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 full 21-page opinion in NC v. Packingham, No. 10 CRS 57148 (N.C. App Aug. 20, 2013), is available at this link.
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.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
New Nebraska study suggests sex offender registry changes pushed by feds may do more harm than goodAs 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.
Monday, July 29, 2013
FBI sweep leads to multiple rescues and arrests involving sexually exploited childrenAs 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.
Sunday, July 28, 2013
Is 898-year federal sentence symbolic and meaningful or senseless and misguided?The question in the title of this post is prompted by this federal sentencing story out of Texas, headlined "Victim Assaulted by Fake Producer Finds Closure in Sentencing," which was sent my way by Josh Blackman. Here are the basics:
898 years is what a Gemase Lee Simmons will now have to serve for 39 counts of various bank fraud and child pornography offenses. Simmons would tell young men and women that he had a modeling agency and as part of their "sessions" would take naked pictures of some of them.
Bianca Love, a victim, told the judge in federal court that Simmons had scammed her out of money and sex.
Jailers also informed the judge that while waiting for his sentencing Simmons had managed to get other sexual predators to perform sex acts on him. According to investigators Simmons told 2 other prisoners that it was part of a test the U.S. Attorney's Office administered. Simmons told them he would help them to pass it so they would get less time.
For a much more literary account of this case, I discovered this fascinating opinion discussing the defendant and his crimes. The opinion is authored by Chief District Judge Fred Biery (WD Texas) to explain his conclusion, after a bench trial, that Simmons was guilty of all the counts against him (and likely many more). This opinion is a must read in part because, in less than four pages, it makes reference to, inter alia, The Wizard of Oz, Catch Me if You Can, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Dante's Inferno. In addition, in response to a quote from the defendant's trial testimony, the judge in this opinion drops a footnote which simply reads: "LOL".
Though I really enjoyed reading the opinion linked above and I can see why Chief Judge Biery was eager to throw the book at Gemase Lee Simmons, I still question the decision to impose a sentence of 898 years. (In addition, as Josh suggested to me, such an extreme sentence might give the defendant here a non-frivolous claim on appeal that his sentence is unreasonable.) I tend not to be a fan of legal fictions or of treating the imposition of hundreds of years in prison as just numbers on a page. While I suspect that a life sentence was not possible because none of the charges carried such a statutory term, I also suspect that a potent message without such a crazy number would have been sent had Chief Judge Biery imposed a terms of, say, 100 years.
That all said, the fact that Chief Judge Biery imposed a sentence of 898 years caught Josh's attention and mind, and perhaps that was part of what Chief Judge Biery hoped to achieve with this remarkable sentencing term. And if Chief Judge Biery were to write another sensational (and short) opinion to explain his lastest decision in this case, I might well come to the conclusion that the societal ends justify the sentencing means here.
Saturday, July 13, 2013
"Juveniles, Sex Offenses, and the Scope of Substantive Law"The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by Carissa Byrne Hessick and Judith M. Stinson now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Substantive criminal law is an important factor in determining whether a juvenile will be tried as a juvenile or transferred to adult court. In particular, the gravity of the offense with which the juvenile is charged is a key component of most states’ discretionary waiver statutes, and it disproportionately influences judges when deciding whether to transfer juveniles. As a general matter, sex offenses are considered serious crimes. And a number of serious sex offenses are criminalized because of the victim’s age. These severe penalties reflect a policy determination on the part of legislatures that when sexual activity is illegal, either in whole or in part, because of the age of one of the participants — a category of crimes that we refer to as "age-determinative sex offenses" — participation in that activity is a serious crime.
The question we seek to answer in this Article is whether the justice system ought to distinguish between adult and juvenile offenders for these age-determinative sex offenses when assessing the seriousness or gravity of these crimes. We believe it should. In particular, this Article argues that, when the juvenile is in the same peer group as the victim — that is to say, the age difference between the victim and the offender is not large — substantive criminal law should recognize that an age-determinative sex offense is not nearly as serious as it would be if committed by an adult.
Monday, July 08, 2013
"In Opposition to the Mandatory Registration of Juvenile Sexual Offenders"The title of this post is the title of this short paper by David Katner, which is now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The mandatory registration of juvenile sex offenders incorrectly assumes that the same dynamics of adult sex offenders apply to juveniles. In doing so, this group of juveniles is labeled and placed in a category that will ultimately hinder their development, rather than contribute to their rehabilitation. Accordingly, this mandated registration will have a negative effect on these individuals along with society as a whole based upon how they are perceived by others in the community and their lack of ability to contribute to the greater good.
Thursday, July 04, 2013
Missouri Gov vetoes bill to take juve sex offenders off state registryAs reported in this AP story, headlined "Nixon vetoes sex offender measure," the Governor of Missouri is apparently concerned this holiday week that a bill passed by his state's legislature will provide for too potential much freedom for juvenile sex offenders. Here are the basics:
Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday vetoed legislation that he said would remove sex offenders who commit their crimes as juveniles from websites that let the public know who they are, a day after he signed a measure that strengthens laws against sexual offenses.
