News Articles

Should sex offenders be allowed to use Facebook? Supreme Court will decide

On February 27, 2017, in News Articles, by tvadmin

"Should sex offenders be allowed to use Facebook? Supreme Court will decide

"Jordan Rudner, Washington Correspondent 12/10/16

WASHINGTON — Like tens of thousands of other Texans on the sex offender registry, Andrew, who lives in Dallas, is legally barred from using the vast majority of social media websites, including Facebook and Snapchat.

Every state places different restrictions on the rights of convicted sex offenders, limiting where they’re allowed to live, travel and work. And several, including Texas, also severely limit the websites that sex offenders are allowed to visit.

But on Monday, lawyers argued before the Supreme Court that such blanket bans may be a violation of their right to free speech.

Andrew, who was arrested for possession of child pornography in 2004, spent 10 years in federal prison. He’s still on parole today, his keystrokes and clicks are constantly monitored, and he isn’t allowed to own a smartphone. He knows his story isn’t a particularly sympathetic one.

“My choice cost me everything," said Andrew, who agreed to discuss his case if he were referred to by his middle name only. "But it isn’t a sob story, it’s just a fact. I know I did this to myself.”

Since his arrest, Andrew’s wife has left him. Of his three children, only one will speak to him. He had to seek special permission from the court to activate a LinkedIn profile so that he could find another job, and he describes his boss as “probably my only friend.”

So he wishes he could rejoin Facebook, if only to temper his isolation. Unlike sex offenders, perpetrators of violence, kidnapping and even murder are still allowed on social media, he noted.

“I’ve been through treatment, I’ve paid my dues,” he said. “I’m no danger to anyone.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who co-signed a brief in support of the North Carolina law now before the Supreme Court, disagrees. In the brief, Paxton and 12 other attorneys general argued that laws restricting the use of social media by sex offenders is a “practical solution to a practical problem.”

“The problem is that social media is a dangerous place for children and that registered sex offenders disproportionately commit additional sex crimes online,” the brief read.

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Illinois Court Strikes Sex Offender Park Ban

On February 14, 2017, in News Articles, by tvadmin

"Illinois Court Strikes Sex Offender Park Ban

"By MARCIE SHIELDS February 14, 2017

(CN) – An Illinois appeals court ruled that a state law making it a crime for convicted sex offenders to set foot in public parks is unconstitutional because it can punish innocent conduct.

Friday’s ruling stems from the 2013 conviction of Marc A. Pepitone, a previously convicted sex offender who was arrested while walking his dog in a public park in Bolingbrook, Ill., a southwest suburb of Chicago.

A Will County jury found Pepitone, who was convicted in 1999 of predatory criminal sexual assault, guilty of being a child sex offender in a public park, in violation of an Illinois law.

As written, the law at issue makes it a crime for convicted sex offenders to attend concerts, picnics, rallies, or Chicago Bears games at Soldier Field, for example, or visit popular places like the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, the Art Institute, the Adler Planetarium, or the Museum of Science and Industry, all of which are public buildings on park land.

Pepitone was sentenced to 24 months of conditional discharge and 100 hours of public service and given a $400 fine, but he appealed the conviction, claiming the banishment of sex offenders from public parks is “unconstitutional on its face because it bears no reasonable relationship to protecting the public.”

Pepitone argued in his appeal that the law sweeps too broadly and therefore must be struck down. He said, “The specific issue is . . . whether an all-out banishment, of all child sex offenders, from all public parks . . . at all times. . .is a reasonable means of achieving the legislature’s stated goal of ‘protect[ing] users of public parks from child sex offenders and sexual predators.’”

The Illinois Appellate Court’s Third District agreed with Pepitone on Friday in a 2-1 ruling and reversed his conviction of being a child sex offender in a public park.

“We hold that section 11-9.4-1(b) is facially unconstitutional because it is not reasonably related to its goal of protecting the public, especially children, from individuals fitting the definition of a child sex offender or a sexual predator,” Justice Mary McDade wrote for the majority. “Nor is it drafted in such a way as to effect that goal without arbitrarily stripping a wide swath of innocent conduct and rights he has as a citizen and taxpayer from a person who has paid the penalty for his crime.”

McDade said the sweep of the law “is extraordinary.”

