Thursday, September 28, 2017

Disenfranchised Grief in Sex Offender Significant Others

Former UNO graduate student Dr. Danielle Bailey of the University of Texas-Tyler has published a new report, "Disenfranchised Grief in Sex Offender Significant Others," that draws largely from interviews with Nebraska registrants and their spouses.
Abstract In criminal justice, researchers have identified disenfranchised grief, or the denial of empathy and social support during the grieving process, in family members who have lost relatives through imprisonment and execution. Although both of these situations involve the physical removal of the offender from the family members’ lives, nonphysical losses may also prompt the grieving process. One of these non-physical losses is a psychosocial loss, in which the person the family members knew is now gone. Given the public stigma of the label "sex offender" and the collateral consequences that occur as a result of that label, it is possible that sex offender significant others experience a psychosocial loss. The current research is an exploratory study that used qualitative interviews with 29 spouses and significant others of convicted sex offenders to explore if and how disenfranchised grief impacts sex offender partners. Findings support both the existence of and the detrimental impact of disenfranchised grief on sex offender partners.
Read the full article here.

The Dobbs Wire: News from the Supreme Court

News from the US Supreme Court:  There’s much interest in two cases the US Supreme Court has been asked to review – Doe v. Snyder which concerns Michigan’s sex offense registry law, and Karsjens v. Piper which concerns Minnesota’s sex offense civil commitment law.  This morning the court issued a list of cases it WILL review, *neither* of the sex offense cases made the list.  In the days ahead another list will be released, cases the court has decided it will NOT review and we’ll see if either sex offense case makes that list.  There’s another possibility –  sometimes the court holds cases until it makes a decision.  That’s what happened with Packingham v. North Carolina which concerned North Carolina’s law banning registrants from social media – the court discussed the case in four private conferences until granting review.  So stay tuned for further news!  More on these cases and how the court works in the two essays below, have a look.  --Bill Dobbs, The Dobbs Wire

Reason | Sept. 27, 2017
Will SCOTUS Let Fear of Sex Offenders Trump Justice?
Two cases give the Court a chance to reconsider its counterintuitive conclusions about commitment and registration.

By Jacob Sullum

Excerpts:  According to the U.S. Supreme Court, locking up sex offenders after they have completed their sentences is not punishment, and neither is branding them as dangerous outcasts for the rest of their lives. Two cases the Court could soon agree to hear give it an opportunity to reconsider, or at least qualify, those counterintuitive conclusions.

Karsjens v. Piper is a challenge to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP), which since 1994 has confined more than 700 people who were deemed too "sexually dangerous" to release after serving their prison terms. Although these detainees are supposedly patients rather than inmates, in more than two decades only one of them has ever been judged well enough to regain his freedom.

The Michigan case gives the Supreme Court a chance to reconsider its reliance on bogus recidivism numbers as well as its conclusion that the punitive effects of registries are merely incidental. As the 6th Circuit noted, that position becomes increasingly hard to maintain as states heap additional burdens on registered sex offenders, making it impossible for them to live normal lives without making the public measurably safer. MORE: 

Empirical SCOTUS | Sept. 27, 2017
Petitions to Watch For From SCOTUS’ Long Conference

By Adam Feldman

Each October before the Supreme Court begins its term, the justices meet for the “long conference” to review the Court’s agenda.  The justice held this conference for the upcoming term two days ago on September 25th.  During this conference the justices meet to discuss petitions to the Court for the upcoming term. 

This is the largest set of petitions that the justices and clerks wade through each term as the justices haven’t met since June to discuss pending petitions.  The number of petitions sorted through during this conference is typically over 1,000 with the vast majority denied.  This glut of cert petitions eventually is winnowed down to a small list of granted cases. 

In the past certain characteristics have pointed to cases that have greater likelihood of review and grants than others.  Two of these characteristics are whether any amicus briefs were filed at the cert stage and whether an elite Supreme Court attorney was involved at the cert stage.  This post looks at the petitions with such associated characteristics that will in all likelihood at least minimally garner serious review.  MORE:

Monday, September 25, 2017

Supreme Court could decide future of civil commitment

The Supreme Court will decide this week whether to take up a case challenging Minnesota's Sex Offender Treatment (civil commitment) Program. 

