Predator campaign top priority for Fla.

News Press (Florida) Editorial Originally posted on January 05, 2008 THE LAW Here are some features of the state's new Cyber Crimes Against Children law:
• 15-year maximum sentence for contacting a child online and attempting to meet the child for sexual purposes

• Increases from five to 15 years the prison term for possession of more than 10 images of child pornography, and from 15 to 30 years for promotion and distribution of such materials

• New penalties for offenders who misrepresent their ages online

• Requires sex offenders to register all e-mail addresses and instant-message names they use, so social-network sites can block them


The Internet is a marvel for young people, with the potential for vastly enhancing their education and general mental fitness — but it's a jungle out there in cyberspace.
Young people online are terribly vulnerable to sexual predators. [Ed: "Cyberspace" is without "space". If one confines oneself to "cyberspace" then one need never worry that a hand (or other body part) will reach through the computer monitor and grab you or your children. The same anonymity which you so greatly fear when enjoyed by a "predator" also affords you a vast physical remove from the physical world, a "moat" which surrounds you and your computer. As long as you don't foolishly divulge important personal information, then your children will be utterly safe. This is the only real knowledge you, or your children, need as protection within "cyberspace". Teach them that, like credit card numbers, personal information, physical address, future locations, etc. are all to be kept confidential. This is your responsibility as a caregiver to your children. It is not society's responsibility to constrain the rights of other children or adults as a means of circumventing all risks or remotely conceivable dangers. Soon, requiring sex offenders to surrender their rights to utilize the internet in their daily lives will seem as ridiculous as forbidding them to use a telephone or take a bus. If those possibilities do not seem absurd to you, then you are on the hysterical side of the divide.]

They must be aggressively educated about the dangers, and monitored by savvy, vigilant parents (and teachers and librarians, too).
The other half of the campaign is law enforcement, and in that regard we are happy to see that Florida has torqued up its efforts to catch and punish these villains. At the urging of Attorney General Bill McCollum, the 2007 Legislature increased his cyber-predator unit from six to 56 positions and opened new offices in several cities. It's going to be very important to see that the funding isn't rescinded in the impending state budget crunch. The cyber-pervert campaign is one of those core public safety government functions that has to be shielded from budget-cutting. It has to have top priority. That's because Internet access is becoming a universal part of young people's experience in America, and because tech savvy does not necessarily equal real sophistication. Many young teens are emotionally vulnerable, innocent or foolish. It's one of several downsides to the Internet, including invasion of privacy, identity theft and and child pornography — all of which McCollum is also eager to tackle, to his great credit. The blatant, compulsive nature of sexual predation online makes it crucial to raise the stakes. The new law, for example, provides a 15-year maximum sentence for contacting a child online and attempting to meet the child for sexual purposes. Given the tough penalties and the widespread publicity given to sting operations, one might think predators would be pulling back. One would be very wrong. This is going to be a permanent war over the safety of our children. At last we're starting to fight back hard.
[Ed:These people always like to portray themselves as a disadvantaged group having long-suffered at the hands of "liberal" judges and "lenient" laws and exhorting others to join them in "fighting back". The truth, however, is that we now live in the most punitive society of all, with a greater percentage of our citizens incarcerated than any other country on Earth (except possibly for North Korea). As for society being soft on "molesters" we have the most draconian laws with the longest prison sentences of any working democracy. And now we're supposed to "start getting tough?" I think it's time to demand our lost liberties from hysterical fear-mongers like you] Full Story

Death penalty for child rapist goes to Supreme Court

The high court agrees to hear an appeal from a Louisiana man convicted of raping his 8-year-old stepdaughter. He would be the first to be executed for a crime other than murder in more than 40 years.

By David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court said today it will decide whether a convicted child rapist can be put to death, thereby reconsidering a more than 40-year trend in the United States in which executions have been limited to murderers.

The justices agreed to hear an appeal from Patrick Kennedy, a Louisiana man who was convicted of the brutal rape of his 8-year-old stepdaughter. His lawyers described him has "the only person in the United States who is on death row for a non-homicide offense."

Rape was commonly prosecuted as a capital offense in the 19th and early 20th Century, particularly for blacks in the South. In May 1964, Missouri executed Ronald Wolfe for rape, the last such as execution in this country for a sexual assault that did not result in death.

In September 1964, Alabama electrocuted James Coburn for robbery, the last execution for "any non-homicide offense," according to the Stanford University Law School professors who appealed on Kennedy's behalf.

Capital punishment was suspended in the late 1960s, but the Supreme Court restored the death penalty as an option for the states in 1976.