Nixon said the vetoed measure is too broad. “It would grant this relief to juvenile sex offenders regardless of the sexual offense for which they were convicted to include forcible rape, forcible sodomy and child molestation,” said Nixon, who was state attorney general before becoming governor.
“Moreover, the bill would deprive victims of sex offenses the opportunity to be heard before an offender is removed from the very websites that are designed to protect victims and other members of the public.”...
State lawmakers return to the Capitol in September to decide whether they will try to override any vetoes.
On Tuesday, Nixon signed a criminal justice bill that includes a change to what constitutes rape. It had been defined as having sex with another person by use of “forcible compulsion,” which includes the use of a substance to physically or mentally impair another without his or her knowledge or approval. The new law broadens that to include instances in which someone is incapacitated, is incapable of consent or lacks the capacity to consent.
July 4, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Tuesday, July 02, 2013
Released sex offenders in Great Britain soon to be required to take regular polygraph testsAs reported in this article from across the pond, a novel (and apparently somewhat efficacious) approach to sex offender monitoring is being expanded in part of Great Britain after a successful pilot program. The article is headlined "Lie detector tests set to be introduced to monitor sex offenders: Politicians expected to approve law allowing compulsory polygraph tests of sex offenders released into community," and here are excerpts:
MPs are expected to clear the way for the introduction of compulsory lie detector tests to monitor convicted sex offenders across England and Wales from next January.
The national rollout of US-style mandatory polygraph tests for serious sex offenders who have been released into the community after serving their prison sentence follows a successful pilot scheme. The trial was carried out from 2009-11 in two Midlands probation areas and found that offenders taking such tests were twice as likely to tell probation staff they had contacted a victim, entered an exclusion zone or otherwise breached terms of their release licence.
Continuing concerns about the reliability of the tests and misinterpretation of the results mean they still cannot be used in any court in England and Wales. But it is expected that the compulsory polygraph tests will be used to monitor the behaviour of 750 of the most serious sex offenders, all of whom have been released into the community after serving a sentence of at least 12 months in jail.
The tests involve measuring reactions to specific questions by monitoring heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and levels of perspiration to assess whether the subject is being truthful. The results will be used to determine whether they have breached the terms of their release licence or represent a risk to public safety and should be recalled to prison.
The power to introduce compulsory lie detector tests was put on the statute book six years ago in the Offender Management Act 2007. On Tuesday MPs will debate secondary legislation in the form of a statutory instrument to come into force from 6 January 2014. The House of Lords will be asked to approve it later this month.
The justice minister Jeremy Wright said: "Introducing lie detector tests, alongside the sex offenders register and close monitoring in the community, will give us one of the toughest approaches in the world to managing this group.
"We recently announced the creation of a National Probation Service tasked with protecting the public from the most high-risk offenders. They will be able to call on this technology to help stop sex offenders from reoffending and leaving more innocent victims in their wake."
Hertfordshire police used the tests in a pilot scheme in 2011 to help decide whether to charge suspected sex offenders and gauge the risk they posed to the public. "Low level" sex offenders were involved in the original pilot. At least six revealed more serious offending and were found to pose a more serious risk to children than previously estimated. A further trial was ordered but at the time the Association of Chief Police Officers voiced caution about the adoption of such tests: "Polygraph techniques are complex and are by no means a single solution to solving crimes, potentially offering in certain circumstances an additional tool to structured interrogation," a spokesman said.
Polygraph testing is used in court in 19 states in America, subject to the discretion of the trial judge, but it is widely used by prosecutors, defence lawyers and law enforcement agencies across the US.
I find curious that this article speaks of "US-style mandatory polygraph tests"; I am not aware of any US jurisdiction that uses mandatory polygraph testing as part of a program of sex offender monitoring. That said, I would not be at all surprised if some jurisdictions in the US were to consider such a requirement if there is good reason to believe that such testing does a reasonable job of sorting out more (and less) dangerous released sex offenders.
Though I suspect a number of civil rights and civil liberties groups in the US would be quick to express concerns about mandatory polygraph tests of sex offenders, I tend to be open-minded about the use of any form of technocorrections that might serve as a means to both increase public safety and ultimately offender liberty. For if post-release polygraph testing serves as a means to better assess enduring threats from more-dangerous released sex offenders, then other sex offenders can and should be able to rely on such a program to argue for allowing earlier release of some likely less-dangerous sex offenders (e.g., those who download child pornography but have never been involved in any contact offenses).
July 2, 2013 in Criminal justice in the Obama Administration, Reentry and community supervision, Sentencing around the world, Sex Offender Sentencing, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack
Friday, June 28, 2013
Oklahoma Supreme Court finds state's new sex offender registration requirements punitive and thus limited by ex post facto doctrineAs reported in this local article, headlined "Attorney says up to 3,000 registered Oklahoma sex offenders could benefit from ruling," the top court in Oklahoma handed down a major ruling this week limiting the reach of the state's sex offender registration law. Here are the basics:
[T]he court ruling said Corrections Department officials have been violating the Oklahoma Constitution by retroactively applying state sex offender laws, thereby dramatically increasing the time many convicted sex offenders must remain listed on the registry.