Maurice Chammah reports in an article for the Marshall Project.
If someone finishes a prison sentence for a violent sexual crime, but might still be dangerous, should he be released? How do you know if he’s dangerous? And when does it violate his rights to hold him? 
On Monday, the Supreme Court is considering whether to hear a case that stems from these questions, a challenge to a Minnesota “civil commitment” program that holds people convicted of sexual crimes long after their sentences, ostensibly for treatment. Roughly 20 programs have arisen around the country since 1990, and at first they appeared similar to the hospitals for the mentally disabled on which they were modeled. When the Minnesota program was created in 1994, patients could bring their own computer or television or game console or aquarium, they could leave with a staff escort, visiting hours lasted eight hours a day, and if their families brought groceries, they could cook in the facility, according to the original lawsuit. In theory, once you completed treatment, you would be released.
Read the full article at the Marshall Project.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Colorado county takes sex offender registry offline

Following on the heels of a federal court ruling against the state's sex offender registry, the sheriff of one Colorado county has taken a rather unusual step. As reported online at Westword:
Montrose County, on Colorado's Western Slope, has pulled its sex-offender list offline, reportedly because of a recent court ruling in which U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch found that such registries constituted cruel and unusual punishment in the case of three plaintiffs. The action was taken despite the fact that the ruling is specific to the complainants in question, rather than everyone on the roster, and Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has announced her intention to appeal.
Read the full article here.

Resources for those dealing with sex crime accusations

A Houston, Texas law firm has compiled a list of organizations, advocacy groups, and resources for those accused of a sex crime.

Check out the list of two and a half dozen organizations here.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The politics of defending the sex offender registry

Another good article from Westword delves into why politicians defend sex offender registries, using the recent ruling against Colorado's registry as a background.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch recently ruled that Colorado's sex-offender registry violates the due-process rights of three plaintiffs, thereby amounting to cruel and unusual punishment. Boulder attorney Alison Ruttenberg, who's kept the case going for the past four years, lauded this decision because it acknowledged that treating every person on the registry like a violent child predator was patently unfair. But she's not surprised that Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has announced her intention to appeal the decision, especially given rumors that she's weighing a run for Colorado governor in 2018.
Read the full article, with more comments from Allison Ruttenberg, at Westword.

Shawna: A life on the sex offender registry

Courtesy of the Marshall Project, filmmaker David Feige offers a compelling look at the impacts of the sex offender registry on a young mother in Oklahoma. 

Taken from Feige's documentary "Untouchable."

I met Shawna a year into filming “Untouchable,” a documentary that examines sex offender laws through the lives of individuals on the sex offender registry. It was at an Oklahoma treatment center where she was participating in a mandatory group therapy session. She was there because fifteen years earlier, Shawna was deemed to be a sexual predator after pleading guilty to having consensual sex with a 14-year-old boy when she was 19. 
Listening to Shawna’s story, it became immediately clear that she was far from the kind of person we imagine when we think about sexual predators. She wasn’t some serial rapist or violent pedophile, but rather a young woman who happened to hook up with the wrong guy on her birthday. And as we continued to work on the film, we consistently found others consigned to the margins of society and slapped with a “sex offender” label that didn’t quite seem to fit.
Read and watch the full story at the Marshall Project.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Be FEARLESS Monday night

The September Omaha FEARLESS is Monday, September 18.

Guest speaker Shakur Abdullah will discuss his efforts to restore voting rights to former felons in Nebraska. 

Under current state law, voting rights are restored two years after a person completes his or her sentence. The Legislature passed a bill this year that would have restored those rights immediately, but Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed the bill.

Learn more Monday night. FEARLESS meets at 7:00 p.m. the third Monday of each month, at St. Michael's Lutheran Church, 13232 Blondo Street in Omaha. Join us Monday night!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Colorado to appeal ruling against sex offender registry

This is probably not surprising.

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced Wednesday that she intends to appeal a decision by a federal judge in Denver who ruled that Colorado’s sex offender registration law violates the constitutional rights of three sex offenders.

Read more here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Pennsylvania Legislature weighing changes to sex offender registry

Legislators in Pennsylvania are considering their options after the state's Supreme Court ruled that changes to the sex offender registry approved in 2011 couldn't be applied retroactively.

Similar to what happened in Nebraska, the changes in Pennsylvania's law resulted in hundreds more people being added to the state's public sex offender registry and others had their registration terms lengthened.

Reporter Joshua Vaughn, with the Sentinel newspaper of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, does a good job of examining the legislature's discussion of the issue during a hearing this week, and knocking down some common myths about sex offenders.
Most sex offender registry policies are passed with a notion that people convicted of sexual offenses are highly likely to go on to commit new sexual offenses. 
When the Legislature passed its update in 2011 it added language that “sexual offenders pose a high risk of committing additional sexual offenses, and protection from this type of offender is a paramount government interest.” 
During his testimony Tuesday, (Cumberland County District Attorney David) Freed cited a study saying that “four out of every 10 (convicted sex offenders) returned to prison within three years.”
While the Bureau of Justice Statistics study Freed cited showed roughly 40 percent of nearly 10,000 people released in 1994 for committing a sexual offense were arrested again, only about 5 percent were arrested for a new sexual offense and only 3.5 percent were re-convicted.
Read the full article here

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Supreme Court can undo "frightening and high" myth

The U.S. Supreme Court will have a chance to knock down years of misinformation about "frightening and high" sex offender recidivism rates this year, writes David Feige in a New York Times op-ed. Justices will consider hearing two cases -- Snyder v. Doe and Karsjens v. Piper -- pertaining to sex offender laws.