Just a year later, however, the justices struck down the death penalty for a rapist from Georgia. "We have the abiding conviction that the death penalty, which is unique in its severity and irrevocability, is an excessive penalty for the rapist who, as such, does not take human life," the high court said in Georgia vs. Coker. Full Story

[Ed: It is worth noting that, in this case, the perpetrator had, indeed, genuinely "raped" a young girl in a way in which we can all agree was non-consensual, violent and forcible. However, the term "child rape" does not always, nor even usually, mean that a sexual act was committed by force or with violence. "Child Rape" is yet another inflammatory term used to obfuscate the facts surrounding any case involving an adult and a juvenile. As with the term "sexual violence" , "child rape" as a specific criminal charge has been redefined nationwide to obscure the real dynamic of age-of-consent violations as a class of offenses. In these cases, terms such as "Rape" or "Sexual Violence" have been redefined by our lawmakers to mean simply that one of the parties was under the age of 18 and the other was over the age of 18 (these ages and conditions vary somewhat by state). The result is that we rarely know or are told by law enforcement or the media if force or violence was actually committed. Instead, the public is left to assume, wrongly as it so often turns out, that the charges brought against individuals are genuinely descriptive of the actiions for which they are being charged. So, in light of that, do we really want to start going down the road of executing "sexually violent" "child rapists"? Beyond that concern for justice, those depraved individuals who, like the Death Row Defendant in Louisiana, are genuinely dangerous to children and need to be removed from society may, because of their depravity, find that it makes some kind of twisted sense to simply KILL their victims rather than face them in a court in which the death penalty is in play.]

Police try out new powers (in Wales)

Jan 3 2008 by Linda Elias, Cynon Valley Leader

POLICE officers in Rhondda Cynon Taff have become the first in Wales to use new powers to monitor sex offenders.

The new powers, come under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and are designed to allow them to enter and search the homes of registered sex offenders.

They allow officers to insist on entry into, and to search the premises of, any registered sex offender who does not comply with their registration conditions or refuses to let officers inside on compulsory unannounced visits.

The new entry warrant must be applied for by a police superintendent and issued by a magistrate and can allow officers to enter a property on more than one occasion if they are obstructed by the offender.

This is the first time the new powers have been used in the South Wales Police force area and is believed to be only the third time they have been used in the UK since they became available at the end of August.

Division Superintendent Simon Clarke says the powers will help officers to more strictly manage offenders if they refuse to comply with police requests.

“South Wales police canvassed nationally for additional legislation to give us this power of entry and it will be another valuable tool we can use whenever an offender tries to stop us doing our job,” said Supt Clarke.

“It sends a strong message to offenders and members of the public that we will use all means available to us to manage sex offenders and protect our communities, “ said the police chief. [Ed: what's not quite clear here is whether these S.O.'s have to be on parole or probation first (or their equivalents in the U.K.) in order to be subjected to these "police powers" If not, then it would be a step further down the path of tyranny than what the U.S. laws currently allow. If so, then this is truly an alarming development as it would mean that men who have served their time in prison and have been subsequently released from parole will not have even the most basic of their civil liberties restored ] Source

State fosters homelessness with offender registry law

Daytona News Journal Editorial

Because of its perverse laws against sex offenders -- laws that permanently brand offenders and forbid them to live in many parts of the state -- Florida is actively creating homeless colonies.

At least two have cropped up with the Department of Corrections' help. One is under a bridge below the Julia Tuttle Causeway in Miami. About 20 offenders live there. Another is in the woods off John Young Parkway in Orlando, long frequented by the homeless. Needless to say, neither colony has running water, electricity, sanitation, telephones or security. At least one murder took place at the Orlando camp this year.

Before offenders are released from prison, the Department of Corrections spends up to three months locating a place to stay for them anywhere in the state. When the search proves fruitless, they point to the homeless camps. Some offenders go there. Others disappear, which goes against the state's interest in keeping track of them.

It's easy to say that the offenders get what they deserve. No one forced them to break the law, after all. Now they're paying for it. Not exactly: Paying for it is going to jail, serving out sentences and supervision time. Once they've done that, they're owed the same basic rights as anyone else. Creating colonies of homeless ex-offenders isn't the offenders' doing. It's the doing of state and local laws that wantonly deny ex-offenders their rights, property rights among them.

The system goes out of its way to ensnare former offenders again. Take Gideon Bernhard, a 59-year-old man who lived in Deltona until summer. In 1998, he was convicted in Seminole County and sentenced to probation and community control on charges of sexual acts with a 14-year-old girl. In 2006, he was again on probation. He had not recommitted sexual acts with a minor. Most sex offenders don't recommit. His offense: He'd failed to register as a sex offender. That year, the law changed, requiring offenders to register twice a year instead of once. But why require ex-offenders who have served their time to register at all, especially when it turns into such an easy setup for lawbreaking?