“Section 11-9.4-1(b) is an outright ban on all individuals with certain sex offense convictions from public park buildings and public park property without any requirement that anyone—particularly a child—be actually, or even probably, present,” the ruling states.

The appeals panel’s majority found that the law “criminalizes substantial amounts of innocent conduct” and “makes no attempt to assess the dangerousness of a particular individual.”

Quoting a previous ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court, McDade wrote, “’Statutes that potentially punish innocent conduct violate due process principles because they are not reasonably designed to achieve their purposes.’”
Justice Robert Carter dissented, disagreeing that the state law is facially unconstitutional.
“By keeping sex offenders who have committed sex offenses against children away from areas where children are present, the legislature could have rationally sought to avoid giving those sex offenders an opportunity to reoffend,” he wrote. “Whether the statute could be more finely-tuned to accomplish that goal is a question for the legislature, not for the courts.”
In December, a federal judge in Indiana struck down part of a similar city ordinance that prohibited sex offenders from loitering near parks, schools and other places children most commonly frequent, calling the ordinance “unconstitutionally vague.”

2016 Crime Review: A look at the effectiveness of sex offender registries

On February 14, 2017, in News Articles, by tvadmin

"2016 Crime Review: A look at the effectiveness of sex offender registries

"By Joshua Vaughn The Sentinel Feb 13, 2017

It may run counter to conventional wisdom, but it is exceedingly rare for a person registered as a sex offender to be charged with a new sexual offense in Cumberland County.

Of the 75 charged sex crime cases in Cumberland County in 2016, only two were committed by a person listed on the sex offender registry, according to an analysis of court records conducted by The Sentinel.

Neither of those offenses involved a direct assault on a child.

Of the more than 300 charged sex crime cases in Cumberland County between 2013 and 2016, only six cases involved a person listed on the sex offender registry.

Those stats show that the more than 290 remaining cases — including some of the most heinous sexual assaults against children — were committed by people who were not registered.

“It’s really clear that all of the evidence and all of the data shows that most sex offenses are committed by first-time offenders,” said Emily Horowitz, professor of sociology and criminal justice at Saint Francis College. “For whatever reason, people who are on the registry have a very low recidivism rate, and if one is really concerned about decreasing sex offenses, they kind of have to look elsewhere instead of people who have already been convicted of sex offenses.”

The Sentinel reviewed more than 450 charged sex crime cases in Cumberland, Dauphin, Perry, Franklin and Adams counties in 2016 and found only 15 cases where the defendant was on the registry at the time of the offense.

More than 96 percent of all sex crime cases in those five counties involved defendants who were not on the sex offender registry.

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Registered sex offenders see fewer places to work, live

On January 16, 2017, in News Articles, by tvadmin

"Registered sex offenders see fewer places to work, live

"Patrick Johnston , Times Record NewsPublished 10:45 a.m. CT Jan. 15, 2017

Almost 11 years ago, the Wichita Falls City Council chose to limit where a registered sex offender could live within the city limits as a way to safeguard the children of the city.

The ordinance, which was passed by a unanimous vote on April 4, 2006, prohibits any registered sex offender with a victim under the age of 17 from living in an estimated 80 to 85 percent of Wichita Falls if they weren’t already living there before the new law passed.

It states that they can’t live within 1,000 feet – from property line to property line – of public or private schools; youth centers; certain child-care facilities; and public parks, including the Circle Trail. If the victim was 17 or older, the ordinance restrictions do not apply.

The Wichita Falls Police Department maintains a database that Detective Sammy Motsenbocker likened to a “living document” with the exact locations affected by the child safety zones. As locations that meet the criteria of the ordinance are opened, he said the child safety zones are added.

“If a part of the property line gets caught in the zone, the entire property falls into the zone,” Motsenbocker said.

If the person lived in the house before the ordinance was approved, they are still allowed to live there as long as they don’t move from that residence.

“As long as they don’t move, they are grandfathered in,” Motsenbocker said. “… For the state of Texas and registration reasons, they say seven days – whether voluntary or not – is considered a move.”


