Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Lamenting sex offender fear-mongering around Halloween

Writing over at Huffington Post, Emily Horowitz has this notable new commentary headlined "Manufacturing Fear: Halloween Laws for Sex Offenders."   Here is how the piece starts and ends:

In North Carolina, a sheriff tells parents to check the online sex offender registry before allowing children to trick-or-treat.  In Montana, a town offers a "trunk-or-treat" event where kids can get Halloween candy from trunks of cars in a parking lot to avoid potential danger.  In New York, "Operation Halloween: Zero Tolerance" prohibits sex offenders from wearing masks or costumes or answering their doors on Halloween, and, as a parole source says, "There is certainly nothing more frightening than the thought of one of these men opening their door to innocent children."  In Oklahoma, a city council is considering an ordinance forbidding sex offenders from decorating their homes or passing out candy on Halloween. In Orange, California, sex offenders can't answer their door or have outside lighting on Halloween, but an additional ordinance requiring window signs saying, "No candy or treats at this residence" was recently revoked after attorneys argued it was a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

Why worry about sex offenders on Halloween?  Research shows no evidence of increased child sex abuse on Halloween and no evidence that a child was ever a victim of sexual abuse by a stranger while out trick-or-treating. This makes perfect sense, because government data shows the vast majority (about 93%) of sex crimes against children are not committed by strangers but by family members or acquaintances....

The false dichotomy of evil adults and innocent children and families prevents children from meeting their neighbors and becoming part of a community.  Sex offenders are subject to more post-punishment restrictions than any other ex-offenders, and have lower recidivism rates.  Halloween sex offender laws, and rampant media coverage of the threat of sex offenders on Halloween and throughout the year, is creating a neurotic and fearful generation of kids who grow up thinking they are helpless prey facing threats from real monsters. Children are safest when they know their neighbors, and Halloween is a good opportunity to meet others in the community.  There are some actual threats to child safety on Halloween -- like an increase in pedestrian car accidents -- but sex offenders and poisoned candy aren't among them.

October 22, 2013 in Collateral consequences, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Monday, October 21, 2013

Alabama legislators proposing adult day-care "clusters" for sex offenders

As reported in this local article, headlined "Bill Proposes Licensed Residential Sex Offender Clusters," legislators in Alabama are considering a new innovation in the monitoring of sex offenders. Here are the details:

Some Alabama State Representatives are hoping a proposed bill will change the laws surrounding where convicted sexual predators are able to live together. Representatives Kurt Wallace and Paul Beckman are sponsoring the proposal that would make it against the law for sexual predators to live together unless it’s in what they’re calling a licensed, regulated residential sex offender cluster.

The proposed bill is similar to a bill passed into law earlier this year by the Alabama State Legislature. Alabama State Senator Arthur Orr is the sponsor of that bill. It encompasses Morgan County, while the proposed bill will cover the entire state.

In part Senator Orr’s bill made it against the law for convicted sex offenders to live in the same house. ”Studies show that if that is the situation there is much more proclivity for them to sexually offend others in the surrounding area,” Senator Orr says. He says his bill was met with agreement from the Alabama Legislature and Morgan County residents. “Certainly the constituents who had small children who were living near this group sexual offender home, and they certainly wanted something done.”

The proposed bill by Representatives Wallace and Beckman would create what lawmakers call residential sex offenders clusters. The bill spells out what that means. A residential sex offender cluster would be a tract of land where registered sex offenders could live together. An on-site monitor would also be required to live there to supervise the offenders. The clusters would have to be licensed and it would authorize the Department of Mental Health to make rules regulating the clusters.

If passed this proposed bill would require any sex offenders who wanted to live together to live in one of the clusters. It’s proposed if they violated that, it would be punishable by a felony charge. Already Alabama has laws preventing convicted sex offenders from living near a school or their victims. Some officials argue it’s already hard enough for them to find a place to live and this proposed bill would make it even harder....

Lawmakers say the proposed bill would promote public safety, health and confidence. They are expected to take this proposed bill up in the 2014 regular session.

October 21, 2013 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (32) | TrackBack

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

District Judge Graham gets in a final word on child porn sentencing despite Sixth Circuit reversals

I am about to head off line for the bulk of the day in order to head down to the Queen City in order to watch the full en banc Sixth Circuit consider crack sentencing modification rules in Blewett. (I hope late tonight to report on what I see in the argument, perhaps with a prediction as to the outcome.)

For my last word before I go to watch the Sixth Circuit in action, I am pleased to post a recent opinion by US District Judge James Graham that provides its own kind of last word about the Sixth Circuit's recent sentencing work in a child pornography downloading case that the Sixth Circuit took out of Judge Graham's hands.  The opinion in US v. Childs (which can be downloaded below) is relatively brief, and it starts and winds down this way:

This is a disturbing case. Defendant is charged with one count of possession of child pornography. I am called upon to decide whether to accept a plea agreement which requires me to impose a sentence which is roughly only one sixth of the lowest sentence recommended by the United States Sentencing Guidelines (“the Guidelines” or “U.S.S.G.”). This is disturbing not because I disagree with the sentence, but because I am convinced that under the law of the Sixth Circuit announced in United States v. Bistline, 665 F.3d 758, 761-64 (6th Cir. 2012)(“Bistline I”), I would not have been free to select such a sentence without the government’s agreement....
The Sixth Circuit's decision in Bistline I blurs the distinction between mandatory and advisory by requiring more deference to congressionally created guidelines than that accorded to Sentencing Commission-created guidelines.  Just what implications this might have under Apprendi was not discussed by the Sixth Circuit.

There have been some very important developments since the Sixth Circuit's decision in Bistline I. In its Report to Congress: Federal Child Pornography Offenses (Dec. 2012), www.ussc.gov/Legislative_ and_ Public_ Affairs/ Congressional_ Testimony_ and_ Reports/ Sex_ Offense_ Topics/ 201212_ Federal_ Child_ Pornography_ Offenses/ (visited October 1, 2013), the Sentencing Commission publicly declared that the existing guidelines for child pornography offenses were flawed and in need of repair.  In a letter to Judge Patti B. Saris, Chair of the Commission, dated March 5, 2013, Anne Gannon, National Coordinator for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction, responded to the Commission’s report on behalf of the Department of Justice.  See Letter from Anne Gannon, Nat’l Coordinator for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction, Office of the Deputy Attorney General, U.S. Dep’t of Justice, to Honorable Patti B. Saris, Chair, U.S. Sentencing Comm’n (Mar. 5, 2013), available at http://sentencing.typepad.com/files/doj-letter-to-ussc-on-cpreport. pdf (visited Sept. 30, 2013). The Department expressed its agreement with many of the Commission’s conclusions, noting that the report “reflects a significant amount of detailed research and thoughtful analysis" and thanking the Commission for "undertaking the important task of laying the foundation for reforming sentencing practices involving non-production child pornography offenses." Id. at 1.

