Are the new 2008 sex offender laws unconstitutional? Are they fair to all involved?
My mail has been full today with most of the readers asking me about the new 2008 sex offender laws that were enacted today, January 1, 2008. The law, specifically HR 4472, the Adam Walsh law, which the states adopted, was initiated by the federal government. As I understand it, the threat from the government was that if the states didn't comply they could lose some government subsidies, etc.
The law is based on Adam's law, a law passed on June 29, 2007. Adam Walsh was the son of John Walsh, host of Fox America's Most Wanted. The new law supposedly creates uniformity in America by establishing set penalties for registraton requirements of sex offenders as well as a "tier system". Before I say anything else about this subject please note:
I don't support child predators or rapists in any way, okay? You got that? But I do support something in the constitution called "due process". In other words, we all have a right to be treated fairly, period. You'll understand what I mean shortly. Now here's the new federal tier system.
Tier one includes incest, crimes against nature, contributing to the delinquency of juveniles, sexual battery of the infirm, video voyeurism, sexual battery, intentional exposure to AIDS, felony carnal knowledge of a juvenile and indecent behavior with a juvenile. People convicted of those offenses must register as a sex offender for 15 years, up from the previous registration period of 10 years.
Tier two includes sexual offenses against minors. People convicted of Tier Two offenses must register as sex offenders for 25 years, up from the previous registration period of 10 years. They also must verify their location in person, with proof of residency, every six months.
Tier three includes all aggravated offenses. People convicted of Tier Three offenses must register as a sex offender for their entire lives. They previously were required to register for 10 years. They also must verify their residency in person with authorities every three months.
Teens age 14 or older who are convicted of an adult offense must register as sex offenders under the Tier Three requirements. The registration period for juveniles can be reduced to 25 years if they maintain a clean criminal record.
Now here's the complaints I received by at least one sex offender and his family and concerned citizens who are not sex offenders. It's concerning a group in tier one, the least of the offenders.
Here's the case. If you were a 18 year old prankster who took a picture (voyeurism) of two people in a sex act and was caught, you are now deemed a sex offender. Kind of harsh some say. Anyway, you now must register for 10 years. Now, your crime occurred March 1, 1998. You abided by all the registration requirements and never offended again. You don't even think that way again. You and your spouse endure 10 years of this embarrassment, not to mention your neighbors knowing about your crime. You can't wait for March 1, 2008. That's your 10 year finish/end date. This is January 2008, you only have two more months. You have resolved to do the right thing for life, to be a law abiding citizen. Then you awoke to a surprise this morning. The federal government has added 5 more years to your sentence, retroactively. The state concurred (remember they want government assistance). You have no appeal rights! In essence your 10 year registration suddenly went up to 15 years! Two more months and you were finished! You did everything according to the law. You now must serve 5 more years!
Accordingly, many legislators are now having second thoughts about some classifications of sex offenders. Many will tell you that the "strict" sex offense laws were made for the predators, like rapist and child predators, not video voyeurs and such. But in the past few years to "earn" the offender tag is quite easy to earn. Video voyeurism most say is not a hardened, unrepentive, sexual predator! And the registration and housing laws doesn't allow some people to live near schools or churches.
Matter of fact, Senator Jerry Behn, republican from Iowa who helped write his state's sex offense laws says " It may be overly broad ". He further stated " he's now speaking with colleagues about focusing on "true predators" (USA Today, Feb 25,2007).
State Rep. Gus Blackwell of Oklahoma stated "let's apply them (the strictest laws) to those who are the highest risk to society" (USA Today, Feb 25,2007 )
Even many police officers in charge of offenders are questioning harsh registration policies. Sgt. Gary Stansill, head of the Tulsa Police Department sex crimes unit stated "he considers less than 10% of his state's 8,000 sex offenders to be high risk" and is lobbying legislators to focused on the worst offenders (USA Today).
And here's the big one. The architect of the law, John Walsh is quoted as saying, via USA Today, " you can't paint sex offenders with a broad brush". He is further quoted as saying that he was going after the "rapist and child predators".
Look, I know that this sex offense subject is deep. And normally, I wouldn't touch this with a 10 foot pole. Believe me, I'm aware of the "political ramification" of a hot subject. But look, in Oklahoma, if you're caught urinating in public, you are now a hard core sex offender, even if you went deep into the woods! Even if you are a female and "had" to go!
Look, even if you're not caught, according to the law, you're still a sex offender. Mothers, theorectically if you led your 5 year old daughter to an area of the woods to "use" it, you can be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile, which now makes you a sex offender and your 5 year old kid is a sex offender!
Now do you see my point? It's getting to the point that it has nothing to do with forcing yourself on another person such as rape, etc. The intent of the law is getting lost. I agree with many of these politicians that we are going to far (never thought I agree with a politician).
As Senator Keith Kreiman of Iowa is quoted as saying " It is very politically risky to even hold hearings on repealing some of the sex offender laws" (USA Today).
That's my first problem with this subject. Now here's my second problem. What about a person who was charged with murder and is now released. Why don't we require him or her to register?
Parents, please don't let your young ones that "got to go" out of your sight!