Sex offenders monitored, even after probation ends

On January 16, 2017, in News Articles, by tvadmin

"Sex offenders monitored, even after probation ends

"Patrick Johnston , Times Record NewsPublished 10:28 a.m. CT Jan. 15, 2017

While a deferred adjudication or probation sentence might seem like a slap on the wrist to some, it can completely change the life of someone convicted of a sexually-based offense.

Soon after punishment is given, the offender must meet with a probation officer to complete an initial intake documentation.

The form tells the offender if, based on a checklist, he or she must register for life, or for how many years. It’ll also notify them if they must check in annually, every 90 days or every 30 days.

Next, if they plan to live in Wichita Falls, they meet with Detective Sammy Motsenbocker with the Wichita Falls Police Department.

“I collect what state they were born in, height, weight, hair color, eye color, blood type, shoe size, shoe width, nicknames, tattoos – any identifying information,” Motsenbocker said of the initial meeting. He also goes over the information included on the form he receives from the probation officer.

Once everything is verified, Motsenbocker enters the information into a secure sex offender database through the Texas Department of Public Safety.


Prison Rape in TDCJ – Most TDCJ sex assault victims housed in just a few units, most victimized by staff

On January 12, 2017, in News Articles, by tvadmin

"Most TDCJ sex assault victims housed in just a few units, most victimized by staff

"GRITS FOR BREAKFAST Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Here are a few highlights from a recent report on sexual assault in TDCJ put out by the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault and the Prison Justice League.

Their report represents a significant bit of research. They examined federal Bureau of Justice Statistics data on sexual assault in Texas prisons and sent a voluntary, confidential survey to prisoners who had self-reported sexual assaults at some point during their incarceration. This research was supplemented by correspondence with inmates who responded to the survey.

A disproportionate number (41.2 percent) of inmate sexual assault victims self-identified as LGBTQ, the survey found, confirming a pattern where inmates deemed gay or even just effeminate may be more likely to become victims.

Survey respondents reported sexual assaults at 15 prison units across the state with the majority of reports coming from three units: Estelle (Huntsville), Robertson (Abilene), and Allred (Iowa Park). A whopping 58.9 percent of respondents said they were assaulted by a staff member, which jibes with past investigations into sexual assault at TDCJ. "In 2014, 766 allegations of staff-on-offender sexual abuse and sexual harassment incidents were reported to the PREA Ombudsman by unit-level TDCJ staff." They cited a 2015 Marshall Project report showing that, nearly half the time, local prosecutors refuse to pursue cases involving staff-on-inmate sexual abuse. When they do, "Of the 126 staff members convicted of sexual misconduct or assault, only nine were sentenced to serve time."

Just as there's an argument for creating a division at the Attorney General to prosecute police misconduct to take decisions out of the hands of local prosecutors, there's an equally good argument to be made for doing the same thing when prosecuting TDCJ guards. Elected, rural prosecutors understandably are reticent to go after workers at the largest employer in town, and may feel more in common with TDCJ staff than their victims. That's a recipe for justice denied.

The federal Prison Rape Elimination Act has created new tracking and record keeping to shine a light on prison rape, the report found, but the Ombudsman function is notably underdeveloped. TDCJ employs 152 people in its Safe Prisons/PREA management offices around the state, but only one Ombudsman and an assistant to process 1,041 allegations of inmate-on-inmate alleged sexual abuse incidents across 109 facilities in 2013, and 1,467 in 2014. That's simply not enough warm bodies to perform the job properly.

The proposal also exempts those who’ve lived in a zone before it was created.

The report included the following recommendations:

* Establish independent oversight to evaluate TDCJ facilities. (Paging Michele Deitch!)

* Halt the practice of placing sexual assault victims in solitary confinement "without thoroughly exhausting alternative protective measures."

* Increase resources to the PREA Ombudsman office.

* Improve the offender grievance system with better training for staff and accountability for failing to respond to victims.
* Involve outside agencies in assessing PREA compliance.

Lawmaker seeks limits on sex offender homes

On December 10, 2016, in News Articles, by tvadmin

"Lawmaker seeks limits on sex offender homes

"By John Austin CNHI State Reporter 12/10/16

AUSTIN — Small cities have trouble keeping registered sex offenders from living near schools and other places where children gather, but one lawmaker says the state may finally be ready to give them that authority.