Rejoicing in Tuesday's ruling was convicted sex offender Brad Crawford, 58, of Oklahoma City. “It means a lot to me. It gives me freedom. It takes a monkey off my back,” said Crawford, who was convicted in 1998 in Canadian County on a charge of lewd or indecent proposals/acts to a child. “I'm tired of dealing with them and their harassment.”
Crawford lamented that being listed on the registry limits offenders from living where they want and watching their grandkids' baseball games. Registered sex offenders are not allowed to live close to schools, playgrounds or licensed child care centers....
Crawford's crime was peeking over the top of a tanning booth. He said Crawford thought he was sneaking a peek at a woman, which might have brought misdemeanor peeping Tom charges. The “woman” turned out to be a 15-year-old girl who was a day shy of her 16th birthday, so Crawford was convicted of the more severe felony charge of lewd acts with a child....
Crawford originally received a five-year suspended sentence, except for 30 days in the Canadian County jail. He also was placed on the sex offender registry for 10 years....
However, before the 10 years was over, the Oklahoma Legislature passed new laws in 2007 that created a three-tiered risk level assessment system. The law required convicted sex offenders to be placed on the sex offender registry for 15 years, 25 years, or life, depending on their assessment levels....
Jerry Massie, spokesman for the Corrections Department, said department officials are discussing the Court's ruling and expect to post something on the agency's website within the next day or two, explaining how the department will comply with the decision.
Preliminary discussions have centered on department officials reviewing the registry and removing the names of sex offenders who appear to qualify under the court's ruling. Massie said no time frame has been established for such a review, but it “might take a month or so.” At the end of the process, sex offenders who believe they were wrongfully kept on the registry could ask to have their cases reviewed, he said.
The full Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling is available at this link, and here are a few paragraphs from its closing sections:
Here we are not balancing the rights of sex offenders against the rights of their victims. We are making a determination as to whether the means chosen to protect the public have exceeded the state's valid interest in public safety and infringed on the Oklahoma constitutional prohibition against ex post facto laws.
Out of the seven Mendoza-Martinez factors we have reviewed herein, five favor a punitive effect. It is not the number that is important but the weight of these factors that leads us to our conclusion. SORA's obligations have become increasingly broad and onerous. We find there is clear proof that the effect of the retroactive application of SORA's registration is punitive and outweighs its non-punitive purpose. The retroactive extension of SORA's registration is inconsistent with the ex post facto clause in the Oklahoma Constitution.
This is not to say that Oklahoma's Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) is unconstitutional on its face. A sex offender registry is a valid tool for the state to use for public safety. The State may impose registration duties and may publish registration information as part of its punishment of this category of defendants. The Oklahoma Constitution prohibits the addition of sanctions imposed on those who were already convicted before the legislation increasing sanctions and requirements of registration were enacted.
"Should child porn 'consumers' pay victim millions? Supreme Court to decide."
The title of this post is the headline of this new Christian Science Monitor piece discussing the Supreme Court's grant of certiorari yesterday in Paroline (noted here). Here is how the piece gets started:
The US Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to examine whether anyone convicted of possessing images of child pornography can be required to pay a multimillion dollar restitution award to the abused child depicted in the illicit images — even if the individual had no direct contact with the child-victim.
Under the Mandatory Restitution for Sexual Exploitation of Children Statute, Congress said that a judge “shall order restitution” for the victim in a child pornography case in “the full amount of the victim’s losses.” The law applies to those who personally engage in physical abuse of a child while producing pornographic images of the abuse. But the question in the appeal is whether the same law requires anyone who views or possesses the resulting child pornography to also pay the total amount of restitution.
The issue has arisen in hundreds of cases across the country involving possession of child pornography. The vast majority of courts have declined to require child pornography consumers (as opposed to producers) to pay the full amount of restitution. Only one federal appeals court, the New Orleans-based Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals, has ordered full restitution under such circumstances.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court agreed to examine a case from the Fifth Circuit and decide whether the government or the victim must be able to prove there is a causal relationship between the defendant’s conduct and harm to the victim and the victim’s claimed damages.
Recent related post:
Thursday, June 27, 2013
Sixth Circuit panel, again, finds substantively unreasonable a non-prison sentence child porn downloading in Bistline
As first reported in this post, a Sixth Circuit panel early last year in US v. Bistline, 665 F.3d 758 (6th Cir. 2012), ruled that is was substantively unreasonable to impose a non-prison sentence on a defendant who "pled guilty to knowingly possessing 305 images and 56 videos of child pornography on his computer" and faced a recommended guideline sentence of 63-78 months’ imprisonment." Thereafter, just about a year later as reported in this post, U.S. District Judge James Graham resentenced this defendant to the same sentence imposed the first time around, but also ruled that the 70-year-old Richard Bistline must be confined to his Knox County home for the first three years of probation.Today, via US v. Bistline, No. 13-3150 (6th Cir. June 27, 2013) (available here), the same Sixth Circuit panel has yet again deemed this sentence substantively unreasonable through an opinion that quotes a lot of what the panel said the first time around. Here is how the lastest Bistline opinion concludes:
Throughout the process of imposing Bistline’s first sentence and then his second, the district court placed excessive weight on the few factors that favor a lesser sentence, while minimizing or disregarding altogether the serious factors that favor a more severe one. The result once again was an abuse of the district court’s discretion. The sentence imposed on remand does not “reflect the seriousness of the offense”; it does not meet the retributive goal of “provid[ing] just punishment for the offense”; and it does not “afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct[,]” among other deficiencies. 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(2)(A), (B). Bistline’s sentence is substantively unreasonable.