Nevertheless, on June 27, 2013, four months after the Commission’s report, the Sixth Circuit filed its opinion in United States v. Bistline, 720 F.3d 631 (6th Cir. 2013)(“Bistline II”) reaffirming it's holding in Bistline I, with no mention whatsoever of the Commission’s findings or the extent of the Department of Justice's concurrence.  As a judge who has regularly sat on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals by designation for more than two decades, I find this inexplicable.  Many of the Commission’s criticisms of the child pornography guidelines, including criticisms which the Justice Department concurred in, are identical to the ones I expressed in my sentencing colloquy in Mr. Bistline’s case.  The Sentencing Commission’s criticism of the crack cocaine guidelines was cited as a reason for diminished deference for those guidelines in Kimbrough, and that part of the Kimbrough decision was cited by the Sixth Circuit in Bistline I to explain why the Supreme Court decided that the crack cocaine guidelines were entitled to less deference. See Bistline I, 665 F.3d at 763. In light of the fact that, in the interim, the Commission had spoken on the child pornography guidelines, why would the court not revisit the applicability of Kimbrough when it decided Bistline II? It seems clear to me that under Kimbrough, the child pornography guidelines should be accorded less, not more, deference than others.

It is a tragic irony that sentencing judges in the Sixth Circuit are required to give enhanced deference to guidelines which the independent Commission, relied upon so heavily by the Supreme Court in upholding the Guidelines, has now declared flawed and in need of reform. It is even more tragic that offenders in this circuit will have to rely on prosecutorial discretion, not judicial discretion, in order to receive a just and fair sentence in these cases.

Download Childs Sentencing Opinion and Order

October 9, 2013 in Booker in district courts, Booker in the Circuits, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Kimbrough reasonableness case, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

How should the law — federal or state — deal with a 10-year-old serious sex offender?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new article from the Wall Street Journal about a remarkable federal juvenile prosecution.  The article is headlined "Federal Youth Case on Trial: Prosecution of 10-Year-Old on Sex Charges Stokes Debate Over Juvenile Justice." Here is how it starts:

Two years ago federal prosecutors won a delinquency finding against a boy accused of engaging in sex acts when he was 10 years old with other young boys on an Army base in Arizona—one of the youngest defendants ever pursued by the U.S. Justice Department.

The case, now being reviewed by the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, could open a new front in a long-running debate about how to handle juvenile sex offenders, whose cases generally have been tried in state, not federal, courts.  The records are sealed because the defendant was tried as a juvenile, but the case came to light in September at an appellate hearing in San Francisco that was open to the public.

The boy's appeal involves a thorny legal question: Should children be prosecuted for sex acts with other children under a federal law that the boy's lawyers say was designed to target adult predators?  The fight also highlights a broader debate over tagging juveniles as criminal sex offenders, a label that can land them a spot on registries that track offenders and limit where they can live.

The boy was found delinquent — guilty in juvenile-court parlance — on charges of aggravated sexual abuse against five boys between the ages of 5 and 7, under a statute that makes it illegal to engage in a sexual act with a person younger than 12 regardless of whether physical force is involved.  The boy was sentenced to five years' probation, including mandatory psychological treatment, lawyers on the case said.  He must also register as a sex offender in certain states, according to his lawyer.

"I think this is really overreaching on the part of the government," Keith Hilzendeger, a federal public defender representing the boy, said in an interview. He added that he had "never heard of a federal case where a person is 10."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Ferg said outside the courtroom that federal prosecutors took the case because of "the severity of the conduct" and because it took place on Fort Huachuca, the Army base where the boys lived with their families. "My opinion is this is the best thing that could've happened to the kid," said Mr. Ferg, adding that the case included allegations of anal penetration, repetitive behavior and threats.  He said that prosecutors considered, "What can we do with this child to make sure this doesn't happen again?"

October 8, 2013 in Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Monday, October 07, 2013

Fifth Circuit panel declares substantively unreasonable (and plainly erroneous) an above-guideline child porn sentence

I am always pleased to see examples of post-Booker reasonableness review being given some more teeth in the circuits, and a panel ruling released today by the Fifth Circuit in US v. Chandler, No. 12-30410 (5th Cir. Oct. 4, 2013) (available here), shows that even defendants convicted of child porn offenses can sometimes benefit from appellate judges taking reasonableness review seriously. Here are excerpts from the start and heart of the of the panel opinion in Chandler:

Richard Chandler pleaded guilty to engaging in a child exploitation enterprise. At sentencing, the district court varied upward by 127 months over the recommended Guidelines range to impose 420 months of imprisonment.  We find that the district court erred by increasing Chandler’s sentence based on the fact that he was a police officer. We remand for re-sentencing....

The parties agree that the district court correctly calculated Chandler’s Guidelines range as 240-293 months. In the PSR, the probation officer stated that he had not identified any factors warranting a departure or variance from the Guidelines range. Chandler did not file objections to the PSR, but he filed a Motion for Deviation from Sentencing Guidelines, arguing that a significant downward departure from the Guidelines was justified in his case because the sentencing scheme for possession of child pornography is unfair and the circumstances of his offense warranted leniency. The district court rejected Chandler’s motion, noting that Chandler was not a “mere possessor” because he had repeatedly posted child pornography. The district court ultimately imposed a sentence of 420 months of imprisonment, an upward variance of 127 months from the top of the Guidelines range. The district court found that the non-Guidelines sentence was justified by the nature and circumstances of the offense, particularly Chandler’s abuse of his public office as a law enforcement officer, his use of other people’s internet connections to attempt to hide his participation in the scheme, and the fact that he posted child pornography 117 times, mostly with children 8 to 14 years of age. Chandler did not object to the sentence. Chandler filed a timely notice of appeal....

Some of the comments made by the district court here, such as those stating that by being a police officer Chandler has placed himself in a different category and should be held to a higher standard, are similar to those in Stout and could be interpreted to cross the line into impermissible reliance on Chandler’s socioeconomic status as a police officer.

To the extent that the district court’s comments regarding Chandler’s position are findings that Chandler abused his position of trust or that the offense was more serious because of Chandler’s position, the district court likewise erred. Though we are mindful that our review in this case is only for plain error, our circuit precedent is clear that a defendant’s status as a police officer, standing alone, is not a justifiable reason to increase a sentence....

