Friday, September 08, 2006

State's New Sex Offender Law Posing Problems

A new law enacted this year at the urging of Christian right activists Eric Miller of Advance America and Micah Clark of the American Family Association of Indiana was supposed to keep sex offenders away from children by making it a felony for certain registered sex offenders to live near parks or schools. But as as so often happens with these politically-charged issues, the unintended consequences when it comes to trying to enforce these knee-jerk laws pose all kinds of problems for prosecutors and raise serious constitutional questions. The Evansville Courier & Press' Bryan Corbin discusses the problems posed at a legislative committee studying the issue:

State lawmakers are puzzling over situations such as the one in Evansville last week, where a man who pleaded guilty 10 years ago to a sex offense when he was a teen now has to move out of his house . . .

Lawmakers on Thursday looked at unforeseen situations created by restricting where registered sex offenders can reside. Certain offenders long have been prohibited from living within 1,000 feet of schools, parks or child-care centers. But a law the Legislature passed this year that took effect July 1 apparently makes that ban retroactive . . .

Whether a retroactive law can be constitutional was a question raised by Steve Johnson, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council.

"If you're a convicted sex offender ... the issue is, do you have to move effective July 1," Johnson asked lawmakers on the Sentencing Policy Study Committee. "If you have been living across from a school for 35 years, effective July 1 (2006) it's now against the law for you to reside there. Do you have to move? Does it apply retroactively?"

Because some offenders suddenly may find themselves living in a forbidden zone, Johnson suggests prosecutors allow them a grace period to relocate, before charging them.

The effect of this new law is to retroactively change the legal consequences of convicted sex offenders by forcing them to move out of their homes if they are located within 1,000 feet of a school or park or be charged with a Class D felony. Civil liberties advocates are no doubt going to argue that the law is unconstitutional as applied to these individuals retroactively as a prohibited ex post facto law.

But the problem doesn't end there. Where can these registered sex offenders move to and comply with the new law? As Fort Wayne Observed observes today in a post quoting from a Huntington Herald-Press report, in communities like Huntington, Indiana, there's virtually nowhere for them to go without moving completely out of the town:

The Huntington Herald-Press reports that a new state law that went into effect July 1st makes most of the residential areas in the City of Huntington off-limits to sex-offenders . . .

Karen Poling, an office deputy at the Huntington County Sheriff’s Department, has spent the past several weeks just combing through files, making phone calls, and informing sex offenders of the consequences of the law, which went into effect July 1. Poling couldn’t say how many sex offenders must uproot, but noted that from one of eight filing cabinets dedicated to storing sex offender information, 18 offenders were told they have to move.

“Every day, that’s just all I’ve done — I’ve been on the phone or they’ve been in the department,” Poling said. “It’s just so overwhelming. Some of these people have actually lived in their homes their whole lives, 30 or 40 years.”

Approximately 100 registered sex offenders in Huntington County. Some of them live and work here, but others may only work here.

Brent Myers of the Indiana Department of Corrections said that 54 sex offenders currently in prison will be returning to Huntington at some point in the future. Their crimes include rape or attempted rape, criminal deviate conduct, child molesting, sexual misconduct with a minor, and criminal confinement.

A couple of months ago, AI reported on a study of a proposal on California's ballot this year which showed that virtually the entire city of San Francisco would be off limits to sex offenders if the voters approved a ballot initiative making it illegal for them to live within 2,000 feet of a school or park. Rural legislators in California have expressed concerns that, if enacted, the California measure would force "hordes of sexual predators" out of urban areas and into rural areas in order to comply with the law.

If the report on Huntington is correct, sex offenders are going to have a problem finding a place they can legally live even in smaller communities like Huntington. Is the practical impact of the law going to mean that Indiana's sex offenders will have to live in the rural areas where jobs are scarce and they are highly unlikely to find gainful employment? What happens when people are faced with desparate circumstances? Have we not made matters much worse with this enactment?


Anonymous said...

Civil liberties be damned! Far-right Republican agendas must be advanced!

And on another civil liberties front, Mike McDaniel, on "Indiana Week in Review," tonight stooped to a new low: he said the entire Bosma prayer fight was David O's fault.

That first direct-mail piece for Ms. Densborn is in the mail, you can bet.

Isn't it amazing how the far right can twist issues to pander to the electorate?

And shame on the Dems on the CIty Council for voting for this ordinance without thinking about its far-reaching impact. All to try to give Melina an advantage.


Tonight, the Constitution is weeping.

ilahh said...

The Enrolled Acts state the residency restrictions apply only to "crimes committed after June 30 2006." Of course, that's not in the statute because it's pretty well known that criminal statutes don't apply retroactively. The only reason it's being questioned is that the public has decided sex offenders can be treated differently.

As a result, sex offender laws most impact those LEAST likely to reoffend--those who have proven over years, sometimes decades, that they live safely and responsibly within the community. The longer they live a law-abiding life, the worse their lives become under the law.

Eventually the general public will figure out that court precedent doesn't just apply to sex offenders. If the government decides that something in your past makes you dangerous--and they don't have to prove it, remember--they can do to you what has been done to offenders. So says the courts.

It isn't punishment to list someone's past online because it's simply "public information." It isn't punishment to order someone out of the home because the government's determination on where individuals can live infringes upon no liberties. It isn't punishment to be subjected to harrassment, threats, vandalism, assault, and murder because the government claims no responsibility for making it so easy--and socially acceptable--to do so. So says the court.

And it isn't just the offenders. It's their families, too--many of which were established after the offender's sentence was completed. Now the parents, spouses and children get to live under sex-offender restrictions because of crimes that are sometimes decades old, or they can split up the family in order to retain their basic rights and freedoms.

Keep in mind, too, when someone says the registry is there to protect the public from dangerous persons, that the state argued an individual's dangerousness is irrelevant. The only way they keep from violating due process is to argue that everyone, yet no one, is actually pointed out as dangerous.

Anonymous said...

What about the liberties of their victims? Where I live there is a man who has been convicted of 4 seperate counts of child molestation over a period of 10 years and the longest sentence he has recieved for his crimes has been a 4 year prison sentence. Oddly enough he didn't have to serve a full 4 years and after being released last year he got a job working at the local fairgrounds(wow I bet that job keeps him far from new children to become his victims). Most of these idiots committed crimes that will mentally punish their victims for the rest of their lives.

I'm glad to see that the state is making things harder on them. Two years in prison will never make up for taking the innocence of a child, raping a woman, or any of the other crimes these perverts commmit. Their punishment should be life long and the state is on the right track in doing so. So what if the liberals cry foul, I bet they stop when it's their child who is molested or them who is raped.

ilahh said...

Anonymous, the courts have held that retroactive laws are not punishment. If you believe they're wrong, by all means proclaim so to the courts. If you say it loudly and long enough, the courts will agree with you. And once they agree that registration, notification, residency and proximity restrictions are indeed punishment, they will no longer permit the state to apply them to anyone convicted prior to the law's enactment.

So if your only basis for the laws is that the past offenders and their families "deserve the punishment," you will lose the very laws you think are such a good idea.