Saturday, June 11, 2016

open letter season on Brock Turner

The story of the sexual assault at Stanford has generated one news story after another and innumerable Facebook rants. The story, with a perpetrator who was an athlete almost certainly headed to the Olympics and a victim who wrote a heartwrenching letter to her attacker, easily draws an audience.

We have seen not only the statement the victim addressed to Brock Turner and the letter from his dad to the judge and the letter from an old friend to the judge but we have seen open letters to Brock's dad from another dad, to Brock's dad from a pastor, to the victim from the Vice President, to Brock's mom from a blogger, to Brock's dad from list goes on and on.

The open-letter-writers, all vying for the title of Most Meaningful, are much the same: Brock committed a terrible crime, the parents either raised him wrong or need to teach him better lessons now, how dare he blame his crime on booze, and the victim is terribly, terribly brave. The number of people who feel compelled to tell the world how they feel about this particular assault is truly astonishing.

The attack on her is unfathomable...but aren't they all? Do any sexual assaults seem rational to you?

This is not the only--and certainly not the worst--sexual assault that has happened nor is it the only unjust sentence handed down. What happens in less publicized cases?

What happens to a victim who does not receive the outpouring of support this woman has received? What happens to a victim who feels worse when the press and Facebook insist on detailing and rehashing her particular trauma? What happens when a victim hears again and again that she will never recover from sexual assault?

What happens to defendants whose dads don't care enough to write to the judge, whose family cannot afford to pay for a good attorney or who are assigned an already-overloaded public defender?

The emotional shouters and open letter-writers have convinced the world that Brock Turner is the worst kind of rapist even though he was not convicted of rape.

When we let a victim statement or public outrage on behalf of the victim influence a sentence or lead to recalling a judge, we do an injustice to victims who are less articulate or whose attacks fail to draw public notice. We do not arrive at justice when punishment is meted out according to the amount of public outrage generated by the press.

But, you cry, this six-month sentence was egregious! Surely the world can see that, in this particular case, something must be done!

Here is a question for you: Is your yearning for justice confined to cases with sympathetic victims? Are you just as outraged when false allegations of sexual assault are made? When the accused says, "I didn't do it," do you assume he (or she) is lying? Do you assume that accusations mean certain guilt?

Brock Turner's six-month sentence got a lot of people riled up. Who gets riled up when someone is wrongly convicted and sentenced to years or decades in prison?

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Nevada about to blunder forward with a wrong-headed law

To comply with the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, Nevada will be adding hundreds of names to the sex offender registry, starting July 1.

Not only will hundreds of names be added but the method of categorizing offenders will change. Currently, each offender is assessed to determine the risk of reoffense and categorized accordingly. Those in Tier 1 have been assessed as low risk and do not appear on the online registry.

Now, all sex offenders will be on the website.
Under the new law, tier levels are based on a conviction and age of the victim.
There will be no attempt to look at each offender to determine how likely it is that he will reoffend.
Because the law is retroactive to 1956, many offenders already deemed by a judge to be no threat to the community will have to register and have their names, photos and addresses available for public scrutiny.
Retroactive to 1956! Sixty years ago. Long enough to prove risk of reoffense by not reoffending. How much clearer can it be?

People who have lived law-abiding lives for decades will now be exposed on the registry. Families will need to explain crimes committed ages ago, long before children and grandchildren were born.

Registered sex offenders will lose jobs, lose housing, and almost certainly lose relationships because of the changes to the registry.

The interest of public safety is better served by making it  more possible for RSOs to have a place to live, a job, and community support--not by passing laws that make it less possible.
Under the old system, 1,923 were considered Tier 1, or low-risk offenders. That number declines to 1,646 under the new assessment. Tier 1 offenders are required to register for 15 years and appear annually in person at a local law enforcement agency to update and verify their information. 
The number of Tier 2 offenders goes from 2,648 to 1,790. They must report every six months for 25 years. 
Tier 3 offenders jump to 3,014 from 239 under the old classification system, and are required to report in person every 90 days.
Nevada will go from having 239 on the high risk tier to over twelve times as many on the highest tier. Not because the 2775 people added to the highest tier are more dangerous than they used to be, remember, but because categorization no longer takes into account anything about them except their crimes.
Critics argue the law does not take into consideration the age of the offender or circumstances. A bill to try to fix some of the problems was passed by the 2015 Legislature but vetoed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval because it also eliminated a requirement that certain offenders stay at least 500 feet away from schools, parks and other places frequented by children.
When a legislature starts down the path toward bad law, it seems they can only make it worse.