Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Maryland’s Fredrick News Post Editorial: The Sex Offender Registry, Retroactive Punishment?

I previously posted about the court decision in Maryland and then added it to the list of Court Decisions where it was ruled the Sex Offender Law was actually Unconstitutional. 

Today I noticed numerous page/blog visitors being directed from FrederickNewsPost.com and wondered ….WHY?

So I visited the site and found the below Editorial. Excellent! I’m so pleased journalists, columnists and editorialists from across the country continue to find this website informative and factual! 

Retroactive legal mandates against those labeled Sex Offender are unconstitutional even though Legislatures everywhere keep passing these laws. In 2006 and 2008 the Virginia Legislature retroactively reclassified hundreds possibly thousands of RSO’s from Non-Violent to Violent and in 2008 the Virginia Legislature retroactively increased the minimum time Non-Violent Offenders must register from 10 years to 15 years just to mention two examples from the very long list of legal restrictions and regulations that have become law in Virginia years after a conviction, without any due process and most of the time no notice of the change in law from the VSP to the RSO that the new restriction applies to. 

It just takes someone who has the time and the money to challenge these unconstitutional mandates to over turn them. Citizens who have money is the only way to uphold the Constitution against rogue lawmakers these days.

Just like 2014’s version of Robby’s Rule that I was ready to oppose but died-on-the-vine and the upcoming 2015 version of Robby’s Rule that I will oppose, the Legislature  can not go back decades and mandate someone be added to a list (private or public) as a Sex Offender for a conviction 20, 30, 40 or 50 years ago. 

I’d like to share one Virginia Delegates public comments on retroactive mandates with you. 

Back in 2011 HB2412 patroned by Delegate Landes was a retroactive mandate that would have voided all past plea deals accepted by the Virginia Commonwealth Attorneys and Judges where registration as a Sex Offender was not required and forced all of those Virginians to now register as a Sex Offender. I opposed this bill twice (once in the House and then again in the Senate) and it died in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee on 02/14/11. 

Virginia House Courts of Justice Committee heard the bill first on 02/02/11 and it passed out of committee unanimously with a vote of 8-0. BUT before it passed Delegate Rob Bell said something very interesting to the Patron (Landes) and the Virginia State Police Legislative Liaison (who stood up and voiced their support for the proposal) and to the entire room. 

I’m paraphrasing here….but basically Delegate Bell said, If I took a plea deal years ago that said I did not have to register as a Sex Offender and now all of a sudden the State tells me we’ve passed a law that says I now must register, I would fight that change in law ALL the way to the Supreme Court. 

…..And after saying that Delegate Bell voted for HB2412. 

Our lawmakers know these laws are unconstitutional and that they could and should be challenged and yet, they keep proposing and passing them knowing that most people do not have the financial resources to do just that. And until a legal challenge is taken these unconstitutional mandates remain law in the Commonwealth. 

Mary Devoy
Sex offender registry

A Maryland Court of Appeals ruling has resulted in the removal of hundreds of names from the state’s sex offender registry. Those names belonged to individuals who committed their crimes before the General Assembly created the registry in 1995. 

As reported in a recent Baltimore Sun story, the Court of Appeals ruled, as The Sun put it, “that laws governing the registry were subjecting some offenders to a form of retroactive punishment ...” 

The bigger question here, however, involves the existence and nature of the registries themselves. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sex offender registration is an administrative procedure and not punitive in nature. 

According to restoringintegritytovirginiaregistry.blogspot.com, a blog devoted to keeping Virginians informed about this general subject, states took the ruling and ran with it. They began incorporating residency restrictions; employment restrictions; bans from many public places such as parks, museums and even libraries; bans from using social media, and participating in Halloween or Christmas activities; mandates for home, vehicle and computer searches of registered individuals, to name a few.

In other words, what may have been envisioned as a list of offenders has evolved into much more, something that affects the registered individuals’ ability to find housing and employment — their lives in general.  

According to the Sun story, “Experts say there’s little evidence that the registries help keep the public safe, and can unfairly punish offenders,” and “While the registries have many supporters, researchers have found little evidence that they reduce the rates at which sex offenders commit new crimes.” 

We believe these registries do serve a purpose, especially when they alert the public to the presence of a person who has committed a violent, heinous crime such as child molestation.   

The public has a right to know the whereabouts of such individuals. But how many people in the registry didn’t really need to be listed in the first place, or could have been removed over time for good cause?   

One compromise mentioned in the Sun story makes a lot of sense: Use a sound risk-assessment system to flag the more dangerous offenders. That would help ensure that those who would pose a significant public risk would be listed in the registry — and those who don’t would not be. That would also involve periodic reviews of past offenders, as the risk associated with someone who originally earned a place on the list might diminish over time to a level not deemed a threat to the public. 

The registry can be a useful tool if used properly and wisely. We don’t argue for its demise, but rather that it be more refined, accurate and practical.   

The Sun story profiles a 50-year-old man who, as a teenager, committed burglaries and rape. He pleaded guilty and went to prison. Released in 1993, he has been clean since but says his name on the registry caused a business he had started to fail and that he lost jobs when his employers discovered he was listed. 

His name was removed from the list due to the Appeals Court ruling. Had that ruling not been issued, he would still be on the register — and dealing with the consequences — more than two decades after being released from prison. Maryland should keep its sex offender registry, but rework it so that it really means something — that it holds the names of only those deemed to truly represent a threat to the public.