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November 20, 2006

Debating sentences for predator offenses

The Roanoke Times has this extended article on sex offense sentencing, which has this set up: "Authorities are trying to toughen the penalties for crimes involving sexual exploitation of children. But some in the legal community wonder whether stricter punishments will solve the problem." Here's more from the start of the story:

John Beckner purchased five years in a federal penitentiary with a $10 money order. 

Beckner had visited an Internet site featuring child pornography.  Over the next six months, the Roanoke man received e-mails hawking the site's wares. Though he made efforts to avoid the Internet, reminders from HotPop.com kept arriving. Finally, Beckner ordered a $10 "preview" video. But HotPop.com was a front for a federal sting.  As soon as Beckner picked up the tape, black government sport utility vehicles were following him. 

Beckner cooperated with investigators and had no criminal record.  Yet a federal judge in Roanoke had no choice but to sentence him to five years in prison, the mandatory minimum. Paul Dull, Beckner's attorney, noted that his client never laid a finger on a child, and his only illegal purchase was from the federal sting. "So how, exactly, is he contributing to this mass problem?" Dull asked.

Beckner's case could become typical as national and state authorities campaign to toughen the penalties for crimes involving sexual exploitation of children, with a definite emphasis on punishment over treatment.

Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell wants to look into creating state mandatory sentencing minimums for child pornography possession, akin to the federal law that sent Beckner to prison. "It all has to do with the word 'potential,' " said Roanoke defense attorney Gary Lumsden.  These cases become a balancing act between protecting society from potential molesters "and on the other end of the spectrum, a witch hunt," he said.

November 20, 2006 at 07:14 AM | Permalink


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Tracked on Nov 20, 2006 8:40:14 PM


For anyone who cares, it is now possible to read 1984 online:


Posted by: George | Nov 20, 2006 5:26:44 PM

Please excuse my confusion. There is this from the article:

In a 1999 study referenced by the Center for Sex Offender Management, part of the U.S. Department of Justice, Dr. Margaret Alexander analyzed 79 sex offender treatment studies published from 1943 to 1996 and encompassing nearly 11,000 offenders.

Of those who underwent treatment, 13.2 percent were charged again with sex crimes, compared with 17.6 percent of offenders who failed to get treatment.

"The public thinks that most offenders re-offend," said Alexander, clinical director of the Sex Offender Treatment Program at Oshkosh Correctional Institution in Oshkosh, Wis. "It's not true."

Many politicians and others, it seems, would disagree.

"Unlike so many other things that we deal with, nobody has a good way to treat these people," Branscom said. "There's a higher recidivism rate than for other crimes."

Who is Branscom? Unless I missed it, the article does not say. Does he or she know what a study is and what does or does not make it scientific (i.e. sound and reliable)? What evidence does he or she have that the study is flawed? What hat do "politicians and others" pull their numbers out of and are those hats for sale at Wal-Mart? Maybe those hats are only for sale at Wal-Marts in D.C. and state capitals around the county. Maybe those hats make people lie unconsciously. There really ought to be a law against those hats.

Posted by: George | Nov 20, 2006 10:27:39 PM

I am a prosecutor. In my experience, undercover agents running sting operations tend to select people for targeting purposes who already have ordered child pornography on other occasions or who have manifested through their conduct a sexual interest in children. Also, the target would have had an entrapment defense if the targeting decision was faulty or the target was not predisposed to commit this offense. We cannot tell whether any of this is true from the information provided. And without this information, second guessing the sentence or the suggesting the inappropriateness of a mandatory minimum sentence on the grounds that the target was not dangerous is impossible. The important question is whether the target had a long standing and persistent pattern of behavior. If so, they have a much higher chance of re-offending.

Posted by: Steve | Nov 21, 2006 8:14:44 PM

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