Unlike larger cities, municipalities with populations less than 5,000, known as general-law cities, don’t have the power to dictate where registered sex offenders may live, according to some interpretations of a 2007 opinion by Gov. Greg Abbott, then the state’s attorney general.

With no state limits, nothing prevents sex offenders from being around children once they’ve finished their sentences in those small communities.

Nearly four-dozen general law cities have adopted limits, but threatened legal action prompted nearly a quarter of them to repeal the rules. About the same number have been sued, according to the Texas Municipal League.

Rep. Drew Springer, R-Gainesville, said he plans to settle the matter with a bill allowing small cities to create child safety zones of no more than 1,000 feet around schools, day cares, playgrounds, youth centers, public pools, arcades and facilities that hold events geared toward children.

Registered sex offenders could transport a child they’re legally permitted to be with into the zones. They may travel through the zones for work.

The proposal also exempts those who’ve lived in a zone before it was created.

“I think I’ll have bipartisan, strong support,” said Springer, whose proposal is backed by the Texas Municipal League. “It’s rural Texas values.”

He called it a “quality-of-life” measure.

Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, said 96 percent of the state is outside the jurisdiction of cities, which leaves plenty of space for sex offenders to live outside child safety zones.

“We’re not in support of legislation that would ban sex offenders,” he said. “You’ve got to live somewhere, but not within 50 feet of a school.”

But Richard Gladden, a Denton attorney who works on behalf of Texas Voices for Reason and Justice, a group that advocates for those required to register for sex-related offenses, said similar bills have failed in the past.
Courts elsewhere are increasingly throwing out such restrictions, with a federal appeals court in Michigan ruling one unconstitutional.
Gladden said research doesn’t support the idea that residency rules make children safer.
In fact, making offenders’ lives less stable, by requiring them to live far from their jobs, could raise the odds of re-offending, he said.
“Politicians don’t inform constituents of that,” he said. “They leave that out so that they can appear to be tough.”
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Hartford City sex offender ordinance unconstitutionally vague

On December 3, 2016, in News Articles, by tvadmin

"Hartford City sex offender ordinance unconstitutionally vague

"By IL StaffDecember 2, 2016

A 2008 Hartford City ordinance that restricted registered sex offenders from entering or loitering within 300 feet of broadly defined “child safety zones” is unconstitutionally vague, a federal judge has ruled.

Brian Valenti challenged a 2008 ordinance after he moved to the Blackford County community in 2014 with his wife and minor child. Valenti was required to register as a sex offender for his 1993 California conviction of a sex offense involving a child under the age of 14.

The Hartford City ordinance, which was amended in 2015, imposed a fine of up to $200 per offense for registered sex offenders who entered or loitered within 300 feet of parks, schools, public libraries, arcades, amusement centers, swimming pools, child care facilities, athletic complexes, crisis centers or shelters, skate parks or rinks, movie theaters, bowling alleys, scouting facilities or the office of protective services.

Valenti argued the local ordinance caused him to curtail activities with his child. He said he was given a citation while a passenger in his brother’s car while the car was parked at his brother’s house across the street from a school.

Judge Theresa Springmann in the District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Fort Wayne Division, granted Valenti summary judgment in part, finding the ordinance violates Indiana’s ex post facto law as applied to Valenti, and that it’s unconstitutionally vague.

The ordinance “encouraged arbitrary enforcement by failing to describe with sufficient particularity what activity violated the ordinance” and was “unconstitutionally vague on its face,” Springmann wrote in an order issued Thursday.

Though Springmann wrote that she was troubled by the amended ordinance that sought to clarify who could be subject to fines and further define prohibited loitering, she stopped short of striking the revised city code. She did forbid Hartford City, though, from ordering fines under the amended ordinance, finding its language also violates the 14th Amendment.

Springmann said a future conference will be set to consider Valenti’s damages. The case is Brian Valenti et al. v. Hartford City, Indiana, 1:15-cv-63.

Breaking: Fourth Circuit Holds NC Premises Statute Unconstitutional

On November 30, 2016, in News Articles, by tvadmin

Breaking: Fourth Circuit holds NC premises statute unconstitutional


November 30, 2016

By Robin . . . In a broadly worded opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has affirmed a lower court ruling previously holding most of North Carolina’s premises and proximity restrictions applied to registered sex offenders as unconstitutional.