[T]hough the district court stated multiple times that it was varying upwards because Chandler abused his position, the district court did not rely on any facts showing that Chandler acted in his capacity as a police officer in posting child pornography on the internet. There is no evidence in the record that he used or exploited his position as a police officer, or used any knowledge or skills he gained from that position, to commit the offense or attempt to hide it.

The district court’s error was compounded by its mischaracterization of the conduct involved in Chandler “stealing” other people’s “identities” or “internet addresses.” The only description of this conduct in the record is in a sentencing memorandum filed by the government, which states that Chandler used other people’s unsecured wireless connections. Though the government refers to this as “stealing,” it essentially amounts to logging onto an open wireless network. While we agree with the government that such activity could have caused innocent people to be subject to investigation, it clearly is not equivalent to identity theft or any sort of skilled hacking activity, though the district court discussed it as if it required highly technical knowledge that Chandler acquired as a police officer.

October 7, 2013 in Booker in district courts, Booker in the Circuits, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Second Circuit finds substantive due process problems (and others) with penile plethysmography testing for convicted sex offender

Thanks to a number of helpful readers, I have not missed the news of a notable sentencing ruling by a Second Circuit paenl today in US v. McLaurin, No. 12-3514 (2d Cir. Oct. 3, 2013) (available here). Here is how the opinion starts:

David McLaurin, a convicted sex offender, was required by federal law to register any change in his address.  He failed to do so and, following his guilty plea, was sentenced in the United States District Court for the District of Vermont to fifteen months’ imprisonment and five years of supervised release.  As a condition of his release, McLaurin was required to “participate in an approved program of sex offender evaluation and treatment, which may include . . . plethysmograph examinations, as directed by the probation officer.” Judgment, United States v. McLaurin, No. 11 Cr. 113 (WKS), Dkt. No. 28 (D. Vt. Aug. 22, 2012), J. App. 9.

This examination involves the use of a device know as a plethysmograph which is attached to the subject’s penis.  In some situations, the subject apparently may be required, prior to the start of the test, to masturbate so that the machine can be “properly” calibrated.   The subject is then required to view pornographic images or videos while the device monitors blood flow to the penis and measures the extent of any erection that the subject has.  The size of the erection is, we are told, of interest to government officials because it ostensibly correlates with the extent to which the subject continues to be aroused by the pornographic images.

McLaurin objected to this requirement as unnecessary, invasive, and unrelated to the sentencing factors specified in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) and therefore impermissible as a discretionary condition of supervised release.  See 18 U.S.C. § 3583(d)(1). The district court nonetheless imposed the requirement without reference to the statutory goals of supervised release or to any expected benefits to the public or to McLaurin.  McLaurin now appeals.

We hold that this extraordinarily invasive condition is unjustified, is not reasonably related to the statutory goals of sentencing, and violates McLaurin’s right to substantive due process. We therefore vacate the condition.

October 3, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Should downloading a few pics of child porn result in attorney's disbarment?

The question in the title of this post concerning a notable collateral consequence of some convictions is prompted by this fascinating cover story from the October 2013 issue of the California Lawyer magazine. (Hat tip: How Appealing.) The story is headlined "Unfit to Practice? The state Supreme Court must decide whether a lawyer's possession of child pornography requires summary disbarment," and here is how the piece begins:

Gary Douglass Grant is a lawyer with a big problem. In 2007 the civil litigator and former captain in the Army Reserves, now 56, was a JAG lawyer assigned to Los Alamitos Army Airfield when an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operation in Virginia tracked hits on approximately 18 commercial child pornography websites. ICE agents in Project Flicker, as it was known, located a number of active and retired military members, civilians, and contractor employees - several of whom had Top Secret or higher clearances - who allegedly used their military email addresses to register for PayPal accounts to access the images.

One of the 16 individuals identified that summer was Gary Grant. A search of computers at his Aliso Viejo home revealed that he had sent over the Internet an image depicting minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct; Orange County sheriff's deputies arrested him a year later. Investigators had found that between 2001 and 2007 Grant accumulated more than 100,000 digital pornographic images, much of it legal adult material. But mingled among those images were pornographic pictures of children. An analyst who examined the seized files found 19 photos and a videotape of youths who appeared to be between 14 and 16 years old - "possibly minors."

The Orange County District Attorney charged Grant with three counts of California Penal Code section 311.11(a), possession of obscene matter of a minor in a sexual act. Prosecutors gave Grant and his lawyer a CD with at least 100 sexual images of children retrieved from Grant's computers.

From the outset, Grant gave specific orders to his criminal defense attorney: "Defend this to the nth degree, because no way, no how, did I knowingly possess child pornography."

Ultimately, though, Grant conceded there were sexual images of underage girls on his computer. He said he had found the photos repugnant and deleted them. But even deleted images may remain on a hard drive, and that's where forensic computer analysts in this case located them. In April 2009 Grant admitted he had temporarily possessed two "unsolicited electronic images" of children, received by email while he was downloading other pornography. He pleaded guilty to one count of felony possession; prosecutors agreed to drop the other two charges. The judge sentenced Grant to 90 days in jail and three years of probation, and ordered him to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. He did not appeal his conviction or sentence.

Grant joined a twelve-step fellowship known as Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. But by autumn he had violated the terms of his probation by downloading adult pornography to his computer and by "sex-texting" two former girlfriends. The violations brought Grant an additional 183 days of jail time - more than twice his original sentence.

Based on the felony conviction, the State Bar of California automatically placed Grant on interim suspension pending further disciplinary proceedings. A State Bar Court trial judge later recommended that Grant be disbarred because his felony involved moral turpitude. His lawyer challenged that characterization, and the severity of the discipline. When the Review Department recommended only a suspension, the prosecutors appealed. Now Grant's case is pending before the state Supreme Court, where it has been fully briefed and awaits oral argument. (In re Grant, No. S197503 (Cal. Sup. Ct).)

At issue is the State Bar's ability to exact the ultimate sanction - disbarment - pursuant to a summary procedure that permits neither consideration of mitigating factors nor whether that sanction is appropriate. What began as one man's compulsion to accumulate pornography has become a challenge to the moral-turpitude-per-se standard, and the State Bar's procedures associated with it. Ultimately the Grant case could result in changes to disciplinary proceedings that affect hundreds of matters.