The government also requests that we reassign the case to a different district judge for resentencing. In deciding whether to reassign a case, we consider, among other factors, “whether the original judge would reasonably be expected . . . to have substantial difficulty in putting out of his mind previously-expressed views or findings[.]” United States v. Garcia-Robles, 640 F.3d 159, 168 (6th Cir. 2011) (first alteration in original) (quoting Bercheny v. Johnson, 633 F.2d 473, 476–77 (6th Cir 1980)). The record in this case makes clear that the district judge would have such difficulty here. Moreover, on remand, the district judge said the following: “If I have got to send somebody like Mr. Bistline to prison, I’m sorry, someone else will have to do it. I’m not going to do it.” We therefore grant the government’s request to reassign the case.
Bistline’s sentence is vacated, and the case remanded for reassignment and resentencing.
At this stage, and with a reassignment now ordered, it will be interesting to see if the defendant here might seek en banc review or even certiorari in an effort to find a group of judges who might be prepared to conclude this sentence is reasonable despite being well below the calculated guideline range.
Prior related posts:
- Sixth Circuit finds substantively unreasonable a one-day of lock-up for child porn downloading
- District Judge at resentencing continues to resist federal child porn guidelines even after Sixth Circuit reversal
UPDATE: Over at the Sixth Circuit Blog, Bradley Hall has this new lengthy post about the Sixth Circuit's work in Bistline which it titled "The Sixth Circuit is a Sentencing Court." It gets started this way:
In a troubling line of cases culminating in today’s decision in United States v. Bistline (Bistline II), the Sixth Circuit has engaged in "substantive reasonableness" review to impose an inflexible rule that in cases involving the possession of child pornography, district courts must impose prison sentences, regardless of whether their analysis of the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors tells them that prison would be "greater than necessary" to effectuate the statutory goals of sentencing, and regardless of the fact that Congress itself elected not to impose a mandatory minimum sentence.
The analysis in this post reinforces my sense that the defendant here ought to at least take a shot at en banc review before concluding that the Sixth Circuit has essentially mandated that he get sent to federal prison.
June 27, 2013 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack
SCOTUS grants cert on challenging child porn restitution issues that have deeply split lower courtsAs reported here at SCOTUSblog, the Supreme Court wrapped up some business today via a final order list which included to criminal justice cert grants:
In a final round of orders for the Term, the Supreme Court on Thursday granted two new cases, and sent back a case on abortion rights back to an Oklahoma state court, asking for answers to specific questions on the impact of a new state law.
The Court agreed to hear, in its next Term, the cases of White v. Woodall (12-794) and Paroline v. United States (12-8561), limiting the question in that second case to a newly crafted question about restitution orders in child pornography cases. (Case page is forthcoming in Paroline.)
Woodall is one of those (always too popular) capital habeas/AEDPA cases that seems more about error-correction than changing the jurisprudential course of capital habeas review. But Paroline has the Justices finally agreeing to take on the vexing, dynamic and very consequential issue of criminal restitution awards in federal child pornography sentencing. Here is how the Justices' teed-up the issue in Paroline for consideration next term:
The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted limited to the following question: What, if any, causal relationship or nexus between the defendant's conduct and the victim's harm or damages must the government or the victim establish in order to recover restitution under 18 U.S.C. §2259.
I will have lots and lots to say about the Paroline grant and the issues it raises in the weeksn and month ahead. But already making my head hurt is the intriguing question of just who can, will and should get a chance to present arguments in Paroline.
Obviously, Doyle Paroline, the criminal defendant who petitioned for cert and is seeking to avoid a restitution punishment, will be represented and make arguments to the Supreme Court contended he should not have to pay restitution as part of his criminal sentence for downloading child pornography. And United States, of course, is the respondent which will be represented by the Solicitor General's office and likely will make arguments for a possible restitution award as part of a federal criminal sentence for downloading child pornography. But the real "parties of interest" in this new SCOTUS case (and hundred of other to be impacted by a ruling in Paroline) are the (many thousands of) victims of child pornography offenses.
Thanks to the federal Crime Victims Rights Act, lawyers for the victims of child pornography offenses have often been able to play an active and vocal role in lower courts as they adress the difficult statutory interpretation issue now taken up by SCOTUS in Paroline. Will these lawyers get a chance to argue before SCOTUS in Paroline? Might the CVRA be read to suggest that the Supreme Court must, or at least really should feel compelled to, give one (some? many?) counsel on behalf of child porn victims a chance to present oral argument to the Court? Should brief from lawyers or groups respresenting child porn victim be styled amicus briefs in the Supreme Court or are they really party briefs that need to be filed under the distinct rules and timeline for such filings?