Read Feige's op-ed and watch an associated clip from Feige's 2016 documentary "Untouchable" at the New York Times website.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Indiana court to decide legality of sex offender church ban

An Indiana appeals court will decide whether a ruling preventing three registered sex offenders from attending church violates the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The case is reported online at the Indiana Lawyer.

That legal dilemma came before the appellate court Thursday morning in the case of John Doe, et al. v. The Boone County Prosecutor, et al., 06A01-1612-PL-02741, which the ACLU of Indiana brought on behalf of John Does 1, 2 and 3. Each of the three men have been convicted of serious sex offenses that, under Indiana Code 35-42-4-14, prohibits them from entering school property. 
Based on that statute, known as the serious sex offender law, the Boone County Sheriff sent letters in 2015 to the Does and all serious sex offenders in the county informing them they could not enter a building that provides programming for children under three years of age, including churches, as these buildings met the definition of “school property.”
Read more here.

Friday, September 8, 2017

The truth about sex offenders and registration

It's still not known whether a federal judge's recent ruling declaring Colorado's Sex Offender Registry unconstitutional as applied to three registrants will have broader implications in Colorado or nationwide. But, the attorney who represented the plaintiffs says the judges decision could be applied to others.

The attorney, Allison Ruttenberg, is quoted extensively in this article at
Proponents of the registry argue that sex offenders are likely to commit the same crime again in the future. But Ruttenberg begs to differ. "This is based on anecdotal evidence, not any type of exhaustive statistical study. But I believe close to 95 percent of registered sex offenders in Colorado have only one offense — and it could be as high as 98 percent. So the myth of recidivism is just that: a myth. In fact, the recidivism rate for sex offenders turns out to be one of the lowest recidivism rates for any class of felons."
Could the Colorado decision, along with similar decisions in other states, signal a shift in judicial thought regarding sex offender registration?

Writing at, Jacob Sullom wonders whether the Colorado decision, along with similar conclusions by courts in other states, will spur the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider its 2003 decision that sex offender registration does not amount to punishment.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

On hurricanes and registered citizens

More sad reminders than even in the face of devastating natural disasters, discrimination persists against people on sex offender registries.

Read more here, here, and here.

Milwaukee Council rescinds most residency restrictions

Under pressure of a lawsuit, the Milwaukee Common Council has voted to rescind most of the city's sex offender residency restrictions.
The city's current ordinance bans many sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of places like schools, parks and day care centers. 
The measure, which was approved overwhelmingly, repeals such residency "buffers," meaning that sex offenders could basically live anywhere in the city of Milwaukee.
Milwaukee has seen a dramatic increase in the number of homeless registrants since the current ordinance was implemented three years ago.

Read more here.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Residents concerned about hurricane shelter for sex offenders

Apparently residency restrictions apply in Louisiana, even following a natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey.
The word is spreading and folks are hearing about plans to provide an evacuation shelter for sex offenders in the northern part of East Baton Rouge Parish. A new state law requires that registered sex offenders are housed apart from everyone else in evacuations.
Of course...because everyone knows the biggest threat to children in a hurricane are the sex offenders who might blow onto town.
"Yes, I oppose," says Faye Ensenet, a Baker resident. "We don't need any more people that we have to be concerned about like that. I mean, the safety of children, the safety of people in the community. We've got enough people here that's displaced." 
 Full story here.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Sex Offenders and Public Safety: a four-part series

Virginia Public Radio recently aired a series of reports on various aspects of the sex offender registry.

The public often hears news about sex offenders who commit the most serious crimes, but many of the sex offenses you don’t hear about – while disturbing – were not violent. In Virginia, for example, inappropriate touching, texting a lewd photo or using X-rated language in front of a minor can land people on Virginia’s sex offender registry.

You can read, and listen to, the reports here.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Federal Judge finds Colorado Sex Offender registry unconstitutional

Another federal judge has ruled against another state's sex offender registry.

Judge Richard Matsch declared Colorado's SORA laws violate the constitutional rights of three registrants, ruling that it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

Allison Ruttenberg, the registrants attorney, is quoted in this report about the decision.
“Making them at risk for vigilantes’ action to have their houses burned down, beaten up or even killed that is cruel and unusual punishment,” ... “There’s not a single crime in Colorado that has been solved because of the sex offender registry. Sex offenders have probably the lowest recidivism rate of any felon and to single them out for this type of public ridicule and registration is irrational. It doesn’t do anything to keep our community safer,” she said.
Read commentary on the decision from NARSOL here.

Read the decision here.