Monday, February 22, 2016

Law and Order: SVU surprises me

I wrote a piece for the National RSOL (Reform Sex Offender Laws) website: 
A friend asked me to watch this week’s episode of Law and Order SVU, a show I stopped watching years ago because its enjoyment of perversion–what awful crimes can we detail for our audience this week?–was disturbing. My friend told me this episode, “Collateral Damages” (season 17, episode 15), was about child pornography, so I expected the show to get the details all wrong. Television so often does. 
Stop reading now if you do not want spoilers. 
The episode begins with an undercover operation in which the cops set up a popular local celebrity so that he will commit a sex crime against an undercover cop posing as a girl “almost 16 years old.” In a bare few minutes, the celebrity meets the “teen,” tells her she is a bombshell, gives her alcohol, convinces her to pose topless for him, photographs her, and begins to unbuckle his belt. That’s when the cops move in to arrest him for producing child pornography and for attempted rape of a child. 
I rolled my eyes and settled in for more simplistic nonsense. Then the show gets interesting. 
The celebrity makes a deal to help the cops nail a “pedophile ring” in exchange for a lighter sentence. (The word “pedophile” is tossed around in the show in a facile way that makes it obvious the writers did not bother checking the definition.) He provides information that helps the cops identify IP addresses, and they move in to arrest several men. In a twist, one of the members of the pedophile ring turns out to be one of their own, the Deputy Commissioner no one likes. 
The Deputy Commissioner’s wife, though, is well-liked, and her work as a children’s advocate attorney is respected. She and her husband have two children. 
We watch as their home fills up with cops. We watch the cops take the husband and father away. We watch the confusion of the wife and kids. We watch as they are told to go to a hotel so the cops can search the apartment. 
I wasn’t rolling my eyes anymore. My heart was pounding. I remember this. 
I remember the chaos, the anger, the fear, the confusion. 
Law and Order gets the bad guy, as usual, but this episode, too close to real life, is not neatly wrapped up. 
To protect the children from the media firestorm, they are sent to live with grandparents. The wife is told to take leave of absence from her job. She moves to a hotel to avoid the press. 
The husband tries to kill himself. The wife wonders how she could have missed seeing that her husband was sick. 
The celebrity who actually did sexually assault kids? He will serve about six months. 
The Deputy Commissioner heads to prison for four years as part of a plea deal that includes heavy duty treatment and registration. His anguish and shame and self-disgust is obvious. This time it is clear that he, while disliked by the cops and while guilty of looking at child porn, is also a beloved father and husband. 
A good man whose family will suffer because of what he did. And his family is my family: collateral damage.
When TV shows begin to show the inequities in the criminal justice system and the effect on the families involved, change is on the way.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

NY registry is 20 years old; offenders leaving the list

What can we learn from what is happening in New York state? The headline says,"Thousands of NY state sex offenders due to disappear from public registry".
State law requiring Level 1 offenders to report their whereabouts to the registy for a 20-year period was up Jan. 1, News 12 Long Island reports. The law took effect in 1996.
What a relief for those thousands of offenders and their families!
Laura Ahearn of the Long Island advocacy group Parents of Megan’s Law told the station about 60 to 70 Level 1 sex offenders in Nassau and Suffolk alone will come off the registry this year.
“We have a stack of Level 1 offenders that have committed serious offenses against young children — as young as 2 years old — and they are going to be dropping off that registry,” Ahearn told CBS New York. 
The Level 1 designation can include child molestation, rape in the first degree and sodomy, according to the station.
Serious crimes, certainly. Those serious crimes landed those thousands of offenders on the registry for 20 years on top of any sentence they were given by the court.

If only Laura Ahern had taken this letter to heart.

More from FoxNews:
Long Island Republican Dean Murray has introduced a bill in the Assembly that would extend the 20-year requirement to 30 years.
Is Assemblyman Murray perhaps...running for re-election? Why, yes. Yes, he is. At the link:
Dean believes in common sense, bi-partisan solutions to cut job-killing taxes to make it easier for Long Islanders to live, work and raise their families.
For someone who wants to make it easier for Long Islanders to live, work and raise their families, he is introducing a bill that will do the opposite for thousands. An Assemblyman represents everyone in his district, including any registered citizens and their families.

Why should those thousands of offenders get another ten years on the registry? Have a large number of those thousands committed new sex crimes? Statistically,we know that is highly unlikely.

That could explain why the Assemblyman makes no mention of those new sex crimes.

Congratulations to those in New York who no longer need to worry about registration.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

failure-to-register charges draw excessive punishment

A man with one leg was assigned an upper bunk; he injured himself getting off the upper bunk and after the ACLU sued, the sheriff's department owes the man $40,000. Simple enough.

In the second paragraph, the article tells us that the man is a registered sex offender. What sex crime did he commit to end up in jail?
[The man] was incarcerated at the time of his alleged injury for failing to register as a convicted sex offender. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six years in the Indiana Department of Correction, with an earliest possible release date of September.
 Six years for failure to register. Not a fine, not a week or a month in jail: six years.
But he was arrested again in November for failure to register, and he was sentenced to serve the remainder of his probation in the DOC.
[The man], 30, was 15 years old in 2000 when he was adjudicated as a delinquent child for criminal sexual abuse in Macon County, Illinois, according to Tippecanoe Superior Court 1 records.
 Ah. His sex offense--his only conviction for a sex offense--was 15 years ago.
He was ordered to register as a sex offender for 10 years but failed to do so in 2006, 2009 and 2013, court records state.
He was sentenced to prison for each conviction, and his decade on the sex offender registry started over each time he was released. [My emphasis.]
In and out of prison for 15 years. Half  his life. The "crime" that sent him back to prison three times
was failure to register. Without the registry, this man would have lived a crime-free life after his initial offense of criminal sexual abuse.

What is criminal sexual abuse?

A 2014 Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE) article explains.
Illinois uses four broad categories to describe youth sexual offenses, three of which require juveniles to register as sex offenders for life. Only one charge (criminal sexual abuse, which usually refers to touching or fondling) garners a registration of 10 years.
Criminal sexual abuse carries the least punishiment of the four categories and yet this man is still paying for his misdeeds 15 years later.

Some would look at him and wonder why he hasn't learned his lesson yet. Register and get it over with!

Others would look at him and wonder why Illinois hasn't learned its lesson yet. Convictions for failure to register draw excessive punishment.