Monday, June 24, 2013
Big SCOTUS majority blesses congressional power to go after sex offenders through SORNAThough Supreme Court anticipation now is mostly about matters tangential to the interest of truly hard-core sentencing fans, there was one last case dealing with federal regulation of sex offenders that SCOTUS handed down this morning. Here is the early report via SCOTUSblog:
U.S. v. Kebodoeux. The Fifth Circuit is reversed and remanded. Registration requirement under SORNA as applied to Kebodeaux falls within the scope of Congress's authority under the Necessary and Proper Clause.
Justice Breyer has the opinion for hte Court. Vote is 7-2. Chief Justice files a concurring opinion (in the judgment only) joined by Alito; Justice Scalia dissents, for himself; Justice Thomas dissents in an opinion joined in part by Justice Scalia.
SORNA is the Sex Offender and Registration Notification Act.... Here is the opinion in Kebodeaux, the SORNA case.
Friday, June 07, 2013
Welcome to the blogosphere: "The Civil-Criminal Distinction Blog"
I am pleased to learn that the idea of academics starting new blogs about legal issues has not yet become passé, as evidence by this new blog titled "The Civil-Criminal Distinction Blog." This title, obviously, reveals the planned focus for this new blog, but this about page provides these additional details about the author and his plans:
My name is Alexander Blenkinsopp. I am a graduate student at Harvard University. You can e-mail me at email@example.com.
This blog is dedicated to documenting and analyzing the blurry distinction between civil law and criminal law. I intend to use this space to call attention to interesting scholarship on the topic, to highlight current news involving the civil-criminal distinction, to discuss cases implicating this subject, and to share my own thoughts on the issue. I welcome comments, both on the blog itself and via e-mail. My introductory post provides more information.
The modern regulation of sex offenders seems likely to be a frequent topic on this new blog, as evidenced by these two recent substantive posts:
- South Carolina Supreme Court on GPS Monitoring of Sex Offenders
- Continued questions about civil commitment of sex offenders
Monday, June 03, 2013
Upon second thought, split South Caroline Supreme Court (sort-of) upholds mandatory lifetime GPS monitoring for sex offender
In this post just over a year ago, I noted that the South Carolina Supreme Court issued an interesting (and somewhat confusing) ruling in SC v. Dykes which declared unconstitutional some apsects of state law concerning GPS tracking of sex offenders. Then, in this post from last September, I noted on the rehearing of this case by South Carolina Supreme Court. And now, thanks to this new post at The Volokh Conspiracy, I have discovered that a new Dykes decision was handed down last week.
The ruling is available at this link, and here is how the majority opinion now gets started:
Jennifer Dykes appeals the circuit court's order requiring that she be subject to satellite monitoring for the rest of her life pursuant to sections 23-3-540(C) and (H) of the South Carolina Code of Laws (Supp. 2011). We affirm as modified.
Section 23-3-540 represents a codification of what is commonly referred to as Jessica's Law. Many states have some version of this law, which was enacted in memory of Jessica Lunsford, a nine-year-old girl who was raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender in Florida. Across the country, these laws heightened criminal sentences and post-release monitoring of child sex offenders. The specific issue presented in this case concerns the mandate for lifetime global positioning satellite monitoring with no judicial review. The complete absence of judicial review under South Carolina's legislative scheme is more stringent than the statutory scheme of other jurisdictions. A common approach among other states is either to require a predicate finding of probability to re-offend or to provide a judicial review process, which allows for, upon a proper showing, a court order releasing the offender from the satellite monitoring requirements. See generally, N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 14-208.43 (West 2010) (providing a termination procedure one year after the imposition of the satellite based monitoring or a risk assessment for certain offenders). While we hold that the statute's initial mandatory imposition of satellite monitoring is constitutional, the lifetime requirement without judicial review is unconstitutional.
A lengthy dissent to this notable new version of the Dykes ruling gets started this way:
Because I believe Dykes' status as a sex offender does not diminish her entitlement to certain fundamental rights, I would hold section 23-3-540(C) is unconstitutional because it is not narrowly tailored. I express no opinion on the constitutionality of section 23-3540(H) because that subsection was never challenged and is thus not before us. Dykes' argument is, and always has been, that subsection (C) of 23-3-540 — the provision requiring lifetime satellite monitoring for persons who violate a term of probation and were convicted of committing criminal sexual conduct with a minor in the first degree or committing or attempting a lewd act upon a child under sixteen — violates her substantive due process rights by imposing monitoring without any showing of her likelihood to reoffend. By invalidating a statutory provision not challenged, the majority ignores those settled principles of error preservation and appellate jurisprudence, and awards Dykes a consolation prize she has never requested and arguably has no standing to accept.
Prior related post:
- South Carolina Supreme Court declares lifetime sex offender GPS tracking unconstitutional on various grounds
- South Carolina Supreme Court reconsidering big constitutional ruling concerning broad GPS tracking
Thursday, May 16, 2013
When can and how should sex offenders be responsible for harming property values?The provocative question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent local article from Pennsylvania headlined "Judge: Sex offender not required to buy victim's property." Here are excerpts:
A Lehigh County couple who say a neighbor who admitted molesting their child should be forced to buy their property apparently won't get their wish.
