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Saturday, December 21, 2013

I'm Just a Bill, Waiting to Become a Law Someday

In anticipation of the 2014 Virginia General Assembly Session I wanted to take everyone back in time with a little School House Rock. This is about Federal Legislation and Federal Representatives (Congress) but it’s the same process as what happens at a State level. 
 

 
Do You know How a Bill Becomes a Law in Virginia? 

Do you know who your State Representatives are? 

Are You Ready for 2014 Virginia General Assembly? 

Most laws affecting Registered Sex Offenders (RSO’s) are State laws, not Federal.  

Do You know where RSO related 2014 Proposed Legislation can be found on this blog?

Action Alert: Virginia Bill HB136, Prohibiting Employment for RSO’s


Usually I would wait until January before I begin posts about specific Bills for the upcoming 2014 Virginia General Assembly session but for 2 days this bill has been nagging at me. 

The Bill I’m discussing today is HB136 . Now this is the type of bill I would normally not give a second thought to but if you read the below you’ll see the red area that caught my attention. 

Requires any navigator, any navigator's subgrantee or partner organization, certain of their employees or volunteers, and any certified application counselor to be licensed by the State Corporation Commission if the person provides advice, guidance, or other assistance with regard to health benefit plans under the provisions of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Conditions for licensure of these exchange assistors include completing a training program, passing an examination, and submitting a criminal history. Grounds for the Commission to refuse to issue or renew a license, or to revoke or suspend a license, include being convicted of a felony involving fraud, misuse of funds, or misuse of information, being required to register with the Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry, and knowingly providing inaccurate information to uninsured persons regarding premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions. The bill makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor to provide information that the person obtained while acting as an exchange assistor to any political party or political organization for purposes related to voter registration, to disclose a social security number or any other personal information of any individual that was obtained while acting as an exchange assistor, or to encourage or direct an individual to knowingly make any false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements or representations to an exchange or government agency in connection with an application for health insurance coverage, enrollment in a health benefit program, or a subsidy provided under the federal act.

This bill that outlines the Navigators and Exchange Assistors licensing and regulation for the Virginia Health Insurance Exchange does not prohibit these citizens from becoming a Navigator or an Assistor. 

  • Convicted of murder
  • Convicted of selling illegal drugs
  • Convicted of using illegal drugs
  • Convicted of selling illegal weapons
  • Convicted of using illegal weapons
  • Convicted of robbery
  • Convicted of larceny
  • Convicted of selling stolen property
  • Convicted of vehicle theft 
It doesn’t ban All Felons from becoming a Navigator or an Assistor. 

It doesn’t ban All Virginians convicted of Misdemeanors from becoming a Navigator or an Assistor. 

BUT, HB136 does propose that any Virginian who registers as a Sex Offender can not be a Navigator or an Assistors, which includes felonies and misdemeanors. Plus fraud, misuse of funds, or misuse of information which is vague and could be left open to interpretation. I'm not saying its right to exclude people convicted of these three crimes, but at least it’s relevant to being an insurance navigator where as being an RSO and navigating citizens through the insurance process are not connected, at all! 

WHY is Delegate Robert G. Marshall picking on the 20,300+ Registered Sex Offenders in Virginia? 

I thought well maybe there are Federal guidelines already in place and RSO’s have already been singled out and maybe Delegate Marshall is just following the mandated guidelines, I searched the web and found no such restriction.  

Employment is a requirement of probation, employment is also necessary to provide housing, clothing and food for yourself and for your family. 

In Virginia we publicly shame Employers and Companies who hire the best candidate for a job who also happens to be a Registered Sex Offender. We post the Employer/Company name and address on the offenders registry listing so that customers, clients, contractors and anonymous callers can harass and condemn the Employer for hiring a Registered Virginian. Because of this most Employers automatically refuse to hire RSO’s or after a few weeks from hiring decide the public humiliation and constant harassment isn’t worth it, and they fire the RSO.

RSO’s are already legislatively banned from working at schools, daycares, coaching, driving school buses, tow trucks and charters of minors plus holding an elected state position. Then there are businesses that do background checks to weed out the RSO’s but would never admit to it and then there are companies with “No RSO” policies that do admit to it.

