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Reforming Sex Offender Registration

by TChris

Requiring registration as a sex offender is an extreme measure that subjects the registered individual to shame and mistreatment while limiting employment, housing and rehabilitative opportunities. If sex offender registration makes sense at all -- and there's little empirical evidence that it protects society -- it should be reserved for the worst offenders who are most likely to reoffend.

In places like Michigan, where the legislative desire to appear "tough on crime" overcame rationality, some kids are forced to register because they had consensual sex with a friend.

[I]n its zeal to appear aggressive (and to capture federal funding tied to the number of offenders registered), Michigan lawmakers cast their nets wide, subjecting thousands of low-risk, nonviolent offenders to mandatory registration.

Bay County Family Court Judge Karen Tighe is one of a dozen or so judges who have written me to express their alarm at the number of young men being "labeled for life" as sex offenders.

"Some of them are 16-year-olds who had consensual sex with a girlfriend who is 15," Tighe noted in an e-mail last month. "One young man has had trouble at college because he had to register as a sex offender over something that happened when he was 11."

Consigning kids to a lifetime of shame and underemployment doesn't make society safer. Congratulations to Brian Dickerson for having the courage to argue that sex offender registration in Michigan may be "ruining more lives than it has protected."

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  • Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#2)
    by Mike on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 09:18:11 AM EST
    So, Narius, you think my counseling client, a 12 year old boy who played grab-ass with his friend an 11 year old boy in the school lavatory, should be a registered sex offeneder for life! Nonsense. I can personally vouch that it's all gotten completely out of control and hysterical. Folks need to take a look at just what the law constitutes as a "sex offender". You'll be surprised.

    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#3)
    by Pete Guither on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 09:40:15 AM EST
    There's another problem with the way the criminal justice system lumps in all sexual offenders as alike (even including gay men convicted of consensual sodomy before 1976 and drunken partygoers convicted of indecent exposure after streaking). It cheapens the seriousness of information about those who are rapists and sexual predators. Once people know that these others are often nonsensically included, then they tend to distrust any information they get about sexual violence, and dismiss it as hype. People who are really concerned about tracking and reducing sexual violence should be at the forefront of encouraging reform of these laws to target only those who are dangerous.

    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#4)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 09:47:05 AM EST
    Yes, Michigan does seem to have some of the toughest state sex offender laws. However, from the link:
    ...names and addresses of these predators were listed on a public Web site ... "Some of them are 16-year-olds..." [my bolds]
    Michigan has two registries - the Public Sex Offender Registry (PSOR), and the Sex Offender Registery (SOR). The PSOR is a subset of the SOR, and is made up of those sex offenders who, logically, are listed publically. According to the Michigan SRO website there are no juveniles listed on the PRSO.
    Under the SOR Act, certain offenders are exempt from the PSOR (even though they remain on the SOR). These offenders include all juveniles and offenders who have successfully completed the probation process outlined in Public Act 240 of 2004.
    I echo Mike's comment, educate yourself about what constitutes a sex offender in each state and - in each state - who is actually listed on sex offender registeries. I think you will be suprised, although not in the way Mike and TL would want you to be...which, I imagine, is why TL presents its periodic RSO thread based on a secondary source, like the linked newspaper article, instead of the actual RSO laws of a state.

    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#5)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 09:50:33 AM EST
    Pete hits the nail right on the head. If I go to the FDLE website for sex offender registrations and put in my zip code, I get something like 60 results. And I live in a fairly upscale neighborhood. There's no way for parent's to try to keep up with that many people. The whole idea of the registration program was supposed to be for people known to be violent for highly likely to re-offend. Now, judges every person with any sort of sex related charge to register. As noted above, it dilutes the effectiveness of the registration programs to the point they become ineffective. It's all about a typical over-reaction to a perceived problem.

    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#6)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 09:58:53 AM EST
    Now, judges every person with any sort of sex related charge to register.
    Again, educate yourself on the RSO laws of each state so you don't make completely untrue statements like the one above.