County Judge Michele A. Varricchio has shot down the Upper Milford Township couple's unusual request that sex offender Oliver Larry Beck be required to purchase their $235,000 property, according to court records. Varricchio issued the order last week, explaining that forcing a sex offender to buy the home of a victim living in his neighborhood would "open the proverbial floodgates."
"This court finds it against public policy to require a defendant to purchase a plaintiff's property in a nuisance case," Varricchio wrote. The judge added that ordering the home purchase would "impose almost limitless liability on a property owner by every other neighbor who claims difficulty selling his or her property, regardless of the proximity to the alleged nuisance."
Varricchio was ruling on preliminary objections in a lawsuit filed against Beck, along with Beck's wife and mother. The couple whose daughter was molested by Beck filed the suit in December asking a judge to order Beck to buy their home and pay for the child's pain and suffering and for other damages. They claim the property is virtually unmarketable....
They still are eligible to seek damages for their child's suffering and for the loss in value of their property, although Varricchio said they are not entitled to be paid for the total value of the property. Varricchio's order says that that the victim's family should amend the lawsuit to provide details and proof of the loss in the value of their property.
"There is no doubt that the parents have a right to enjoy their own residence and property without the invasion and interference caused by [Beck]," Varricchio wrote. "Property rights are protected by the United States Constitution, but the equal protection clause affords both plaintiffs and defendants that protection."...
There is some scientific evidence that sex offenders lower property values. Two economics professors at Columbia Business School in 2008 studied the effect, finding that the value of homes within one-tenth of a mile of a sex offender dropped by an average of 4 percent.
The suit accuses Beck of sexual assault, infliction of emotional distress, fraud and negligence, among other claims. It also names as defendants Beck's wife and mother, claiming both knew or should have known of Beck's attraction to young children.
Beck, now 65, pleaded guilty in 2011 to indecent assault of a child under 13 and served time in prison. He is out of prison, but under Megan's Law must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. Investigators said that in February 2011, Beck lured the victim, then 7 years old, into his house by saying he wanted to show her a bear's head mounted in his basement. After telling the girl to feel the bear, Beck told her to take off her shirt and pants and then assaulted her, according to court records.
Beck's attorney, Robert J. Magee of Allentown, wrote in a court brief that the demand for the home purchase was "not appropriate or authorized under a legal or equitable theory." He added that the victim's family is still able to use and enjoy the property. He added, "This is just a type of injury that allows for no recourse, an injury without a remedy."
Varricchio also dismissed the couple's request that Beck pay their attorneys' fees. In addition, she dismissed a claim against Beck's wife that she be held partly liable for their property value loss.
May 16, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (41) | TrackBack
Friday, May 10, 2013
Notable new Oregon bill to allow some young sex offenders to get off registryIn this recent post about the Second Amendment rights of registered sex offenders prompted a lengthy comment thread about who does and does not end up on sex offender registries. With that discussion fresh in mind, I found this AP story about a bill making its way through the Oregon legislature interesting:
Some young offenders convicted of having sex with underage partners would be able to request the crime be removed from their records under a bill narrowly passed by the Oregon House on Wednesday. Voting 31 to 27, the House sent the bill to the Senate with little discussion.
Under the bill, in order for adult offenders to apply to have their records erased, coercion or force could not have been used in the sex act. Other conditions include completion of all required court-ordered programs and treatments.
Proponents say the current punishment for such sex offenders does not fit the crime. Opponents say people convicted of sex crimes often reoffend and should not be able to have their records expunged. "Individuals who commit sex offenses ... this isn't their first time and it won't be their last," said Crook County District Attorney Daina Vitolins, who opposes the bill on behalf of the Oregon District Attorneys Association. To say an act is consensual when it involves a person who is too young to give consent is indefensible and minimizes the law, Vitolins said.
For offenders to have their records cleared under the proposed law, they could be no more than five years older than the victim, and the victim must be at least 14. For sex crimes committed by a minor, the victim must be at least 12 and the age difference can be no more than three years.
House Speaker Tina Kotek, a sponsor, brought the legislation forward after hearing from a constituent who was 14 when his friend's parents reported him to the authorities for engaging in inappropriate behavior — which did not involve intercourse — with their young daughter. "This is the difference between a life of hopelessness and a future for this individual," the Portland Democrat told lawmakers last month.
Among those testifying for the bill was Matthew Shettles, who served three years' probation on a charge of sex abuse for having sex with his girlfriend in 2004 on the night of his high school graduation. In written testimony, Shettles said he had just turned 18 at the time and she was five weeks shy of 15. A counselor learned of the encounter and was required by a mandatory reporting law to inform authorities, he said.
He said having a sex crime on his record has made it difficult to get hired and rent an apartment. Employers and housing agencies often run criminal background checks. "It doesn't seem reasonable that a guy who had sex with his girlfriend should have to pay for the rest of his life," Shettles said in the written testimony.