October 3, 2013 in Collateral consequences, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Second Circuit reverses below-mandatory-minimum sentence for distributing child pornography

The Second Circuit via a lengthy panel decision today in US v. Reingold, No. 11-2826 (2d Cir. Sept. 26, 2013) (available here), reverses a decision by Judge Jack Weinstein to sentence a young defendant who distributed child pornography below the applicable five-year mandatory minimum term based on the Eighth Amendment.  Here is how the majority opinion gets started:

Corey Reingold pleaded guilty in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Jack B. Weinstein, Judge) to one count of distributing child pornography.  See 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(2).  The United States now appeals from that part of the June 21, 2011 judgment of conviction as sentenced Reingold to 30 months’ incarceration. The government contends that the district court erred in refusing to impose the minimum five-year prison term mandated by 18 U.S.C. § 2252(b)(1) on the ground that applying such a punishment to this immature 19-year-old defendant would violate the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause.  See U.S. Const. amend. VIII. The government further disputes the district court’s Sentencing Guidelines calculations. The district court explained its sentencing decisions both on the record and in a 401-page opinion accompanied by 55 pages of appendices.  See United States v. C.R., 792 F. Supp. 2d 343 (E.D.N.Y. 2011). Having carefully reviewed that opinion, the applicable law, and the record as a whole, we conclude that the district court erred in both respects identified by the government.  We therefore remand the case to the district court with directions that it vacate the sentence and resentence the defendant consistent with this opinion.

I will not have a chance to review closely the 56 pages of Reingold until late tonight, though a quick skim suggests this ruling is a must-read for any and everyone working on sentencing issues in child pornography cases in the federal courts. 

September 26, 2013 in Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offense Characteristics, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Monday, September 23, 2013

Litigation prompting California city to give up Halloween sex offender posting law

As reported in this Los Angeles Times piece, headlined "O.C. city likely to drop Halloween law aimed at sex offenders: A lawsuit challenges a city of Orange law requiring sex offenders to post signs to discourage trick-or-treaters," it appears that just the filing of a constitutional lawsuit is prompting reform of a local ordinance. Here are the basics:

An Orange County city will probably toss out a law requiring registered sex offenders to post a sign in front of their homes on Halloween to discourage trick-or-treaters after it was hit with a federal lawsuit alleging the practice is unconstitutional.

Registered sex offenders in the city of Orange are legally required to post a sign on Halloween, no smaller than 12 by 24 inches, that reads, "No candy or treats at this residence." Violators face a $1,000 fine or up to a year in jail. The lawsuit, filed Wednesday on behalf of an individual identified only as "John Doe," alleges the law violates the 1st Amendment rights of registered sex offenders and puts them, and anyone living with them, at risk of physical and emotional harm.

"If you think about it, a lot of older kids go out to trick rather than treat," said Janice Bellucci, an attorney and president of the California Reform Sex Offender Laws group. "All you have to do is look for the house with the sign."...

Bellucci filed a similar lawsuit last year to strike down a Simi Valley ordinance that also required people convicted of sex crimes to post a sign. That law also banned them from putting up Halloween displays and outside lighting on Oct. 31. But the day before the Simi Valley law went into effect, federal court Judge Perry Anderson issued a temporary restraining order barring the city from enforcing the sign provision.

The judge let stand provisions of the ordinance that keep sex offenders from turning on outside lights, decorating their homes and answering their doors to trick-or-treaters....

In Orange, no registered sex offenders have been cited since the ordinance was adopted, said City Atty. Wayne Winthers. When the city passed the law in February 2010 officials counted 81 registered sex offenders, with 81% of them having convictions involving minors, according to city records.

There was no need for the group to file the lawsuit, he said, since the city had been in contact with Bellucci and the City Council was expected to discuss the issue next week in closed session. "I read the district court's [Simi Valley] ruling and I don't see any reason why the court would look at ours any differently," said Winthers, who said he intended to ask the council to remove the sign requirement from the Halloween ordinance. "Our intent wasn't to bring any unnecessary harm or scrutiny to any particular individual," Winthers said. "We just wanted to protect children."

September 23, 2013 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Legal twists and turns continue in controversial rape sentencing case from Montana

As reported in this local article, there were a number of notable court developments on Friday in the Montana child rape sentencing case that has garnered national attention.  Here are the basics:

The Billings judge who drew local and national condemnation for sentencing a former Senior High teacher to 30 days in prison for raping a 14-year-old student canceled a second sentencing hearing on Friday after the Montana Supreme Court intervened in the case.

But District Judge G. Todd Baugh did address an audience of mostly media representatives for about 10 minutes, explaining the legal and procedural history of the Stacey Rambold rape case that has grabbed headlines across the country for the past two weeks.

Less than an hour before Baugh stepped into the courtroom, the Montana Supreme Court issued an order canceling the hearing, telling Baugh that he could not legally change Rambold's sentence as he intended. "We conclude that the stated intent of the District Court to alter the initially imposed oral sentence in today's scheduled hearing is unlawful and that proceeding should be arrested," the order stated.....

The hearing Baugh wanted to hold in order to change Rambold's sentence was opposed by both the Yellowstone County Attorney's Office and Rambold's defense attorney, who argued that Baugh did not have the authority to change the sentence after announcing it in court last week. In its order, the Supreme Court also said it "takes no position on the legality of the imposed sentence, and will address the parties' arguments in that regard on appeal."

Attorney General Tim Fox released a statement later Friday that his office would proceed with the appeal, which was filed on Tuesday. "While it's good that Judge Baugh recognizes that his August 26 sentence of Stacey Rambold is contrary to the law, today the state Supreme Court affirmed that Judge Baugh has no authority to amend the sentence unless ordered to do so by the Supreme Court," Fox said.

Though he did not impose a new sentence, Baugh went ahead with the unusual hearing. The hearing began 1:40 p.m., and Baugh announced that he had decided on Thursday, before the Supreme Court intervened, to cancel the hearing he intended to hold aimed at re-sentencing Rambold....

A reporter from the New York Times and a crew from CNN were among the media representatives at the hearing, which was held on the record with a court reporter and court clerk present. Baugh told the gathering that he had also on Thursday signed a written judgment altering the sentence he imposed orally against Rambold on Aug. 26. The judge said the new sentence was 15 years in prison, with all but two years suspended, which he said is the minimum legal sentence in the case.

Less than two weeks ago, Baugh sentenced the 54-year-old Rambold to 15 years in prison, with all but 31 days suspended and credit for one day served. After reviewing the Supreme Court order, Baugh said, he put a note in the file withdrawing that written judgment and signed a new judgment reflecting his original sentence.