For Bernhard, probation set him up for his next problem. At a July 4 parade he was arrested for disorderly conduct for pointing a laser light at spectators. (He owned an LED laser light business.) The charges were dropped, but not before Bernhard spent 120 days in jail awaiting a hearing. Because of the probation charge, he was ineligible for bail. And because he spent 120 days in jail, he was thrown out of his three-bedroom home in Deltona and his business inventory was seized. He'd been able to live in that Deltona home because his residence there pre-dated the city's draconian ordinance forbidding sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of where children gather, including bus stops. Without the grandfather clause, Bernhard had to find a place that fit the new restrictions. Aside from swampland on the periphery of the city. Deltona barely has such places.

So Gideon Bernhard, who'd been living a relatively productive life, lost it all due to a series of circumstances, none of which should have led to his eviction. Now he's homeless and living in the wretched camp in the woods off John Young Parkway. Bernhard paid his debt for the 1998 sentence. Now he's paying the state's debt for hysterical, indefensible laws.

States and localities, pushed by courts, are beginning to realize that the draconian laws forbidding sex-offender residence are wrong and counterproductive. But it's a slow process. As far as eliminating Florida's homeless colonies is concerned, it shouldn't be. The state created the problem with those draconian laws. The state should assume the responsibility of housing the offenders more decently by providing a shelter or underwriting the costs of the offenders' stay -- anywhere appropriate but in homeless camps. Source
[Ed: Bravo! Journalists do not often criticize the witch hunt and this one is to be commended for exercising both bravery and intellect in taking these wretched laws to task.]

Sexual Predator Driver’s Licenses

WJHG-TV

Since summer, Florida law requires convicted sexual predators and offenders to have a code on their driver’s license that identifies them. Florida is the only state with this requirement. The sheriff who pushed for the law hopes other states follow Florida’s lead.

You have to look closely to see whether a person is a sexual predator or offender by their driver’s license. The identifier is a small number in the lower right hand corner.

Jefferson County Sheriff David Hobbs came up with the idea. It became law in July. He believes it helps officers quickly identify if someone could cause trouble, when computer systems go down, like during a hurricane inside a shelter.

“I think the public needs to be made aware if it, at any costs. That’s a lifestyle that individual chooses. And I personally have no tolerance or patience for an individual that would do anything to a child.”

Sexual predators and offenders already have to register with the state. They also have limits on where they can live. Some parents like Jason Knowles wonder if the law goes too far.

“I don’t know if that’s the best way to identify who sex offenders are, by putting a marking on their driver’s license. But I think it is important to identify who the sex predators or potential child molesters are.”

The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles says there are no known issues with the requirement.

Because kids often can’t protect themselves, the sheriff behind the law hopes other states adopt similar measures.

“If you stop a car on the interstate and there’s a small child in there with this individual. Do you know if it’s his child, do you?”

A sexual predator or offender who fails to register with DHSMV could face up to five years in prison. Full Story

Sex offenders struggle to follow Jessica's Law: When transience is the best option


SAN PABLO -- S.T. is a registered sex offender with a wife, three children and a cozy apartment near Hilltop mall. But every night he roams the dark streets in a pea coat, a wool cap and a Global Positioning System tracker strapped to his left ankle.

He would rather stay home. But that could mean running afoul of Jessica's Law -- and a return trip to prison.

So at 10 p.m. he slips on the soft prison shoes he wore out of San Quentin State Prison last month and walks to his favorite bus stop shelter. He sits and chats with the drivers. He circles the mall. Then he treks down near the Richmond BART station to watch the hookers and drug dealers and to lie on a sheet of cardboard plucked from behind a KFC restaurant.

When light breaks, he shakes off the chill and heads home -- but never before 7 a.m., because that is when his parole officer says it is OK, said S.T., who asked to remain anonymous, saying he fears upsetting his parole agent.

"My hands get so cold they turn actually red and get numb," he said on a recent night out. "Mentally and psychologically, I'm fighting."

S.T. lives under a kind of reverse-curfew that owes to the state's enforcement of Proposition 83, the 2006 ballot measure that bans newly released sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park.

He is not alone. State corrections figures show a big increase in parolee sex offenders who, like him, are registering as transient -- homeless or bouncing from bed to bed, doing anything to comply with the 2,000-foot rule.

The surge started in August, when parole agents began to enforce a law that was billed as a way to ease safety fears over children. Yet concern is mounting among state officials, parole agents, victims' advocates and even the law's author, that this is not the way.

Of the 3,952 parolees who now fall under the ban, nearly one in five were registered as transient last week, up from very few before the law, officials said. In the parole region that runs along the coast from Ventura north to the Oregon border and includes the Bay Area, more than a third of the 859 sex offender parolees who fall under Jessica's Law are officially transient.