Self-employment is usually the only option for a Registered Sex Offender as no employer or company wants  to be bothered, but three years ago the Federal Government banned all RSO’s from being allowed to obtain Small Business Loans, including the misdemeanors. According to the lawmakers and most citizens if you must register as an RSO then you are all the same. 

Barriers like this one in HB136 are not just cruel but they make a successful re-entry back into society nearly impossible.

There is no justified motive to ban RSO’s from applying to the Navigator positions; this proposal is based on false perception, prejudice, hate and vindictiveness. 

Prolonging unjust treatment or control over a group is oppression and that’s what the patron of HB136 is attempting to do oppress a segment of the Commonwealth just because he doesn’t like them not because these positions create a danger to society.

Registered Sex Offenders are any easy target; they make a perfect punching-bag and stepping-stone all in one for career Legislators. I’ve witnessed this first hand for the last 5 years. A veritable parade of malicious, callus, intolerant, apathetic, fear-mongering, myth-based proposals by egomaniacs who crave the feeling of moral superiority at any cost and today that cost is another job opportunity being taken away from citizens and families already struggling to survive.

This bill should be called: 

The Yet Another Job that Virginia’s Registered Sex Offenders (RSO’s) are Legislatively Banned from Having for No Particular Reason, but it Sounds Reasonable and Who in their Right Mind Would Ever Oppose it Bill of 2014. 

Governor McDonnell’s Administration claimed to support the successful re-entry of ex-offenders, removing the barriers that exist so they can become productive members of society. HB136 is not assisting ex-offenders in the Commonwealth it is tightening the noose that is already around the necks of 20,300 RSO’s because of all the previous restrictions and regulations put in place by both State and Federal lawmakers.

HB136 needs to be amended so that any Virginian can apply for a Navigator or Assistors position, equal opportunity for all not just for those Virginia lawmakers personally deem worthy.

Email or call your one State Delegate and your one State Senator asking them to propose an amendment removing the RSO prohibition from HB136. 

Sincerely, 

Mary Devoy

Virginia Court Declares Johnathon Montgomery an Innocent Man

 
"This is even better of a feeling," Montgomery said. "Even just getting out of prison, I was still stuck in a proverbial prison … (So) it means more. It means that not only am I out of prison, but I'm away from all that … and I can get on with my life." 

A “proverbial prison”, that is exactly what the Sex Offender Registry is! 

As a registered sex offender, he said, "I couldn't go near a park, near a school, or near a day care." He has needed to meet regularly with his probation officer, and get approval to go out of town. Because of his felony convictions, he said, he was turned down by 130 potential employers. 

Thank God justice was finally served for this young man, but how many more innocent Virginians (men and women) were wrongly convicted because Virginia’s poorly written statutes allows an accusation alone with no corroboration to convict people in sexual cases?
 

Virginia court declares Johnathon Montgomery an innocent man
Virginia Court of Appeals grants writ of actual innocence
December 20, 2013  

HAMPTON — It's official: Johnathon Montgomery is an innocent man. 

The Virginia Court of Appeals on Friday granted Montgomery a "writ of actual innocence," meaning the three felony sexual assault convictions against him are forever wiped away.  

All court records of his guilt in Hampton Circuit Court are to be expunged, and he no longer has to register as a sex offender.

"We hold that Montgomery has met his burden … of establishing that he is actually innocent of the crimes for which he is convicted," a three-judge panel of the court wrote in its opinion. "Accordingly … this Court grants Mongtomery's petition."
 
From his father's home in North Carolina, Montgomery, now 27, expressed elation with the news, saying that being declared innocent is a bigger deal to him than getting out of prison a year ago. 

"This is even better of a feeling," Montgomery said. "Even just getting out of prison, I was still stuck in a proverbial prison … (So) it means more. It means that not only am I out of prison, but I'm away from all that … and I can get on with my life." 

As a registered sex offender, he said, "I couldn't go near a park, near a school, or near a day care." He has needed to meet regularly with his probation officer, and get approval to go out of town. Because of his felony convictions, he said, he was turned down by 130 potential employers. 

But with everything now being wiped away, he said, those burdens will be greatly reduced, and he will be able to enjoy Christmas. And, he hopes to soon land work in his chosen field of computer technology. "This will be a lot easier on me personally," he said. 

'An injustice has been done' 

It was five years ago that Montgomery was pronounced guilty in Hampton Circuit Court. That came after a 17-year-old girl took the witness stand and lied under oath, saying Montgomery had assaulted her outside her grandmother's house nearly eight years earlier, when he was 14 and she was 10. 

Montgomery was found guilty and sentenced to 7 1/2 years to serve. 

But after he had served four years in prison, Montgomery's accuser, Elizabeth Paige Coast, came forward last year to say she had lied at the 2008 trial — and that she had made up the entire tale. Earlier this year, she was convicted of one count of perjury — a verdict the appeals court said played a significant factor in Friday's ruling. 

In its 16-page opinion, the appeals court said changing stories by witnesses are correctly viewed with suspicion by the justice system. "Because victims' recantations are often unreliable, it is rare that a petitioner can offer clear and convincing evidence that the recantation is true and it is the trial testimony that is false," the court said.

But the Montgomery case, the court said, "presents an uncommon situation." That is, Coast's perjury conviction, which is rare in rare in recantation cases, establishes the falsity of her testimony "beyond a reasonable doubt." 

That's significant, the court said, because the case against Montgomery "rested entirely on Coast's word." If the new information were available at Montgomery's trial, the court ruled, no rational judge or jury could have found him guilty. 

"Absent Coast's original testimony, the record contains no evidence of Montgomery's guilt," the court ruled. "There are no witnesses who testified that the incident ever occurred. There is no physical evidence that a crime ever happened."

The court's decision comes a month after a hearing in which Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli strongly backed Montgomery's innocence petition — personally arguing a case in court for only the fourth time in his four-year tenure as attorney general.
 
"We have come to the conclusion that not only has justice not been done, but an injustice has been done," Cuccinelli said in November, saying his job is not to protect convictions but "to seek the ends of justice."

'Finally'

On Friday, Cuccinelli expressed appreciation with the ruling. "We're gratified for the court's quick decision in exonerating Johnathon, and we're glad that this is an early Christmas present for him," he said. "I'm thankful that justice has finally been served."

Montgomery Gets Writ of Actual Innocence


"Getting a job, and I still don't have one. The main issue with this -- I'm still a sex offender. Throughout the whole year I have been a sex offender. I'm still on probation,” Montgomery said. “Even presenting the evidence after the conviction of my accuser for perjury, I presented that to several companies, and they said we still can't hire you." 

There are more than 20,300 Registered Sex Offenders in Virginia and they too can not secure employment because of the public label of RSO AND because the employers don’t want to be listed on the Virginia Sex Offender Registry.  If the job isn’t dealing with children, the elderly or in a medical situation companies should NOT be legally allowed to deny an RSO a job if they are the best candidate for the position. 

But yet lawmakers continue to claim the mandate to register is purely administrative, not punitive. There’s nothing administrative about being denied employment because of a government mandated label.  

Friday's writ of actual innocence means that beginning right now, Jonathan Montgomery no longer needs to register as a sex offender for crimes he did not commit. And after he has his record expunged, it will be as if, at least on paper, his five-year nightmare never happened. 

Congratulations to Jonathan and his family. His slate has been wiped clean and hopefully he can finally begin the life that was taken from him years ago.
 

Montgomery gets writ of actual innocence

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) - He spent more than four years in prison for a sexual assault he didn't commit before his accuser recanted her story. Friday, Johnathon Montgomery's name was finally cleared. 

Montgomery was released from prison November 20, 2012 on a conditional pardon from the governor when Elizabeth Coast, his accuser, admitted she fabricated the entire sexual assault claim. However, Montgomery’s actual writ of innocence was put on hold while Coast’s, perjury case was pending. 

Coast was convicted of perjury this summer and sentenced to two months behind bars. And now, just days before Christmas Montgomery’s present is here – he was finally granted his writ of actual innocence. 

"it's Christmas man. There is nothing I can say. It is beyond words,” Montgomery told WAVY.com Friday. “There is one word: euphoric.” 


WAVY.com was the first to receive the opinion by the Court of Appeals of Virginia from the Attorney General’s Office.
“We hold that Montgomery has met his burden under Code § 19.2-327.11(A) of establishing that he is actually innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted. Accordingly, pursuant to Code § 19.2-327.13 this Court grants Montgomery’s petition and issues a writ of actual innocence based on non-biological evidence, thereby vacating his convictions for forcible sodomy, aggravated sexual battery, and animate object sexual penetration. If there is no appeal from this judgment to the Supreme Court, the clerk shall forward a copy of this writ to the trial court, where an order of expungement shall be immediately entered regarding these offenses.” 


Montgomery is not bitter even, though, he has been unable to get a job. 

"Getting a job, and I still don't have one. The main issue with this -- I'm still a sex offender. Throughout the whole year I have been a sex offender. I'm still on probation,” Montgomery said. “Even presenting the evidence after the conviction of my accuser for perjury, I presented that to several companies, and they said we still can't hire you."

Elizabeth Coast's recantation was not enough. She admitted she lied, pleaded guilty to perjury, and was sentenced on August 19. Yet, all that would not result in Montgomery's actual innocence for another four months. 

"It's just a logistical nightmare is what it is, but today they did the right thing,” he said. 

Montgomery thinks the process needs to change. 

“As far as the time is concerned, yea, I'm a little bit disappointed, because it took so fast for them to convict me, but it took so long for them to get me innocent,” he said. 

The Court's decision is another part of the Johnathon Montgomery road to recovery. He is always positive, never negative.

"It is something I had to live with, and there is no point to moping around with it, I can only do what I can do,” he said.

There are two questions from WAVY.com that Montgomery refused to answer:  any questions about his accuser Elizabeth Coast, and whether he thinks he should be compensated by the State for what he's been through. 

The biggest argument for compensation that must be approved by the General Assembly is he was convicted by a state judge who decided not to believe him, and to believe his accuser, who we now know was lying.

In the court's finding, the Judges wrote, "Besides Coast, no other witnesses to the incident testified at Montgomery's trial, neither was any corroborating physical evidence that an assault occurred ever presented.
 
The trial judge categorized this case as a 'word against word situation.' In reaching his verdict, the trial judge concluded that Coast was more credible than Montgomery because she had 'no motive whatsoever to lie."

We now know the Judge believed the wrong person. 

Friday's writ of actual innocence means that beginning right now, Jonathan Montgomery no longer needs to register as a sex offender for crimes he did not commit. And after he has his record expunged, it will be as if, at least on paper, his five-year nightmare never happened. 

State Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli fought for Montgomery's freedom in person, something Attorney Generals rarely do.

"We've had witness recantation cases before, but we've never had one of those cases with a perjury conviction of the recanting witness,” Cuccinelli told WAVY.com.

In its 16-page opinion, the Court made it clear it did not agree with Governor Bob McDonnell making the courts granting a Writ of Actual Innocence a condition for the conditional pardon that freed Montgomery from prison.

"The Court struggled with the Governor's conditional pardon because the Governor involved the court: you got to do this to get my conditional pardon. The court thought this breached the wall of separation of powers," Cuccinelli said.

But in the end, the court granted the writ on a 3-0 vote because Montgomery had the right to request one and the evidence was clear he was indeed innocent.

"We are thrilled that Johnathon is going to be spending Christmas with his family as a free man," said Shawn Armbrust with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, which represented Montgomery in the case.

Johnathan Montgomery: Va. Appeals Court Exonerates Man in Sexual Assault

 
Wonderful news, just wonderful! 

Va. appeals court exonerates man in sexual assault
By Associated Press
December 20, 2013

RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Court of Appeals on Friday exonerated a man who spent four years in prison for a sexual assault he didn’t commit. 

A three-judge panel of the court unanimously granted Johnathan Montgomery’s petition for a writ of actual innocence Friday, saying there was no evidence to support his conviction after his accuser admitted lying. Montgomery was convicted in 2009 of forcible sodomy, aggravated sexual battery and animate object sexual penetration — based solely on Elizabeth Paige Coast’s testimony.

Coast eventually confessed to lying and was sentenced in August to two months in jail for perjury, paving the way for Montgomery’s exoneration. 

“Absent Coast’s original testimony, the record contains no evidence of Montgomery’s guilt,” the appeals court said. “There are no witnesses who testified that the incident ever occurred. There is no physical evidence that a crime ever happened. The record is entirely devoid of any evidence that incriminates Montgomery.” 

Montgomery’s attorney, Jon M. Talotta, said he was thrilled Montgomery was cleared. 

“Securing the petition of actual innocence will allow him to celebrate the holidays with his family as a free man,” Talotta said. 

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