Baugh said the confusion over the mandatory minimum sentence in the case "shouldn't have had to be addressed at all." The confusion could have been avoided if "I had been more alert" or if prosecutors had addressed the issue at Rambold's Aug. 26 sentencing hearing. At that hearing, the prosecution argued that Rambold should receive a sentence of 20 years in prison, with 10 years suspended.

Baugh instead imposed the sentence requested by Rambold's defense attorney, Jay Lansing. The sentence caused a national outrage, not only for the prison term imposed on the former teacher, but for the words the judge used to explain the sentence. Baugh said the victim, Cherice Moralez, who committed suicide in 2010, was "older than her chronological age" and was in some control of the relationship with Rambold.

The judge apologized for the statements two days later, but critics have continued to call for his resignation. Baugh explained on Friday that the case began with the charges filed in 2008, but resulted in an unusual deferred prosecution agreement in July 2010 after Moralez's death.... Baugh said the sentencing hearing on Aug. 26 happened almost six years after the crimes. Rambold was found to be treatable in the community, and had committed no new crimes, he said.

"It seemed to me a suspended sentence was the most appropriate," Baugh said. The case will now proceed to the appeal process, the judge said.

Recent related posts:

September 7, 2013 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

New hearing ordered by Montana judge in case involving controversial 30-day child rape sentence

As reported in this local article, headlined "Judge orders new hearing on controversial rape sentencing," a high-profile state sentencing case from Montana took another notable twist this afternoon. Here are the details:

Saying the sentence he imposed on a former Billings teacher for the rape of a student may be illegal, Yellowstone County District Court Judge G. Todd Baugh has ordered a new hearing.

In an order filed Tuesday, Baugh set a hearing for Friday at 1:30 p.m. to determine whether the sentence he imposed last week on Stacey Dean Rambold should be revised. Baugh said in the order that the mandatory minimum sentence Rambold should have received appears to be two years, not the 30-day sentence that Baugh ordered on Aug. 26.

Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito called Baugh’s order an "unusual occurrence." Twito has been consulting with the Montana Attorney General’s Office to determine whether to appeal the case to the state Supreme Court. "The state will review the issue and we will be prepared to be in court on Friday," Twito said in response to the judge’s new order.

Rambold, a former Senior High teacher who admitted to raping a 14-year-old female student who later committed suicide, received a sentence of 15 years in prison, with all but 31 days suspended. He was given credit for one day previously served.

The sentence, and statements made by Baugh at the hearing last week, drew international attention and calls for Baugh’s resignation.

Recent related post:

September 3, 2013 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Utah (re)considering its approaches to sex offender sentencing

The Salt Lake Tribune has this notable new article about its prison population and sex offender sentencnig under the headline "Utah sex offender policy in spotlight as numbers soar: More prisoners, longer sentences but funding for treatment stays flat, triggering concerns."   Here are excerpts:

A dramatic increase in the number of sex offenders incarcerated in Utah over nearly two decades is raising questions about how the state deals with such crimes and concerns about whether all inmates are able to get needed treatment before they return to their communities.

The number of sex offenders in state custody has more than doubled — to 2,194 or 31 percent of the prison population — since 1996, the last year Utah lawmakers approved an increase in treatment funding.  Although Utah’s incarceration rate is significantly lower than that of other Western states and the U.S., it leads surrounding states when it comes to the percentage of prison inmates who are sex offenders.

One reason for that: Lawmakers have taken a tough stance on sex offenses, setting stiff penalties, such as a law passed in 2008 that set a 25-years-to-life penalty for child rape. “Our culture has a very strict credo, a moral sense, of what is appropriate sexually and what is not appropriate sexually,” said Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns and a member of the Criminal Justice Appropriations subcommittee. “That may be why we incarcerate a little bit more.”

The state’s approach also has historically been shaded by the view that “once a predator, always a predator” — a misconception that may finally be poised to shift with the accumulation of evidence that shows treatment works, Hutchings said. “The discussion is not over, but it’s happening in earnest,” Hutchings said. “The mind-set for a long time has been what are we going to get by putting this money into treatment. Why not focus instead on mandatory minimum sentences and keeping these people locked away.”...

The numbers reflect that philosophy of warehousing inmates.  Today, more sex offenders in Utah are sent to prison rather than placed on probation, and they serve longer sentences.  In 2012, for example, 92 percent of first-degree felony sex offenders went to prison, up from 72 percent in 1988.  During that period, the length of time served has doubled....

Still, “The reality is we are talking about a very large group of people at the prison who are some day going to get released,” said Jonathan Ririe, a Utah psychologist who works with sex offenders in the community. And that makes investing in treatment, as well as supervision outside of prison, critical, he added....

Utah inmates convicted of first-degree felony sex offenses who were released from prison during the past five years had, on average, served 7½ years.  But some serve far longer....

One Utah analysis of inmates who completed treatment showed about 20 percent returned to prison within a year, compared with 42 percent of those who did not complete treatment.  In both groups, most offenders returned because of parole violations rather than because they committed new crimes.

A 2003 Bureau of Justice Statistics report found that sex offenders were less likely than non-sex offenders to be rearrested for any crime.  That report also found that 5.3 percent of all sex offenders were rearrested for a sex crime within three years of being released.  The percentage was even lower — 3.3 percent — for child molesters.

Ririe said it is “frustrating” that Utah’s approach has been to continually adopt more stringent sentencing guidelines that lump sex offenders together rather than adopting a system that appropriately categorizes offenders by risk factors and allows judges and the parole board a greater role in assessing them individually.

September 3, 2013 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Second Circuit panel hints that SORNA might be subject to some Commerce Clause challenges

A helpful reader alerted me to a notable Second Circuit panel opinion today in US v. Robbins, No. 12-3148 (2d Cir. Sept. 3, 2013) (available here), in which the court hints that federal sex offender registration laws might at some point be subject to new Commerce Clause challenges in the wake of the Supreme Court's work in the "Obamacare" cases.  Here is how the opinion in Robbins gets started:

In August 2011, after traveling from New York to Nevada, defendant-appellant Nathan Robbins knowingly failed to update his registration as a sex offender, as he was required to do under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (“SORNA”), 42 U.S.C. § 16913.  He subsequently pled guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a), which makes it a crime for someone who is required to register under SORNA to travel in interstate commerce and knowingly fail to update his registration.  Despite his plea, Robbins retained the right to challenge the constitutionality of the statutes he admitted violating, and he brings just such a challenge here.