    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#7)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 10:01:58 AM EST
    I think you will be suprised, although not in the way Mike and TL would want you to be...which, I imagine, is why TL presents its periodic RSO thread based on a secondary source, like the linked newspaper article, instead of the actual RSO laws of a state.
    Sarc, Looking at the actual RSO laws by State is only doing half the work. You also have to look at how the laws are applied which the article addresses for the state of Michigan. I think you would be surprised at just how draconian some states are.
    According to the Michigan SRO website there are no juveniles listed on the PRSO.
    What happens when the Juveniles become adults?

    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#8)
    by Steven Sanderson on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 10:06:28 AM EST
    The "lock 'em up and throw away the key" crowd believes that letting the crime fit the punishment makes them more secure. Wishing it were so doesn't work.

    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#9)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 10:11:45 AM EST
    Macro, from the Michgan RSO site
    6. Are there juveniles on the Public Sex Offender Registry (PSOR)? No. However, any juvenile convicted of criminal sexual conduct first degree or criminal sexual conduct second degree is listed on the PSOR following their 18th birthday.
    First & second degree sexual conduct.

    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#10)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 10:16:50 AM EST
    Macro, if you are suggesting that some states, in paractice, apply their laws in a manner that is inconsistant with the laws themselves, I absolutely support the ending of that practice.

    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#13)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 03:04:03 PM EST
    "Consigning kids to a lifetime of shame and underemployment doesn't make society safer."
    Who knows, maybe at some point in the near future, we'll have all those other government databases web enabled. That way, Corporations and religious zealots will be able to use them as a discriminatory tool to target people based on their party registraton, their credit history, their gender preferences, their religion, the businesses they frequent, the groups they associate with on the internet, etc. A simple query and a whole datafile of information gathered from unwitting citizens available to the highest bidder or used by federal, state, and local governments to demonize and discredit people. Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo have already acted upon their willingness to censor some data and reveal other data without the consent of (or notification-to) the individual. You have IBM and other tech companies putting out propaganda trying to convince America that individual expectations of privacy must change to accomodate "efficiency" in government, communication, banking, and internet commerce. It's a shift - a shift to government/corporate collaboration to a mutual end regarding information sharing about private citizens and other individuals. Also known as a tenet of Fascism. Progressives who say, "these actions don't represent American Values or the spirit of our constitution" are deluding themselves. The Conservatives and Corporatists have been working together for 20+ years to change the legal foundation of what America is all about. The America of my youth is a distant memory and the Democrats are nothing but a different breed of Corporatists. Incidentally, this is my first post here in months. This blog is now completely over-run by conservative posters.

    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#14)
    by Sailor on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 03:42:24 PM EST
    Tampa, actually it got better for awhile. sigh. narius - "how can it be not secure if the criminals are locked up for life?" How about if we just kill everyone who ever commits any crime then all crime will go away right!? I mean between the deterrent and the gene pool then maybe you could live in a utopia. No one has to make up a case; mooning your friends? That's a sex crime. Pi$$ing in an alley, hey, exposed your weenie, that's a sex crime. Punching a boy who groped your daughter, hey, that's a violent crime and a sex crime. Shooting a friend in the face after you have been drinking and taking drugs while out with 'another' woman*? Ooops, sorry, he's a republican, no crime there. *hey, I just stated the facts, don't get mad at me if you don't like facts.

    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#15)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 04:55:14 PM EST
    No one has to make up a case; mooning your friends? That's a sex crime. Pi$$ing in an alley, hey, exposed your weenie, that's a sex crime. Punching a boy who groped your daughter, hey, that's a violent crime and a sex crime.
    Would you mind showing us the state(s), if any, that label these acts as sex crimes and puts the offenders on a RSO list for them? Or are you speaking rhetorically?

    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#16)
    by Mike on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 07:01:06 PM EST
    Narius, this is indeed a real case. The minor was questioned by a police officer (with his gun showing) without his mother present, then arrested based on a complaint by the other boys mom. He lost a miranda challenge and was ultimately convicted. I've had two very similar cases. Obviously, I can't reveal any details. Both cases occurred in a rural part of California. Let me echo a point up thread. It isn't just knowing the laws. Indeed, how the law is implemented is a huge concern. The particular county I speak of is highly conservative, part of the CA Bible belt.

    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#17)
    by Sailor on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 08:02:03 PM EST
    Sorry SUO, I was distracted. It was a bit of hyperbole, but I have seen other cases. With your forbearance, I'll present the cases tomorrow. They take more time and research (formatting them links is hard;-) than I'm willing to do tonight. If I can't do so I think you know that I will publicize on this post that I was wrong.

    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#18)
    by Sailor on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 10:29:08 AM EST
    In another example from Michigan (where juvenile sex offenders are registered), an 18-year-old male, who engaged in a "senior prank" of "mooning" the school principal was convicted of indecent exposure, had to register with the state for 25 years, and has his name, address, and crime publicly posted (Rosenberg, 2000). [...] In still another Texas case, a young teen male asked a girl out on a first date. She initially accepted but then turned him down, as his name was on the Internet sex offender registry (G. Davis, personal communication, November 2, 1999). [...] In Oklahoma, a two-and-one-half-year-old child was placed on a state unpublished internal registration system list for youth with sexual behavior problems. The child was seen touching another child and kissing the child (M. Chaffin, personal communication, March 11, 2000


    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#19)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 11:47:36 AM EST
    Sailor, again, the problem I see here is that the source is unverifiable and explains things to benefit it's own point of view. For example, your 18 year-old Michigan RSO for "mooning." According to this you (used to) have to register in Michigan for indecent exposure only if it was a third or subsequent conviction. iow, yes, apparently he was required to register (although, without the ability to access the court docs or source materals for the paper you linked to, we'll have to take your author's word that it was for "mooning" and not something else), but it wasn't for a harmless prank, it was because it was his 3rd time, at least, to be convicted of indecent exposure. Indecent exposure is not well defined in anything I could find for Michigan, but the general accepted definition is exposing one's genitals. Clearly, if you dropped trou pretty low while "mooning," and then maybe stood up while doing it, your "harmless prank" is now a little more than that, according to the law. But, regardless, that was then, today the laws are different - in 2005, Michigan passed bills that reduced the penalties for indecent exposure and require indecent exposure to be coupled with lewd and lascivious acts in order to by registerable:
    Together the bills would decrease the penalty for indecent exposure, create a two-year misdemeanor offense for being indecently exposed while engaging in a lewd and lascivious act, require persons convicted of indecent exposure while engaging in a lewd and lascivious act to register on the sex offenders registry, and include the crime of indecent exposure while engaging in a lewd and lascivious act in the sentencing guidelines.
    In Texas, if juveniles commit certain criminal sex crimes, they are required to register. The OK case is regarding an un-published, non-public list. Your article's example certainly seems insane, but, as it's a non-public list, I think it's outside the scope of this thread:
    Requiring registration as a sex offender is an extreme measure that subjects the registered individual to shame and mistreatment while limiting employment, housing and rehabilitative opportunities....TChris


    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#20)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 12:53:57 PM EST
    Mike, According to CA law,
    registrants whose offenses were adjudicated in juvenile court cannot be publicly disclosed, either on the Internet web site or by public notification by a law enforcement agency
    Are you telling us that your 12 year-old client was adjudicated and convicted in adult court and is now an RSO? And therefore is on the CA Megan's Law website?

    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#21)
    by Sailor on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 03:13:56 PM EST
    Hi SUO, I spent a fair amount of time trying to track down the judicial decisions in each case I mentioned above. It was incredibly slow going as most state crim court decisions aren't online. After pouring thru several sex offender registries the best I could come up with (they never give enough info to research the actual case) is that 'indecent exposure' and 'sexual misconduct', both misdemeanors, can get you on the list. For between 10 and 30 years. So I think I provided links, however lame;-)

    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#22)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 03:37:30 PM EST
    Sailor, Last post before I go. Many people make the unsupportable claim that "'mooning' will get you on the RSO list." We just looked at Michigan, and, yes, indecent exposure will get you on the list, but, now, only if it's coupled with lewd and lascivious behavior, and previous to 2005, you were listed only if you were convicted of indecent exposure for at least three separate incidents, and we found no linkage, other than unsubstantiated rumor, that "mooning" = indecent exposure in that state (or any state that I could find). What would help TL's case in this issue, is if they would link to the actual individual on the applicable RSO website who they feel shouldn't be there, instead of linking to secondary sources who's claims are unverifiable and widely open to personal bias.

    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#23)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 06:31:05 PM EST
    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#24)
    by Johnny on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 07:55:07 PM EST
    Prog, that is downright frightening. Sets a dangerous precedent... Settles it for me, the tough on crime crowd has lost whatever marbles it had left rolling around upstairs. And that isn't saying much.

    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#25)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 09:59:28 PM EST
    From the article ProgReader1 linked to:
    In the criminal case against him, Cook County Judge Patrick Morse said that "it's more likely than not" Barnaby planned only "to chastise the girl" when he grabbed her, but "I can't read his mind." "I don't really see the purpose of registration in this case. I really don't," Morse said. "But I feel that I am constrained by the statute."
    I stand by my original statements.
    Looking at the actual RSO laws by State is only doing half the work. You also have to look at how the laws are applied... I think you would be surprised at just how draconian some states are.


    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#26)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Feb 22, 2006 at 09:48:31 AM EST
    The sex offender registry was designed to be a tool used by law enforcement agencies, NOT the public. As it stands today, the registry is a confused mess that does nothing to keep children safer. Parents searching the Megan's Law Websites in their cities have formed neighborhood vigilante groups driving former offenders from their homes! Former offenders are harassed by cowardly neighbors who come in the night and use fear tactics to drive the former offender away. All such activity is illegal, yet these so called do gooders, in the name of protecting children are harming the innocent children of the former offender! Hypocracy in its rawest form! Trying to find a predator on the registry is like trying to find a needle in a haystack! Studies show that most sex offenses (95%) are NOT committed by a registered sex offender! And certainly the majoirty of sex crimes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows! Once again proving the registry to be useless in terms of helping the public protect their children! The public has hooked into the lies the media and politicians who want to appear tough on crime! Parents have failed to seek the facts available in numerous places, such as the US Department of Jusitce and others. Sex offenders who have served their time, completed their parole or probation, and received therapy should be given another chance to reenter socitey. Statistics prove that more children are killed and mamed by drunk drivers every year than are harmed by sex offenders. More children die in the first year of their lives at the hands of their own parents then are harmed by sex offenders! More children 15-17 die at the hands of gang memebers than are harmed my former sex offenders! Where is the outcry for limiting these heinous crimes? If we really are interested in protecting our children, then we must not single out one segment of society and continue to punish them. Isn't all abuse intolerable? There are answers to preventing crimes against children, but limiting where former sex offenders live and work is certainly not the answer! It is hypocracy!

    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#27)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Feb 22, 2006 at 09:53:10 AM EST
    Prog, Crazy stuff alright. Certainly can't support him being charged w/a sex crime, although he's not on the Illinois RSO website so hopefully saner heads prevailed in the end. The bad news is any and all laws can be applied badly, the good news is that it doesn't happen more often.

    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#28)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Feb 22, 2006 at 06:18:52 PM EST
    Sex Offender Registries are supposed to protect children from predators. Here is an example of the sex offender registry being used to prey on kids. In this Utah case the neither the legislature nor the appeals court is willingly to step up and use some common sense. Again because it is a case involving a "sex offender". What they are doing to these children is brutal! Draconian !!! These children have no protection from predatory politicians.

    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#29)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Mon Feb 27, 2006 at 03:04:35 AM EST
    Edward R. Murrow is back in the nick of time, just when we need him the most. Good Night, and Good Luck is a feature film account of Murrow's 1953 and 1954 "See It Now" broadcasts assailing Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the nation's anti-communist hysteria. From the moment in a 1950 speech when McCarthy waved his infamous (and never-identified) "list of 205 communists working in the State Department," the senator exploited the country's Cold War paranoia, relentlessly pursuing those he deemed communist sympathizers. We are once again at this point, blacklisting the American known as the sexual offender. The collective "we" have allowed politicians to exploit our most vulnerable fear, the safety of our children, for personal political advantage. We are all responsible for allowing hysteria-driven legislation at the city, state and federal levels to remain unchecked due to the manipulation of our emotional bonds to our children by politicians. Voters have not demanded the truth from their elected representatives and have allowed politicians to legislate the safety of our children. Journalists have not asked the hard-nosed questions or educated the public about the relative ease of how one becomes an offender, perpetuating the myth that all offenders are child molesters. The majority of offenders registered have been "convicted" of poor-behavior-choice offenses, which involve no victim. Most charged persons lack adequate funding for a legal defense to fight such charges. The resulting plea bargain is followed by automatic sexual-offender registration as decreed by Florida Statute 943.0436. Our politicians have even legislated judicial discretion, the power of a judge to impose a fair and just sentence. Registration is for life or 20 years, whatever comes first, and permeates every aspect of the registrant's life. Politicians run unchecked with this issue, due to guaranteed press coverage and easy votes. Although a group of Americans and their families are being blacklisted, banished and segregated, our politicians continue to propose and pass "Scarlet Letter" legislation. Banishment is unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution. As Murrow indicated in his famous Oct. 15, 1958, "Wires and Lights" speech, "There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference." It is our duty to question authority, because without scrutiny, authority remains unchecked and corrupt.

    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#30)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Fri Mar 03, 2006 at 12:47:24 AM EST
    Tongue gesture could cost man time in prison By MICHAEL A. SCARCELLA michael.scarcella@heraldtribune.com BRADENTON -- "Hey, there are my girls," the man on the bike reportedly hollered to the middle-schoolers at the bus stop. Ronald Zerr, Jr., 40, was pedaling past the girls when he said that, then turned his head, stuck out his tongue and simulated oral sex, sheriff's officials say. The tongue-wagging was enough to get Zerr locked up on the second-degree felony charge of lewd or lascivious exhibition in the presence of a minor. Zerr's been in the county jail since his arrest in September, and he's looking at a possible 15-year prison sentence if convicted.

    Re: Reforming Sex Offender Registration (none / 0) (#31)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sun Aug 06, 2006 at 12:28:10 PM EST
    Hi I am on the sex offender list, i was 19 and TRIED to have sex with my 15 year old girl friend, i was charged and convicted, and now years later 33 now almost 34 (august 11th) i am about to go back to prison because i have became homeless and do not have any where to register, i use the computer at the library and sleep under a bridge...yes that is true, i cant find work because every time i try to get a job it comes up and no one really wants a 33 year old sex offender working at mcdonalds, so yeah, soon to be in jail, never once reoffended and hey guess what...i also have been convicted for B&E now called home Invasion...and guess what? yeah i have reoffended that way a few times...but yet no registry that can make ou go back to prison if you fail to update it or what ever it is...the registry is good for what it can prevent like the ones i was in prison with...the ones that stapled thier kids eyes open so that they had to watch what daddy did...yeah, those were in the group with me, i was just trying to lose my virginity and didnt end up losing it until i got out of prison...i did have to max out off the csc 3rd degree crime and yes it was committed before the act was made but since i was still in prison i still have to register...but register where?