Monday, February 27, 2012

lifetime sentences

The July 2011 issue of Reason magazine focuses on criminal justice issues. Jacob Sullum's article, Perverted Justice, examines the sex offender registry. States are required to keep a registry of sex offenders or the state will not receive federal funding for law enforcement. Needless to say, states comply.

For our family, the idea of the sex offender registry is frightening. If my husband were to be convicted, he would be required to register for the rest of his life. Not because he is a danger to anyone nor because someone decided that he is likely to become dangerous--simply because he looked at pictures.

Politicians like to be seen as tough on crime and the best way to show how tough they are is to pass a law. Most bad stuff--murder, stealing, assault--is already illegal, so what is a legislator to do? He can make new laws that make punishment for a crime worse if a robber carries a gun or if a murderer kills someone in a protected class. When the prosecution was unable to convince the jury of Casey Anthony's guilt, some legislators saw that as an opening for new laws. Murdering a child was already a crime, of course, so they decided to create a law that could be used to make someone like Casey Anthony a felon if they were unable to convict her of murder. The idea is that sometimes we just know that the accused is guilty. OJ Simpson, for example, Casey Anthony for another.

In Nebraska, someone thought the law against procuring alcohol for a minor was pulling down insufficiently tough sentences, so they recently upped the ante by making it a felony under specific circumstances:
Under the former law, procuring for a minor was a misdemeanor that carried a maximum sentence of one year in jail. Now, when procuring leads to injuries or death, the supplier could face up to five years in prison.
The same kind of thinking is what led to the sex offender registry so sex offenders, no matter what the offense was--sex with an underage girlfriend or looking at pictures--end up with a lifetime sentence. A lifetime of registering with law enforcement, a lifetime of humiliation.

If you think that the sex offender registry is something you will never need to worry about, think again. Your son could be convicted for having sex with his younger girlfriend or for receiving a naked photo from her. Your brother could download something from a porn site and be surprised with an iillegal image. Are these truly crimes, let alone crimes that deserve a lifetime sentence?

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