This Court has previously held that Congress acted within its powers under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause when it enacted SORNA.  See United States v. Guzman, 591 F.3d 83 (2d Cir. 2010).  Since then, however, the Supreme Court has revisited and further clarified — if that is the appropriate word — the reach of Congress’s power “[t]o regulate Commerce . . . among the several States.” U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 3; see Nat’l Fed’n of Indep. Bus. v. Sebelius, 132 S. Ct. 2566 (2012) (“NFIB”).  Robbins invites us to revisit our holding in Guzman in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in NFIB.

We decline Robbins’ invitation not because his arguments all lack force, nor because the constitutionality of SORNA — particularly when applied within the states — is beyond question, see United States v. Kebodeaux, 570 U.S. ___, No. 12-418, slip op. at 5 (U.S. June 24, 2013) (Roberts, C.J., concurring in the judgment) (“The fact of a prior federal conviction, by itself, does not give Congress a freestanding, independent, and perpetual interest in protecting the public from the convict’s purely intrastate conduct.”), but because the constitutionality of SORNA as applied to Robbins remains unaffected by any limitations on Congress’s Commerce Clause power that may be found in NFIB. Still bound by the precedent set in Guzman, we therefore AFFIRM Robbins’ conviction.

September 3, 2013 in Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Monday, September 02, 2013

"Against Juvenile Sex Offender Registration"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Catherine Carpenter now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Imagine if you were held accountable the rest of your life for something you did as a child?

This is the Child Scarlet Letter in force: kids who commit criminal sexual acts and who pay the price with the burdens and stigma of sex offender registration.  And in a game of “how low can you go?,” states have forced children as young as nine and ten years old onto sex offender registries, some with registration requirements that extend the rest of their lives.

No matter the constitutionality of adult sex offender registration — and on that point, there is debate — this article argues that child sex offender registration violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.  Once a sex offender, always a sex offender is not an apt adage when dealing with children who commit sexual offenses.  Low recidivism rates and varied reasons for their misconduct demonstrate that a child’s criminal sexual act does not necessarily portend future predatory behavior.  And with a net cast so wide it ensnares equally the child who rapes and the child who engages in sex with an underage partner, juvenile sex offender registration schemes are not moored to their civil regulatory intent.

Compounding the problem is mandatory lifetime registration for child offenders.  This paper analogizes this practice to juvenile sentences of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in Miller v. Alabama and Graham v. Florida.  This article argues that mandatory lifetime registration applied to children in the same manner as adult offenders is cruel and unusual punishment because it violates fundamental principles that require sentencing practices to distinguish between adult and child offenders.

Scrutiny of child sex offender registration laws places front and center the issue of what it means to judge our children.  And on that issue, we are failing.  The public’s desire to punish children appears fixed despite our understanding that child offenders pose little danger of recidivism, possess diminished culpability, and have the capacity for rehabilitation.  In a debate clouded by emotion, it is increasingly clear that juvenile sex offender registration is cruel and unusual punishment.

September 2, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Friday, August 30, 2013

"Protesters Demand Montana Judge Resign Over Rape Sentencing"

The title of this post is the headline of this New York Times report on the continuing controversy over what seems to be a disturbingly lenient state sentence for a child rape conviction.   Here are some of the latest developments in a story that seems to have become a cause for CNN and other media outlets:

Angry that a Montana judge sentenced a former teacher who had admitted to raping a 14-year-old student to only a month in jail, several hundred people gathered outside the Yellowstone County Courthouse in Billings on Thursday, demanding that the judge resign. The victim committed suicide three years after the rape, just before her 17th birthday.

The decision by Judge G. Todd Baugh of State District Court on Monday to suspend the teacher’s 15-year prison term, combined with remarks he made about the rape victim during the proceeding, has sparked outrage in Montana and around the country, with online petitions gathering more than 30,000 signatures in a few days. During the sentencing, Judge Baugh said the victim “seemed older than her chronological age” and was “as much in control of the situation” as the teacher.

The death of the victim, Cherice Morales, who was a student of Stacey Dean Rambold, contributed to delays in the prosecution of the case, which was originally filed in 2008.

Judge Baugh later apologized for his remarks, telling The Billings Gazette: “I don’t know what I was thinking or trying to say. It was just stupid and wrong.” He defended the one-month sentence, however, and in doing so made a remark that further angered many protesters. “Obviously, a 14-year-old can’t consent,” he said, but then added: “I think that people have in mind that this was some violent, forcible, horrible rape. It was horrible enough as it is just given her age, but it wasn’t this forcible beat-up rape.”

Marian Bradley, who heads the Montana chapter of the National Organization for Women and helped organize the rally on Thursday, said that the judge needed to step aside and that state lawmakers needed to consider mandatory sentencing for convicted rapists. “It’s highly unusual to get several hundred people to show up for a protest in Billings,” said Ms. Bradley, a longtime rape crisis volunteer. “Everyone here is outraged.”...

Mr. Rambold, 54, a former technology teacher at Billings Senior High School, pleaded guilty in April to a felony count of sexual intercourse without consent. The charges were first brought in 2008, and his prosecution was deferred in 2010 after Ms. Morales’s suicide raised concerns among prosecutors that a conviction would be difficult to obtain without the victim’s testimony.

Under a three-year agreement, Mr. Rambold attended an outpatient program for sex offenders, and if he had completed it, the charges would have been dismissed. But after he violated the terms of the program last fall, prosecutors brought charges against him again earlier this year and he pleaded guilty to one count, which brought him back to court for sentencing on Monday.

Though I am troubled when folks start calling for a judge's head based on limited information about a seemingly misguided sentencing decision, it is understandable why the judge's sentencing decision here has prompted outrage given the the facts that are publically known about this case. Interestingly, as now reported in this new Billings Gazette article, "Judge G. Todd Baugh, who has drawn international criticism for sending a convicted rapist to prison for only 30 days, issued a sentencing addendum Thursday afternoon, offering a formal explanation of his decision in the case." That three-page addendum may not end the protests, in part because Judge Baugh says in this Addendum that some key facts influencing the sentencing decision that cannot be publically disclosed.

Long-time readers will not be surprised to hear me suggest that Montana lawmakers not respond to one ugly case by passing new mandatory sentencing statutes.  In lots of other settings, we can and do reasonably expect and hope that appellate review will provide a means to correct very wrong trial court rulings.  Intriguingly, this new CNN article reports that the local prosecutor here is considering an appeal and seems to believe that there already was a statutory provision that would have required at least a two-year prison term for the defendant here.  If the sentencing decision causing outrage and protests cannot be reviewed under existing Montana law, I hope that problem becomes the focal point of any legislative reform rather than the creation of new mandatory minimum sentencing statutes.