Under the bill, only sex crimes that meet a specific set of requirements could be erased from an offender's record. Among other things, the person must have successfully applied to be removed from the state's sex offender registry and cannot have been convicted of other serious crimes.
May 10, 2013 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack
Tuesday, May 07, 2013
"The Case for Full Restitution for Child Pornography Victims"The title of this post is the title of this new paper on SSRN co-authored by Paul Cassell, James Marsh and Jeremy Christiansen concerning an issue that has riven the federal circuit courts and seems destined for SCOTUS consideration before too long. Here is the abstract:
This Article explores the issues of restitution to the victims of child pornography and other federal sex offenses in depth and contends that Congress meant what it said in Section 2259 — specifically that child pornography victims must receive an award for the “full amount” of their losses from any defendant convicted of harming them. This approach is consistent not only with the plain language of the statute but the well-established tort principle that any intentional wrongdoer is jointly and severally liable with other wrongdoers for an innocent victim’s losses. Requiring defendants to pay for the full amount of the losses that they have caused will address the significant financial losses suffered by child pornography victims.
May 7, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack
Monday, May 06, 2013
Don't registered sex offenders need gun rights for personal self-defense more than others?The question in the title of this post is my initial reaction to this big newpaper story from Iowa, headlined "50 sex offenders have gun permits: Law enforcement is concerned that state law allows offenders to easily obtain permits." Here are excerpts from the lengthy Des Moines Register story, which is less than fully informative about legal matters, but provides a lot of interesting facts nonetheless:
Joshua Duehr is one of more than 50 sex offenders in Iowa who can carry a gun in public. “I don’t leave the house without one,” said Duehr, who lives in Dubuque.
It’s legal — and it’s news that has surprised some state lawmakers and alarmed a few Iowa and national law enforcement officers. An FBI official, the president of the Iowa State Sheriffs’ & Deputies’ Association, the president of the Iowa State Police Association and two state lawmakers told The Des Moines Register they have public safety concerns after learning that a two-year-old state law on gun permits allows registered sex offenders to obtain a weapons permit....
Some, if not most, applications by sex offenders for permits to carry weapons would have been denied by county sheriffs before 2011, according to officials from the Iowa Department of Public Safety. But under a two-year-old state law, sheriffs no longer have discretion to reject such applications.
The law change means people convicted of misdemeanor sex crimes can now walk the streets, malls or virtually any public place in the state while carrying a gun. Almost all of the sex offenders on the Register’s list were convicted of misdemeanors such as lascivious conduct with a minor or assault with intent to commit sexual abuse.
But the Register found three men convicted of felony sex crimes who had permits to carry weapons in public. Two of those men had their permits revoked by sheriffs after the Register asked about their situations....
Some sheriffs were aware that sex offenders are carrying weapons in public, primarily because they issue the permits and have firsthand knowledge about the issue. But other professionals in Iowa’s law enforcement community were caught off guard.
Rob Burdess, a Newton police detective and the president of the Iowa State Police Association, was unaware that sex offenders are being issued weapon permits until he was asked about it by the Register. He noted that people with felonies or domestic abuse convictions are typically unable to obtain weapon permits, so he questions the logic of allowing sex offenders — even those convicted of non-felony offenses — to carry weapons in public....
[A] review of states surrounding Iowa found that some sex offenders can obtain permits to carry weapons even though authorities said they aren’t aware of a large number being issued. Those states — including Nebraska, Missouri and Wisconsin — have laws similar to Iowa’s that do not specifically exclude sex offenders from obtaining such permits. Minnesota law, however, makes it a misdemeanor for a person required to register as a sex offender to carry a handgun.
Just as state laws vary, so do opinions about whether armed sex offenders inherently pose more of a risk than other citizens. Sex offense recidivism rates are much lower than commonly believed, according to legislative testimony given in multiple states by Jill Levenson, an associate professor at Lynn University in Florida. She is frequently recognized as a national expert on sexual violence....
National uniform crime data from 2006 — the most recent data available — show that about half of all reported sex offenses included a weapon of some form (including the use of fists) but less than 1 percent of all reported sex offenses included the use of a firearm, according to Jason Rydberg, a graduate student at Michigan State. Iowa numbers mirror the national trend. Of the roughly 5,750 people on Iowa’s sex offender registry, 47 — or less than 1 percent — used guns in their crimes, according to data from the Iowa Department of Public Safety....
The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, a national organization focused on the prevention of sexual abuse, generally advocates for cases to be reviewed individually when assessing if a sex offender is likely to reoffend or jeopardize public safety. “There’s no blanket way of stating that sex offenders are more dangerous than everybody else,” said Maia Christopher, executive director of the association.
Iowa Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield and a former state trooper, isn’t reassured by the type of research offered by Levenson or groups like the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. Until he was contacted for this article, Baudler was unaware that the new gun permit law he advocated for in 2010 has allowed dozens of sex offenders to obtain weapon permits....