The Court of Appeals held subsection (2) of § 14-208.18 as unconstitutionally overboard and admonished the state for failing to provide evidence to support its intent: “Without empirical data or other similar credible evidence, it is not possible to tell whether subsection (a)(2) . . . responds at all to the State’s legitimate interest in protecting minors from sexual assault.”

The Court of Appeals held subsection (3) of § 14-208.18 as unconstitutionally vague stating that “neither an ordinary citizen nor a law enforcement officer could reasonably determine what activity was criminalized” by the statutory language.

The North Carolina General Assembly enacted a new premises statute which took affect on September 1, 2016. The new statute is set to be challenged in federal court by NCRSOL, National RSOL’s affiliate in North Carolina.

Sex offender registries discourage rehabilitation

On November 26, 2016, in News Articles, by tvadmin

"Sex offender registries discourage rehabilitation

"By Sandy Rozek 11/25/16 12:01 AM - The Washington Examiner

Ten years ago, Jeffrey Roy shared a bottle of vodka and played video games with a fourteen-year-old girl in his basement. The two engaged in sexual activity. When her father's concern for her whereabouts led him to the home, she told him and the police she had no memory of the incident.

Jeffrey was sixteen. He was sentenced to five years, most suspended, and put on probation and the sex offender registry for ten years.

The first few years of his probation, with its stringent sex offender restrictions, were difficult for Jeffrey. But he got it together and did what we hope for every teenager: He grew up.

According to all sources, he made a remarkable rehabilitation, earning him the approval of his community, peers and elders. For the past few years, Jeffrey has run with his father, Jim, in the Tarzan Brown Race sponsored by the YMCA in Mystic, Conn.

This year, when Jim went to register, Jeffrey's registration was rejected. He was flagged for being on the state's sex offender registry.

Many in the community appealed to the YMCA, citing his reputation as a young man who made a stupid mistake, paid the penalty, learned his lesson and turned his life around.

One of the other runners reviewed YMCA policy and pointed out that the language allows discretion in the matter. The CEO and executive director of the foundation, which manages 40 races a year including this one, said she had never heard of a runner being banned from a race for being a registered sex offender. Beth Schluger of the Hartford Marathon Foundation said her organization doesn't even screen runners for being on the registry.

The Ocean Community YMCA, however, citing safety as a primary concern, held firm. When the race was run Nov. 6, neither Jeffrey nor Jim, who has been a participant in nearly all of the 40 previous Tarzan Brown races, were among the runners.

Why was this decision made? Was there any actual fear that Jeffrey's presence created an element of risk or danger to anyone? The other runners? The observers? The YMCA officials?

If rehabilitation and re-entering society as a law-abiding citizen after punishment for a crime is the objective, Jeffrey could well be the poster boy. What message does his rejection send to those who commit crimes, serve their punishment and then become law-abiding citizens?

Do we let them know we appreciate they've turned their lives around? Do we show our pride in them for overcoming their earlier faults and choosing to go forward as contributing participants of community and society?

Or do we slap them down, giving them no incentive for being rehabilitated? Do we tell them, by our words, actions and judgment that they might as well remain hoodlums, criminals and sex offenders because they will never be forgiven?
It's easy to blame the YMCA, and they should be doing some soul-searching for this arbitrary decision, as well as some contemplation of the word "Christian" in their name. Jeffrey ran in their race and in others for several years with no negative consequences to anyone. There was no reason to deny him admission this year.
The true culprit, however, is the publicized sex offender registry. With no empirical evidence showing public notification of any safety benefit to society, it serves one purpose: To impede the law-abiding registered citizen from moving forward with his life. It allows entities such as the YMCA to exclude those for whom there is no reason to exclude.
It serves only to tell those like Jeffrey that no matter what you do, it will never be good enough. It removes the goal of rehabilitation from the justice system, leaving its only goal punishment.
The loss is to communities and society at-large. The loss is that of young men like Jeffrey who, rather than being welcomed as participating citizens, are treated as pariahs and told in no uncertain terms that they are not allowed among us.
Sandy Rozek is a free-lance writer and the communications director of Reform Sex Offender Laws, Inc. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.

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