August 30, 2013 in Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"Is it fair for sex offenders to stay listed on a registry for life?"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent lengthy article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Here are excerpts:

On one side of the latest debate over Missouri’s sex-offender registry are people such as Daniel Ray Winfrey. In 1991, when Winfrey was 15, he and three others raped and murdered sisters Julie and Robin Kerry at the Chain of Rocks Bridge near St. Louis.

Winfrey testified against his co-defendants in exchange for a 30-year prison sentence. Though back in prison, he has been paroled twice since his conviction. At those times, he was free but still listed on the state’s sex-offender registry website. That website, Gov. Jay Nixon argues, is the only way for most neighbors and others to know of the potential danger while such offenders are among them.

“You wouldn’t want to know if one of these guys moved in next door?” Nixon asked last week. He was defending his veto of a bill that would remove from the website all offenders who, like Winfrey, were under 18 when they committed their crimes.

On the other side are people such as Ali Nemec’s fiancé. He was 17 when he was arrested for having child pornography on his computer. Now 24 and still listed on the registry website, he’s had difficulty at work, has been been turned away from housing and lives with his parents.

“We can’t go to a park, we can’t go to a mall. If there’s an event with our friends near a school, we can’t go,” said Nemec, 23, of St. Peters. “He made a mistake ... (but) he is not the boy that he was. There’s no reason to ruin him for the rest of his life.”

The registry is today’s ultimate “scarlet letter.” Long after they’ve served their time, sex offenders remain barred from parks and schools and limited in their employment and housing options. Their names and faces are posted on the Internet, easily accessible to friends and neighbors.

In Missouri, they stay listed for life, even if they were juveniles when they committed their crimes. The state Legislature passed this year a bill to change that. Nixon vetoed it, potentially setting up an emotionally charged veto fight next month.

The bill would remove from the sex-offender registry website hundreds of offenders such as Nemec’s fiancé and Winfrey, whose crimes were very different but who were both under 18 when they committed them. By one estimate, the bill would cull about 870 names from the more than 13,000 on the site, in addition to future offenders in the same situation.

Those offenders would still be listed on the registry itself, accessible to law enforcement and anyone from the public who requests the information. But the bill would allow the offenders to petition for complete removal from the registry starting five years after the end of their sentences.

“These kids have served their debt to society. They are adults now and haven’t done anything wrong since,” said Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, a co-sponsor of the measure. He and others note that listed offenders have high unemployment rates because many employers won’t hire them. “We’re just trying to give them another shot at being productive citizens.”

Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed the bill in July, arguing that it makes no distinction between relatively minor offenders and those who used force or violence. In a news conference at St. Louis police headquarters last week, defending the veto amid the backdrop of uniformed officers, the governor warned that the measure could make Missouri a haven for sex offenders from other states who want to hide from their pasts....

In Missouri, and nationally, the issues connected to sex-offender registries — who should be on them, how long they should stay listed — have been in flux for years, with opposing interests battling to tighten or loosen the requirements.

The concept behind the lists is that because of the high rate of repeat offenses among sex offenders, the public needs to be warned of their whereabouts even after their sentences are served. Civil libertarians have long argued that this amounts to an unconstitutional open-ended punishment, but courts have generally upheld the registries....

Missouri’s system is tougher than some because once a person is on the list, he or she is on it for life, regardless of the severity of the original crime or the offender’s age at the time. Illinois, in contrast, has a lifetime tier and a 10-year tier, based on the details of the crime. People who commit crimes as juveniles have to register, but they aren’t listed on the registry’s public website....

Critics claim that the registry nets are cast so widely they often catch people who most would agree aren’t sexual threats. One commonly cited example are the so-called “Romeo and Juliet” offenders, who had consensual sex with teenage lovers, sometimes when they themselves were teenagers. Critics say those pitfalls in the system are especially ominous in Missouri, where juvenile crimes are listed for life.

August 27, 2013 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (29) | TrackBack

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Debate continues after Mizzou Gov vetoes bill to take juve sex offenders off registries

As reported in this AP piece, headlined "Vetoed bill could affect 870 Mo. sex offenders," the Show Me state is showing all of us how a focused debate over juvenile sex offenders can play out these days. Here are the basics:

A Missouri bill removing the names of juvenile sex offenders from public registries could affect hundreds more people than originally estimated and help hide the whereabouts of some high-profile offenders, Gov. Jay Nixon said Wednesday.

The Democratic governor pointed to new figures and specific examples of sex-offenders as he traveled to St. Louis and Kansas City to try to build a case for why legislators should sustain his veto of the bill....  Republican legislative leaders have said the measure is a likely target for a veto override, noting that it passed originally with overwhelmingly support.

Under the bill, people who are younger than 18 when they commit sex offenses would no longer appear on law enforcement websites that list the home addresses and physical description of sex offenders.  Adults who are currently listed because of sex offenses committed as juveniles also could be removed from the public registry five years after their convictions or release from prison.

Supporters of the bill have said the public registries leave a permanent mark on adults who may have been convicted as teenagers for consensual sexual activities with younger juveniles.  They have said such people deserve a second chance outside of the public spotlight.

The bill passed the House 153-0 and the Senate 28-4 earlier this year. Nixon has said the legislation would weaken state laws and undermine public safety....

"The leadership of the House may be ready to help violent sex offenders hide from the public and law enforcement, but their victims, and the millions of Missourians who use these websites to help keep their families safe, are not," Nixon said.

The governor's office distributed information about specific sex offenders who could be removed from the list if lawmakers were to override his veto.  Among them is Daniel Winfrey, who was 15-years-old in April 1991, when sisters Julie and Robin Kerry were raped and killed at the Chain of Rocks Bridge over the Mississippi River in the St. Louis area.  Winfrey pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and rape after agreeing to testify against several others involved in the crime.

Other offenders that the governor's office cited as likely to be removed from the public registry included men who had been convicted as juveniles of rape, sexual assault and sodomy against children who were ages 5, 6, 7 and 8.

Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said the legislation would benefit people who committed "heinous" acts. "These aren't Romeo and Juliet people we're talking about here," Holste said.

August 24, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"North Carolina appeals court strikes social media ban for sex offenders"

The title of this post is the headline of this local press report on a notable intermediate state appeals court ruling today.  Here are the details:

The North Carolina Court of Appeals on Tuesday struck down North Carolina's ban on registered sex offenders using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. The court said the ban in N.C. General Statute 14-202.5 "is not narrowly tailored, is vague, and fails to target the 'evil' it is intended to rectify."

