in a series. Here are excerpts:

[The] Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, ... used federal dollars to push every state to create a [sex offender] registry.  It worked.  Today, all 50 states and Washington, D.C., have them. Since then, Congress has also passed several related pieces of legislation, including two major statutes. Megan’s Law, enacted in 1996, required that the police give the public access to some sex offender registry data, such as an offender’s name, photograph, and address.  In 2006, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act toughened the standards for who must register and for how long, and it upped the consequences of registration by requiring, for example, periodic in-person visits to police.

The upshot, experts say, is that the United States has the most draconian sex registration laws in the world.  As a result, the number of registrants across the nation has swelled—doubling and then doubling again to 750,000 — in the two decades since Jacob’s Law passed, according to data collected by the Center for Missing and Exploited Children....

Is the American approach to sex registration working?  Who goes on the registries, for how long, and for what kinds of crimes?  Do the answers suggest that they are helping to keep kids safe — or sweeping in too many people and stoking irrational fears?

In seeking answers to those questions, over the last several months, we were surprised to find that one of the sharpest — and loudest — critics of the ballooning use of registries is [Jacob's mother] Patty Wetterling.  “These registries were a well-intentioned tool to help law enforcement find children more quickly,” she told us.  “But the world has changed since then.”  What’s changed, Wetterling says, is what science can tell us about the nature of sex offenders.

The logic behind the past push for registries rested on what seem like common sense assumptions.  Among the most prominent were, first, sex offenders were believed to be at a high risk for reoffending — once a sex offender, always a sex offender.  Second, it was thought that sex offenses against children were commonly committed by strangers. Taken together, the point was that if the police had a list, and the public could access it, children would be safer.

The problem, however, is that a mass of empirical research conducted since the passage of Jacob’s Law has cast increasing doubt on all of those premises.  For starters, “the assumption that sex offenders are at high risk of recidivism has always been false and continues to be false,” said Melissa Hamilton, an expert at the University of Houston Law Center, pointing to multiple studies over the years.  “It’s a myth.”

Remarkably, while polls show the public thinks a majority, if not most, sex offenders will commit multiple sex crimes, most studies, including one by the Department of Justice, place the sexual recidivism rate between 3 and 14 percent in the several years immediately following release, with those numbers falling further over time.  Which number experts prefer within that range depends on how they define recidivism.  If you count arrests as well as convictions, for example, the rate is higher, because not all arrests lead to convictions.  And if you distinguish among sex offenders based on risk factors, such as offender age, degree of sexual deviance, criminal history, and victim preferences — instead of looking at them as a homogenous group — you may find a higher or lower rate.  Rapists and pedophiles who molest boys, for example, are generally found to have the highest recidivism rates.  Nevertheless, the bottom line is clear: Recidivism rates are lower than commonly believed.

And in contradiction of the drive to crack down after a random act of sexual violence committed by a stranger, the data also shows that the vast majority of sex offenses are committed by someone known to the victim, such as a family member....

In a series for Slate, we’ll spotlight three areas in which the growth of registries has been unexpected — and, we suggest, unwise.

August 12, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Judge denies Florida sex offender's request to be physically castrated

As reported in this local article, a judge in Florida has felt compelled to reject a sex offender's notable request for a notable alternative punishment.  Here are the details: 

Lester Leroy Williams is serving ten years in prison for sexually battering a child. Back in 2008, he was also sentenced to 4.5 years of probation. Recently, the 35-year-old Williams made a bizarre request: He wants the state to physically castrate him.

In a letter Williams wrote at the Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, he asked Fifth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Hale Stancil to modify his sentence to include castration at the expense of the state. But Stancil denied the unusual request this past Tuesday, stating his court didn't have jurisdiction to rule over the case.

"In 32 years, I have never had this request before," said Stancil, who spoke about the case for the first time to New Times. "I know there is chemical castration, but I've never had an inmate ask to be physically castrated before. I don't think I have authority as a judge to order such a thing."...

Florida already allows certain sex offenders to receive medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA) treatment as part of their rehabilitation. MPA, an artificial hormone, is normally used to treat symptoms of menopause in women, but when used by men, it decreases testosterone to pre-puberty levels.  MPA has been used on sex offenders for years as a way of reducing the chances of recidivism by diminishing the sexual urges of men who have long histories of committing sex crimes.

According to Florida law, courts must sentence repeat offenders of sexual battery to MPA treatment but may choose to administer it to first-time offenders. The treatment does not replace or reduce any other penalty the court could impose, and the courts can order the treatment to last up to life....

The law stipulates though that instead of undergoing the chemical form of castration, sex offenders may -- of their own volition -- ask a court for physical castration, which is what Williams has done. Though the legal leeway seems to exist, it is rarely chosen -- Williams may be the first in Florida to request it even though he isn't even required to have MPA treatment.

"Sex offenders are wretched," said Maryam Sweirki, 25, a Miami advocate for victims of sexual assault. "If he can't handle his penis, then I'm for his decision to take his weapon away."

However, critics of castration believe it to be a cruel and unusual punishment that violates human and reproductive rights; with other critics arguing the law that allows for MPA castration, though it applies to both genders, is unequal in punishment because it has a greater impact on males.  Some of the side-effects related to the drug (besides decreased sexual urges) are: a loss of body hair, hot and cold flashes, impotence, depression, thrombosis, and weight gain.

Though it has been shown to decrease the number of reoffenders, some opponents further argue that castration isn't a panacea for all sex offenders because some of them are motivated to sexually abuse because of intense feelings of hatred and hostility, rather than sexual desire.

Some related older posts:

August 5, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Should civilly committed sex offenders get in trouble for watching Game of Thrones?

Game-of-Thrones-Leadership-2The 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.

July 30, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

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 (23) | TrackBack

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.

June 16, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offense Characteristics, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack