National Lawyers Guild Review Editor-in-Chief Nathan Goetting has published a thought-provoking piece in the most recent issue of the Review, commenting on America’s “moral panic” over sexual offenses, which has “created self-defeating policies, unconstitutional laws, and cruel punishments.” Among those punishments are a plethora of collateral consequences that stigmatize and shame without regard to actual risk. We reprint the editorial here in its entirety, with permission.
It should go without saying that human sexuality is rife with complexity and mystifying contradictions. It’s a puzzle palace from which all sorts of behaviors—routine, bizarre, and sometimes dangerous—can emanate. Yet our criminal laws and procedures regarding sex crimes respond to this swirling welter of incomprehensible impulses with stubborn and self-defeating simplicity. We choose to punish that which we fear to understand, as if learning what motivates the behavior is to show a little too much sympathy and solidarity with “perverts,” toward whom only contempt can be shown. As with suspected terrorists since 9/11, our mercilessness leaves no room for anything else, not even enlightened self-interest.
Notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s decisions in Connecticut Department of Public Safety v. Doe, 538 U.S. 1 (2003) and Smith v. Doe, 538 U.S. 84 (2003), state courts are coming to different conclusions under their own constitutions about whether sex offender registration and notification laws constitute punishment for purposes of due process and ex post facto analysis. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the most recent to invalidate mandatory registration requirements imposed on juveniles, but several state supreme courts have limited the retroactive application of registration requirements to adults under an ex post facto analysis.
We recently came across this five-part series on sex offender registries, written by three Yale Law School students and published by Slate.com. It traces the recent history of registries since the passage of the Jacob Wetterling Act in 1994, examines some of the fallacies and flawed stereotypes underlying the expansion of registries in the past 20 years, and spotlights three areas in which the authors argue their growth has been especially unwise:
- more non-violent “outlier” crimes are covered;
- states are keeping people on registries for longer periods of time and making removal harder; and
- more harsh collateral consequences attach to those required to register.
Update (5/14/15): We have published a 50 state chart detailing relief from registration requirements on the Restoration of Rights page. The chart is based in part on Wayne Logan’s work. You can find the chart at this link.
Wayne Logan has summarized his research on relief from sex offender registration and community notification requirements for a forthcoming Wisconsin Law Review article in an excerpt from the second edition of Love, Roberts & Klingele, Collateral Consequences of Criminal Conviction: Law, Policy & Practice (West/NACDL, 2d ed. 2015)(forthcoming). This is the first of many tidbits from the book that will appear in this space from time to time:
2:42. Sex offense-related collateral consequences — Constitutional challenges to registration and community notification laws: post-application challenges
Given the extended potential duration of registration and community notification (RCN) application, ranging from ten years to life, the question naturally arises over whether relief from its requirements and burdens can be attained at some point. While the federal Adam Walsh Act allows states to provide relief to registrants with a “clean record” for ten years, states typically afford only very limited opportunity to registrants to exit registries.
South Carolina is most limited, offering no opportunity to petition for relief from lifetime registration and community notification; only a pardon will trigger removal, and then only if the pardon is based “on a finding of not guilty specifically stated.” In other states, opportunity for relief is only somewhat broadened, to include such sub-populations as juvenile offenders and those convicted of less serious offenses. In still others, the eligibility group is again broadened, and petition is allowed after a period of years (e.g., 25), and in several states select registrant groups can seek early relief. Early relief, however, can be less than it seems: in Hawaii, for instance, only lifetime registrants can petition for early relief—after forty years on the registry; ten- and 25-year class registrants must satisfy their terms.
The District Attorney of Oneida County (WI) has decided not to file criminal charges against forty teenagers implicated in a widespread sexting scandal in the Rhinelander school district. His decision was reportedly based on concerns raised by parents and others about the collateral consequences of a criminal record. In a joint press release, school officials and the local sheriff noted that felony charges could have limited students’ future employment prospects:
Although Wisconsin law does consider incidents such as this as felony offenses, and it does not have disciplinary alternatives for such offense, criminal charges were not filed against the students involved, which could be detrimental to the future of the students and, in turn, could be harmful to our community as these students will not be allowed to enter certain occupations
Under Wisconsin law, anyone convicted of a felony, no matter how minor, is permanently barred from obtaining over 100 professional licenses, and subject to many other adverse effects that may last a lifetime.
Instead of charging the students criminally, the school district is bringing in a Wisconsin Department of Justice special agent to give presentations to the students and parents about the seriousness of taking inappropriate photographs and distributing them on social media. Ten of the forty students who sexted on school grounds got one-day suspensions, and students who behavior violated the school athletic code were suspended for certain events.
The editor wonders whether such a resolution would be likely in an urban school setting.
As reported in this local article, headlined “Some sex offenders can’t be forced to wear GPS monitors, N.J. Supreme Court rules,” the top state court in the Garden State issued a significant constitutional ruling holding that New Jersey cannot force sex offenders to wear GPS tracking devises if they were convicted before the monitoring program was signed into law seven years ago. The court voted 4-3 to uphold an appellate panel’s decision that said it was unconstitutional for the state Parole Board to require George C. Riley to wear the ankle monitor when he was released from prison in 2009 after serving 23 years for attempted sexual assault of a minor.
Justice Barry Albin wrote that Riley, 81, of Eatontown, should not be subject to the 2007 law because it constitutes an additional punishment that was not included in the sentence he already served. The Court agreed with the lower court that the “retroactive application” of the GPS program to Riley violates the ex post facto clauses in the U.S. and state Constitutions, which safeguard against imposing “additional punishment to an already completed crime.” The court also rejected the state’s argument that the GPS monitor is not punitive but “only civil and regulatory.”
“Parole is a form of punishment under the Constitution,” Albin wrote for the high court. “SOMA is essentially parole supervision for life by another name.” He added that “the disabilities and restraints placed on Riley through twenty -four-hour GPS monitoring enabled by a tracking device fastened to his ankle could hardly be called ‘minor and indirect.’”
The full ruling in Riley v. New Jersey State Parole Board, No. A-94-11 (NJ Sept. 22, 2014) is available at this link.
–Read full article at Sentencing Law and Policy.