"The statute violates the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech, and it is unconstitutional on its face and as applied. Accordingly, we vacate the trial court's judgment," wrote the court.

The ruling centered around a Durham case in which Lester Gerard Packingham appealed his felony conviction for accessing a commercial networking site last year. According to the trial records, the Durham Police Department was looking at evidence that registered sex offenders were using the websites MySpace and Facebook, and an officer recognized Packingham's photo on Facebook.

The North Carolina law says registered sex offenders may not use commercial social media sites if they know the site "permits minor children to become members or to create or maintain personal Web pages."

But in its ruling, the appeals court said the law "arbitrarily burdens all registered sex offenders by preventing a wide range of communication and expressive activity unrelated to achieving its purported goal [of preventing contact with children.]"

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper wanted the law but admits it may have to be rewritten, but he will try to appeal the North Carolina Supreme Court. Cooper notes that there are still laws on the books that investigators can use to charge suspects with soliciting children online. However, he believes we need a law to try to prevent child sex crimes before they happen....

If Cooper's attempt at an appeal fails, he says he will go back to the legislature to see if they can craft a new sex offender social media law that will withstand a legal challenge.

The full 21-page opinion in NC v. Packingham, No. 10 CRS 57148 (N.C. App Aug. 20, 2013), is available at this link.

August 20, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

New Nebraska study suggests sex offender registry changes pushed by feds may do more harm than good

Ne-sex-offender-recidivism-report2-p1-smallAs reported in this notable local piece, headlined "UNO report: Nebraska sex offender law 'founded more on public emotion than good science'," an important new study suggests that state sex offender registry laws have perhaps been made less effective as a result of reforms prodded by new federal sex offender laws. Here are highlights from the report on the report:

A newly released report questions whether public safety has improved since Nebraska adopted a state law that requires all convicted sex offenders to be listed on a public website.

The law, known as the Adam Walsh Act, was passed in 2009, but has been criticized as being too harsh on former offenders who committed minor crimes, are low risks to reoffend and have now become productive, law-abiding citizens....

On Monday, a report done by the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Consortium for Crime and Justice Research concluded that the Adam Walsh Act “was founded more on public emotion than good science, which is its fundamental shortcoming.”

The 58-page document stated that Nebraska’s previous system of sex-offender registration, which required only that the highest risk offenders be listed publicly, “did not seem to be broken.” The report, though, stated that it could not be discerned if the previous, or new, registration system was superior in deterring repeat sex offenses.

The adoption of the Adam Walsh Act in Nebraska was controversial and spawned a lawsuit by a group of convicted sex offenders, who said it violated their constitutional rights. It was also praised for removing the subjective decision of whether an offender was at low or high risk to reoffend....

Prior to 2009, only the names and photographs of sex offenders who had committed the most serious offenses and were deemed by the patrol as most likely to reoffend were publicized on the patrol’s website. Under the old system, those who committed minor offenses and were considered a low risk were required to register with law enforcement agencies, but their information wasn’t made public.

Nebraska’s Adam Walsh Act, Legislative Bill 285, required that all sex offenders — low risk and high risk — have their photos and addresses posted on the state website, and to report to local law enforcement officials. The photos are to stay for 15 years for misdemeanor offenses, but as long as 25 years to life for more serious offenses.

The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee two years ago discussed whether to exclude low-risk offenders from the public website, but instead decided to seek more information, via the UNO report, which cost $60,000....

State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the UNO report provides better data for lawmakers on which to judge the effectiveness of sex offender registries. He said his committee may look at revamping the registration requirements of lower-risk offenders, but that overall, the report showed him that it’s not necessary to repeal the entire Adam Walsh Act. “I don’t see that changing registration laws and going back to tiering them is the answer,” Ashford said.

The senator added that the report’s data will aid his effort to reform state criminal sentences to ease the state’s chronic prison overcrowding. Treating sex offenders outside of prison must be considered, Ashford said, because among state prison inmates, sex offenders make up one of the largest categories....

Among the UNO report’s other findings:

» Recidivism rates for sex offenders were low — more than 97 percent do not reoffend — but were lower following the passage of the Adam Walsh Act. For instance, the recidivism rate for Level 2 (medium-risk) offenders was 0.5 percent after passage of the act and 2.5 percent before....

» Registries that show the addresses of offenders could provide a false sense of security because most sex offenders do not commit crimes in their own neighborhoods. Only 7 percent of such crimes were committed within a mile of an offender’s residence.

The full report, titled simply "Nebraska Sex Offender Registry Study," is available at this link.

August 13, 2013 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Monday, July 29, 2013

FBI sweep leads to multiple rescues and arrests involving sexually exploited children

As reported in this new Washington Post piece, headlined "FBI raids in 76 cities save 105 kids forced into prostitution; 150 others arrested" the feds have been conducting a multi-day, multi-city sweep on persons involved in child prostution. Here are the basics:

Authorities rescued 105 children who were forced into prostitution and arrested 150 pimps and others in a three-day law enforcement sweep in 76 American cities, the FBI said Monday. The victims, almost all girls, range in age from 13 to 17.

The largest numbers of children rescued were in San Francisco, Detroit, Milwaukee, Denver and New Orleans.  The campaign, known as Operation Cross Country, was conducted under the FBI’s Innocence Lost initiative.

“Child prostitution remains a persistent threat to children across the country,” Ron Hosko, assistant director of the bureau’s criminal investigative division, told a press conference. The FBI said the campaign has resulted in rescuing 2,700 children since 2003.  The investigations and convictions of 1,350 have led to life imprisonment for 10 pimps and the seizure of more than $3.1 million in assets.

For the past decade, the FBI has been attacking the problem in partnership with a non-profit group, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. John Ryan, the head of the center, called the problem “an escalating threat against America’s children.”

I cannot help but wonder whether and how the many hundreds of federal prosecutions of persons guilty only of downloading child porn on their computers plays a role in the success of Operation Cross Country and the FBI’s Innocence Lost initiative.  If there is evidence to indicate that the frequent prosecution and tough sentencing of persons guilty of downloading child porn in fact plays a significant role in helping the feds crack down on child sex trafficking, I would be much less trouble by how these cases often get handled.  In my experiences in a few cases, however, many downloaders of child porn getting the sentencing book thrown at them had no connection with actual child sexual abuse offense and were not able to provide the feds with helpful information about anyone directly involved in such abuse.

July 29, 2013 in Offense Characteristics, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (39) | TrackBack