The situation is most acute in urban areas, where the 2,000-foot rule leaves few places for newly released offenders to live.

Prop. 83, or Jessica's Law, added several get-tough measures against sex offenders. The most controversial is the ban on newly released sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet -- about four-tenths of a mile -- of a school or park where children "regularly gather."

As judges and policymakers sort out the legal and practical implications, what has emerged is a makeshift -- some say slipshod -- system of enforcement.

Parole agents measure off the 2,000 feet "as the crow flies," under state policy. But they have leeway over what it means to live somewhere. For S.T. and others, it is where they spend the night.

The rise in transients is a concern, said Gareth Lacy, spokesman for state Attorney General Jerry Brown, whose office keeps the state sex offender registry.

"It's much harder to track and manage offenders who are moving around and not in one location," he said.

Most of the transients are fitted with GPS anklets. They also must report daily to their parole agents, instead of weekly. But the tracking is no cure-all, said Mark McCarthy, a parole agent who oversees sex offenders.

"The big fallacy with GPS is that it's going to curtail crimes. It isn't going to make them not molest kids or rape women. We'll just know if they did it or not," he said. "For public safety purposes, I'd rather know where a guy's at -- at home -- than have him transient, out in the streets somewhere."

A state corrections official denied there is any policy for parole agents to tell people such as S.T. to go transient. Some agents, though, say it is written between the lines of an Aug. 17 memo detailing the agency's policy on the law.

The choices are few in some counties. In San Francisco, where state maps show virtually no compliant housing, 31 of the city's 97 Jessica's Law parolees are now registered transient.

"We had an obligation to make sure parolees knew their options under the law," state corrections spokesman Bill Sessa said. "We weren't directing them. We were simply saying, you either have to find a compliant address or register as transient."

A third option: a parole violation and possible return to prison.

As many as 700 sex offenders are paroled each month. They all fall under the 2,000-foot rule for life unless a court rules otherwise. The state Supreme Court is expected to rule in the spring on a challenge to the restriction.

"The continuing issue is there have to be places for people to live," Sessa said. "The number of sex offenders covered by the law will be constantly expanding."

Transients cannot set up anywhere, Sessa said. They cannot sleep, for instance, under a bridge for several nights if it is too close to a school or park, he said. However, parole agents have discretion.

"There's a common-sense perspective of what it means to live somewhere," he said. "There is a balancing act here, because all the research shows that having a stable environment is the biggest key to rehabilitation, and so agents are always trying to strike a balance." ...

His wife often joins him early on his nightly journey. They hold hands and circle the mall. Then he walks her home, across from a church school.

"This is for me to feel what he's going through," she said as they walk. "He has a place to come to. He has a family. We have children. It is so weird. He just can't be home."

S.T. said that his parole officer told him: "Wherever you go, just keep it moving." That usually is what he does, if only to keep warm.

"I'm really -- how would you say? -- traumatized," he said. "Being in the cold, being tired, walking in the rain. ... What if I have to use the bathroom? It is very degrading."

The author of Jessica's Law now says that the state is misguided in its early enforcement of the law and that policymakers need to be more "creative."

Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster, described S.T.'s case as "a very tortured interpretation, obviously. Somebody in corrections has decided it was easier to go let somebody be transient than to insist that they follow the law."

Still, Runner said that he never meant the law for people such as S.T. who fall under Jessica's Law only because of nonsex convictions. That borders on being retroactive, he said. [Ed: What disingenuous nonsense! Apparently, Runner feels that he can write any piece of crap law and those obligated to enforce it are supposed to know (and have the authority to CHOOSE) which elements to enforce and when and with whom. In other words, they are supposed to realize that they are to enforce it capriciously! George Runner and his Legislator wife should be chased out of office and, what the hell, maybe their home, too!]

He also disagrees with how the state strictly measures 2,000 feet, when in some cases freeways split a home from a school or park. He said he thinks cities can better define parks. Should all of Golden Gate Park count, or only areas that children frequent?

"We're always concerned if there are issues that make something impossible to implement," he said. "We believe there's a big difference between impossible and hard. The bottom line is it's going to work."

Critics blame Runner for writing a vaguely worded law that was ripe for trouble. Corrections officials say they merely are enforcing the letter of a law that 70 percent of voters passed.

The California Sex Offender Management Board, formed under Jessica's Law, is studying the fallout and possible repairs, including the idea of "cluster housing" for sex offenders

"It's really about keeping sex offenders from living in a place where they have easy access to children," said Nancy O'Malley, chief assistant district attorney in Alameda County.

She could not grasp the purpose of S.T. wandering the streets at night.

"That's not good," she said. "What does that do?" Full Story

Reach John Simerman at 925-943-8072 or jsimerman@bayareanewsgroup.com.