An Iowa sheriff may deny a permit to carry a weapon if he believes probable cause exists that the person is likely to use a weapon in a way that would endanger themselves or others. Those types of denials typically must be based on documented actions from the past two years. Iowans who believe sheriffs have wrongly rejected their applications for a weapon permit may appeal. Each appeal, generally reviewed by an administrative law judge, can cost a county government and taxpayers hundreds of dollars....
The cost and the real possibility of losing a case is one reason sheriffs don’t deny permits to carry weapons — even in cases where they have reservations — several sheriffs told the Register.
Washington County in January issued a permit to acquire a weapon to Ronald Nicholis Hahn Jr., who has been on the sex offender registry since 2005 because he was convicted of indecent exposure. Dunbar said he approved the permit because Hahn passed background checks. Hahn, 51, said he poses no threat to public safety and that he uses guns for hunting. “My offense happened seven or eight years ago and it has nothing to do with weapons, so why should I be denied the ability to purchase a gun?” Hahn asked.
Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, indicated that he believes Iowa’s new weapons permit law doesn’t need to be revised to specifically ban sex offenders. People convicted of felonies, including sex offenders, are already prohibited from obtaining a permit, he emphasized. “If their local sheriff does not have probable cause to restrict that person under current law from being able to obtain a permit, then that’s the situation at hand,” said Windschitl, a gunsmith who has advocated for multiple pro-gun bills.
Aggravatingly, this story fails to note that it is a serious federal crime, subject to up to 10 years imprisonment, for any and all persons convicted of a felony or a domestic violence misdemeanor from even possessing a gun. Thus, as the story indirectly notes, only persons without a felony or domestic violence conviction is even lawfully able to possess a gun, let alone get a lawful state permit for one. (I find notable that somehow three sex offender felons were able to get an Iowa gun permit, which perhaps highlights the need for background checks on how good current background checks are in the permit-issuance process in Iowa.)
More to the point of the question in the title of this post, if we think the Second Amendment right to bear arms is linked in some important and significant way to the natural right of personal self-defense (as Heller suggested), a reasonable claim might be made that it would be uniquely unconstitutional to deny gun permits to otherwise eligible persons on a state sex offender registry. There has long been considerable anecdotal evidence of considerable vigilante violence directed toward persons based simply on their presence on a sex offender registry. Given the history of private violence directed toward sex offenders — not to mention the possibility that local law enforcement might not be too quick to come to the aid of someone they know is a registered sex offender — I can fully understand why Joshua Duehr and other low-level registered sex offender might be afraid to move around in public without packing heat to potentially aid any efforts to exercise their natural right of self defense.
Though I do not fancy myself a Second Amendment expert, I wonder if a state law like Minnesota's prohibiting misdemeanor sex offenders from having a firearm in constitutional in the wake of Heller and McDonald. If and when a low-level sex offender in Minnesota or elsewhere could reasonably document a history of serious personal threats of serious violence directed toward him because of his placement on the registry and asserted a genuine belief in his need for a firearm in order to protect himself, could a state really require his name and address to stay on the sex offender registry while also denying him a right to keep and bear arms to defend himself?
May 6, 2013 in Collateral consequences, Gun policy and sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Second Amendment issues, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (90) | TrackBack
Sunday, May 05, 2013
Notable new Judge Weinstein opinion on child porn sentencing for juve offenderOver the weekend, experienced lawyer and federal sentencing guru Mark Allenbaugh (firm website here) alerted me to what he called a "new and (again) excellent opinion by Judge Jack Weinstein" in U.S. v. D.M., 12-CR-170 (EDNY May 1, 2013) (available here). The opinion runs nearly 50 pages, and Mark provided a summary which he has graciously allowed me to post here:
D.M. is a child porn possession case wherein Judge Weinstein imposed straight probation. What is rather unusual about the case (in addition to the sentence imposed) is the fact that the government initially charged the defendant with distribution, which carries a 5-year mandatory minimum, but later allowed the defendant to plead to a simple possession charge in order for the court not to be bound by the mandatory minimum after the defendant successfully completed a couple of polygraphs regarding whether he intended to distribute (as is typical, he had used a peer-to-peer site to obtain the contraband).
The nature of the plea negotiation is quite interesting, and, as Judge Weinstein rightly notes, counsel for both sides should be congratulated for their effort to seek justice, as opposed to the all-so-typical bidding war regarding months' imprisonment that mirrors what occurs in civil settlement negotiations rather than what should occur (and what did occur here).
Judge Weinstein begins the opinion as follows: “This case illustrates the sensible cooperation of prosecutor, defense, experts and the court to save rather than destroy an adolescent found to have used his computer to view child pornography.” How many judges can say that in any criminal case that is resolved by plea? Far, far too few.
Judge Weinstein ends thus: “The sentence imposed will provide an opportunity for defendant to succeed in therapy, at school, at attaining employment, and at becoming a functioning and law-abiding member of society. A sentence involving incarceration has been considered and is rejected. All concerned are best served by following this course.”
This is a good read for all, regardless of practice focus. (Of course, those who have clients charged with child porn, it is a particularly good case to read and cite, not the least of which is because it is the first published opinion to discuss in substantive detail the Commission’s new Child Porn report).
May 5, 2013 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack