Sunday, January 31, 2016

how it feels to register

How does it feel to have to register? carries a piece written by a registrant and he includes registration stories from other people. 

The writer tells us what it is like to register every three months:
The last week before I must register my family notices that I am irritable and tend to snap at them a lot.   I lose interest in most everything and do not eat very much.  I look at the date as many as twenty times a day.  I can’t be late.  I get sick often and I don’t sleep. Depression set in and I find it hard to concentrate.
About two days before I have to register I start playing the what if game.  What if the law has changed and I didn’t know it?  What if they change it to a strict 90 days and not the three month calendar date?  What if they arrest me for something I don’t know about?
Is he paranoid? Not a bit. Laws change and often registrants are not notified of the changes.
The same scenario plays out every time.  I take my wife into my office.  I make sure she has all my internet passwords and accounts.  I make sure she has our lawyer’s phone number close at hand.
Four times a year, he prepares to leave his family. Just in case.

The registration routine varies. Every jurisdiction does things a little differently. This man goes to an office where he has to go into the jail to register.
While the jailer retrieves my paperwork I look around the room.  Concrete block walls, brown in color.  It is cool around 65 degrees.  There are three holding cells behind me and a shower in the open [cell] to my left.  On more than one occasion I have been there when a prisoner was stripped and showered by force, once it was a woman.  I felt so badly for her.  She cried as they removed [her clothes,] showered her and threw her into a holding cell.  The jailers, one man and two women laughed and made comments about her body.  I was sickened by it and ask myself, Who are the sex offenders?
I know a man who, when registering for the first time, was asked to describe the child porn he downloaded. The officer asked, what race were the girls in the videos? None of those details were needed for the registration record; the officers entertained themselves by humiliating the man in front of his wife. So, yes, one does wonder who the creeps really are.

The writer tells the stories of other people who register or have a family member who does.

A mother says:
Every 90 days when my child is forced to register as a high risk, violent predator, for consensual sex at age 16, I feel a fire burn through my veins at how callously his life has been destroyed not only by the ignorance of the politicians but the citizens of this country who are under the myth that registries protect children. As a mother, parent and citizen I realize I have a responsibility to educate others with the truth on these laws and find ways to truly prevent child sexual abuse by using facts, statistics and education and treatment.
States that adopted the Adam Walsh Act assign tiers based on the crimes. Everyone convicted of this crime belongs to this tier; the tier assignments are automatic. No one looks at each registrant to decide if he or she presents a risk to the community. Lives of registrants and their families are profoundly affected, and unfairly affected, by that automatic tier assignment.

A man says:
It feels like I have no rights, my country is waging war against me and my family, and nothing I have done in 23 years counts for anything. 
A woman writes about her husband:
As he gets older, he slips further and further away from feeling like he’ll ever find any kind of redemption on this earth.  He’s also distanced himself more and more from his family because they’ve given him little opportunity for redemption.  It’s very difficult to watch on a daily basis.
Registry laws do not offer redemption; instead the registry keeps them from finding it in the community. When someone is given the label that generates fear and disgust from the community, how is he ever to live down his past?

The rest of us get to move beyond the mistakes we made, big and small. For registrants, the country is waging war against them, passing laws willy-nilly, with no regard to the effect on the families of registrants...and no regard for the fact that those laws protect no one.

No one except politicians. When you vote for a candidate because he or she promises to keep your children safe, you aren't protecting children, you are protecting the politician's job.

Abolish the registry.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

in the interests of justice, a 5-day child porn sentence

In Brooklyn, a man plead guilty to possession of child porn. Federal guidelines recommended a 6.5 to 8 year prison sentence. The judge sentenced him to five days.

Five days.
U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein wrote a 98-page decision explaining why he bypassed the guidelines and chose not to put the man in prison for possessing two dozen photos and videos — some showing men sexually assaulting girls as young as 3 years old, according to court papers.
 Ninety-eight pages! This judge wants to be understood.
"Removing R.V. from his family will not further the interests of justice," Weinstein wrote, using the defendant's initials. 
Not the interests of retribution or the interests of disgust and fear, but the interests of justice.
"It will cause serious harm to his young children by depriving them of a loving father and role model and will strip R.V. of the opportunity to heal through continued sustained treatment and the support of his close family."
The judge recognizes something important: the defendant's five children would be at risk if their father went to prison, he would not get needed treatment in prison, and the man is not a danger to society.
The existing guidelines, Weinstein wrote, do not "adequately balance the need to protect the public, and juveniles in particular, against the need to avoid excessive punishment."
Protecting juveniles includes the defendant's kids as well as kids who sext. Kids who sext, as foolish as they might be, should not be considered producers of child pornography nor do they deserve the long sentences called for in the guidelines.
...Weinstein thought [6.5 to 8 years] was too much time for an offender who did not make, swap or sell child porn or try to abuse children. He said the five days the man served before making bail, plus seven years of court supervision and a fine, were punishment enough.
Seven years of court supervision may not be prison but it is not a light sentence by any means.
The judge noted that the man was undergoing sex offender treatment and was deemed unlikely to relapse and that a psychiatrist testified he was not a danger to his own or other children. He also noted that the Internet has made child pornography accessible to a much wider group of Americans who might not otherwise have been exposed to it.
More and more people seek out pornography because it is so easily--and so privately!--available on the Internet. Mandatory reporting laws make certain that those who want help to stop looking at child porn have no sure way to get help without being turned in to law enforcement.
Those who favor tougher sentences point out that while many consumers of child pornography may not never [sic] lay a hand on a child, some do. And all, they say, play a role in a system that promotes the abuse of children.
Yes, some do. Why not punish them for what they did instead of punishing all child porn downloaders as if they did?
"The viewing has a market-creation effect," Cassel said. "It ends up leading inexorably to the rape of children."
Again, those who rape anyone, adult or child, ought to be punished for rape. Someone who commissions a sexual assault against anyone, adult or child, should be punished.

Those who look at a video of a crime should not be punished for a crime already committed by someone else or for a crime yet to be committed by someone else.
Jennifer Freeman, an attorney who represents child-porn victims in efforts to obtain restitution, called Weinstein's opinion "a diatribe" and said he was using the particulars of one case to indict the entire sentencing structure.
The entire sentencing structure is built around the idea that every child porn case is the same and every child porn viewer is the same. The particulars of each case ought to matter.

Because those who create vile child porn are so difficult to find and prosecute, the criminal justice system comes down hardest on those who are easiest to find.

Punishment by proxy.

Judge Weinstein has long opposed the lengthy sentences recommended for child porn offenses.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

lessons from Waco biker shootout: dubious behavior by authorities crushes families

The Dallas Observer carries an interview with John Wilson who was at the Waco Twin Peaks restaurant May 17, 2015, when all hell broke loose and nine men were killed in a shootout. Reports say 177 people were arrested that day; 171 were charged with organized crime activity, and 106 were indicted for murder. 

That's a lot of paperwork.

The interview includes some interesting and infuriating details--the cops refused to give aid to bikers who were dying of gunshot wounds, and refused to let anyone else care for them, either--but some of his observations apply to more than the Waco biker gunfight.

Asked if the prosecutor had information on each of the 106 people indicted on murder charges, Wilson says:
No. No — that’s why the grand jury indicted 106 people in a day. They obviously didn’t review 106 cases. The DA says, “Here’s a list, and this is what we allege they do, and indict ‘em for these murders.” And one of the guys — shows you how much the grand jury looked at this case — there were nine people killed out there; they had 10 people listed. They had a guy that wasn’t even out there shot listed as one of the killed, yet they were able to indict 106 people for that person who wasn’t even shot there. A completely different person. That shows you how much burden of proof there is for the grand jury — how little the grand jury looks at anything … The grand jury indictments are a complete joke. They don’t mean anything. All it does is let the DA go to the next step, where he’ll sit there and try to make plea bargains with people so they can’t sue him for false arrest. If they plead anything, they had reason to arrest you. I did nothing illegal. As far as I know, I’ve seen no evidence that they have saying that I did. If they come up with something, it’s wrong, because I didn’t. [My emphasis.]
It is worth remembering that prosecutors have powerful motivations to push defendants to take a plea agreement; protecting the government from false arrest accusations is only one more.

The interviewer asks how the aftermath affects families and Wilson's answer is all too familiar:
Well, you know, most of ‘em weren’t self-employed. Most of them not only have that to deal with, but they lost their jobs. Some of them have lost their homes. Some of them have lost custody of their children. Then go try to find a job when you’re under indictment for killing 10 people. [Chuckles.] It’s had a terrible effect on them. I can’t go out and contact these guys and reach out to them and stuff, but I can assure you there are families being crushed over this. You have 177 families, not individuals, that were affected by this. There are children who will not go to college now because of this. And their parents, in 90 percent of the cases, had nothing to do with the violence or anything wrong. And these children are being punished. These wives are being punished. And this is gonna resonate for generations …
Heartbreakingly familiar.

Over 100 were indicted for murder before a proper investigation was completed and without serious consideration by the grand jury. 
And it’s all being done just so that the local DA can save face for handling this the wrong way. It’s a tragic thing. I’m not saying there aren’t people who should be in trouble. There probably is. But it’s hard for me to believe that [McLennan County District Attorney] Abel Reyna didn’t wake up in the middle of the night and think, 'Dang, I wish I’d have done this thing differently.' Because now if he drops charges on everybody, then he’s gonna face a storm of civil suits. They’ve got to make this thing stay alive long enough to try to get people to plea. [My emphasis.]
Again, the need to get defendants to take a plea agreement. If defendants take plea agreements, there are no trials, no need for the prosecution to prove their cases.

It's a sweet deal for the prosecution but families are being crushed.

Conor Friedersdorf has a piece in The Atlantic about the Waco biker gunfight in which he says it seems likely that two to four of the dead bikers were killed by rounds fired by police. Friedersdorf is appalled by the way the cases have been handled.
[Prosecutors] are entrusted with charging murders in a state with the death penalty. Their due diligence is sufficiently inadequate that individuals totally innocent of murdering William Anderson––and known to be innocent of that by everyone––still find themselves on the wrong end of an indictment for that crime. And an indignant district attorney calls that “a minor error”! 
Dubious behavior by the Waco authorities hardly ends there. From the start, they’ve actively suppressed evidence, making it impossible for the public to know how many of the nine dead bikers were shot by other bikers and how many were shot by police. In September, I noted an Associated Press report that the gunfire that day “included rounds fired by police that hit bikers, though it isn't clear whether those rifle shots caused any of the fatalities.”
Dubious behavior by authorities? Hardly a surprise to anyone who has been through the criminal justice system.

Friday, January 15, 2016

FBI, distributor of child pornography: #3

The FBI is at it again. Pretending to protect the children by exploiting the children.
Motherboard has reported that as the result of an unprecedented hacking campaign, the FBI had seized the server of the world’s largest known secret child pornography database, “Playpen”, and collected the 1,300 or so IP addresses of its users.
First, only 1,300 IP addresses were using the world's largest child porn database?

...instead of shutting the site down right away, the FBI temporarily moved Playpen to its own server in Virginia and deployed a network investigative technique (NIT) in order to identify those logging in.
Taking over the site and letting it continue to operate means the feds were purveyors of child pornography. One of the men arrested is arguing that his case should be dismissed because the FBI itself was operating illegally.
"There is no law enforcement exemption, or statutory exemption for the distribution of child pornography," Colin Fieman, one of the federal public defenders filing the motion to dismiss the indictment claimed during a phone interview earlier this week, Motherboard reported.
I have blogged about other cases (one, two) in which the FBI continued operating a website that distributed child porn.

these women will never recover

What happens to the wife of a man convicted of a terrible crime? Shannon Maroney tells how her life changed when her husband raped two women.

He confessed to the crime; in fact, he called 911 to tell police what he had done. From that point, her life was turned inside out.
News of the crimes hit the media, and I couldn't return to my home, now a crime scene surrounded by police tape. Privacy was ripped away and replaced by public scrutiny. He has a wife. Who is she? What's wrong with her? Was she part of this?
She had done nothing wrong and yet she began paying for his crime immediately.
The police were clear in telling me whose side I was on, no matter what my feelings for the victims might be. When I asked if there was anything I could do to help them, the victim services officer looked me up and down and said sternly, "The victims don't need to hear from Jason's arena."
Some friends drew lines in the sand, too. "Shannon, don't you know these women will never recover? You can't have compassion for them and Jason." Others offered their sympathy and support, as they faced their own conflicted feelings toward the Jason they'd known and the terrible things he had done.
These women will never recover. Labeling the victims according to the role they played in his crime--the woman who was raped! the wife!--forces the victims into a narrative the public enjoys in a twisted way. You think Nancy Grace doesn't enjoy the stories she details exhaustively again and again, trying to draw the audience into her horror story? The audience of strangers, family, and friends does the same thing, telling and retelling the story, relishing the thrill of the gory details, The players in the drama are not allowed to step out of their assigned roles and be people with complicated emotions about the crimes. These women will never recover.
While Jason spent nine months in solitary confinement — or "protective custody," as it was called — I was left on the outside to deal with the aftermath, completely unprotected, an easy target for judgment and blame. My school principal banned me from entering the school without permission and forced me out of my job. I lost my salary, benefits, seniority, place of belonging, and, worst of all, my relationships with students, staff, and parents. I was made guilty by association. [My emphasis.]
 She had done nothing wrong. Remember that...because the principal did not.
I turned to victim services at the police for help, as surely they could let the public know I had nothing to do with the crimes, that I hated what Jason had done. ...
But there was no one to help me. The defense counsel was for Jason, the accused. Victim services were for the real victims, not the collateral ones like me. I didn't fit anywhere. All I could do was put one foot in front of the other and try to find a way through to the other side, whatever that would look like.
Other wives out there are nodding as they read this story, recognizing themselves in it. With 850,000 sex offenders and 2.2 million people incarcerated in the U.S., that leaves millions of people who are collateral victims ignored by victim services, left alone to deal with the aftermath.
At the end of it, after enormous pain and loss were expressed in victim impact statements, remorse and confusion were expressed in Jason's statement, and the facts of the assaults were reviewed by the judge, all that happened is that one person was sent to prison for the rest of his life and everyone else was just sent home. It was indescribably empty, with no peace or healing to be found. That was something, it seemed, we would each have to find on our own.
Even the real victims, the ones who were raped, are left with no peace or healing. While sending the rapist to prison is the right thing to do, that alone does nothing to resolve the ugly mess of emotions caused by the crime. We ought not pretend that fear of him doing it again is the only thing the victims must deal with. Putting him in prison does not help with the rest of their turmoil.
They put the state and the accused in the center and victims around the periphery, typically using victims' stories only to achieve a conviction and to influence sentencing. The focus is on retribution.
Retribution is not healing.
Because when we merely lock people up, we seal off much of our own chance to build understanding or have our questions answered. Victims can be plagued by questions their whole lives, questions that only the offenders may be able to answer: Why did you do it? What was going through your mind? Why me? Do you know what you've done? Do you know how you've hurt me and my loved ones? How can I know you won't do it again?
Neither the real nor the collateral victims deserve to be left with unanswered questions. Restorative justice programs, Shannon Maroney's passion, offer a chance for them to ask those questions of the perpetrator and for the perpetrator to answer. Answering the questions can be part of healing the perpetrators, too

Maroney refers to the conversations she had with her husband during prison visits as an "informal" restorative justice process. It is an interesting thought, that people like her have been engaging in restorative justice ahead of the professionals.

At the same time, though, she was being punished by her community for being the wife of a man who did something terrible. That is what the sex offender registry does to families: punishes them right along with the sex offender.
We lock down the families of offenders, typically into poverty, stigma, and shame. We often deem victims to be ruined for life. We make pariahs of people who have made mistakes right along with people who plan and carry out murder and harm "in cold blood," rather than getting to the root causes of either type of offending behavior. And all too often, we lock up people who suffer from mental illness, even as we know we cannot punish the mental illness out of a person.
Could professionals learn something from those informal restorative justice sessions that could lead to better help for the real victims?

These women will never recover. That's just wrong.