California: Don’t Screw with the Sex Offender Registry

Megan's Law Namesake Megan Kanka

Megan’s Law Namesake Megan Kanka

The California Sex Offender Management Board is recommending an overhaul of the system that would change the criteria for lifetime registration, taking into account the severity of the crime and the likely risk posed by the offender. They recommend a 3-tiered system. Level one sex offenders, non-serious and non-violent sex offenders would be removed from the list after 10-years. Level two sex offenders, serious or violent offenders who are not high-risk would be removed from the list after 20-years. Level three sex offenders, sexual predators would continue to register for life.

 

As of 8/25/2013, there are 81,112 registrants displayed on the Megan’s Law Internet site. Information on approximately 30,421 other offenders is not included on this site and cannot be posted online. That means that more than 27% of registered sex offenders are already not subject to the terms of Megan’s Law. They are protected from public scrutiny.

 

A mechanism already exists to be removed from California’s Sex Offender Registry. Once convicted or adjudicated, this is lifetime requirement for both juveniles and adults. In order to be relieved of this requirement, juveniles adjudicated in juvenile court may petition to have their record sealed; adults may petition the court for a Certificate of Rehabilitation in some cases or a full Governor’s Pardon in most cases.

 

I can appreciate and understand that certain individuals: offenders forced to register because they were caught peeing on a fireplug, or those caught up in Romeo & Juliet scenario’s, wish to be distanced from hard core offenders, but this is a small sub-set that can be dealt with on an individual basis without a sweeping overhaul of the entire system.

 

We live in a society where the NSA can capture, organize, collate, listen to, and categorize every phone call made in this country, or an ATM can calculate our bank accounts from among 10’s of millions of bank accounts millions of times per day, down to the penny. Therefore, I would suggest that the CA DOJ needs an IT overhaul more than it needs a SOR overhaul if they are having trouble monitoring 100,000 individuals.

 

According to the CATO Institute, something like 90% of criminal cases end in a plea bargain. That means that the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser crime and receive a lesser sentence, rather than go to trial on a more severe charge where he faces the possibility of a harsher sentence.

 

The cynical recommendations by the California Sex Offender Management Board are simply another attempt to weaken California’s criminal code. Look at some of the damage that has already been caused during Governor Jerry Brown’s administration:

  • AB 109 Transferred responsibility of tens of thousands of felons convicted for so called non-serious, non-violent, and non-sexual crimes from the state to the counties
  • SB 9 grants freedom to juvenile killers previously sentenced prison sentences of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP)
  • Prop 36 that effectively gutted the 3-Strikes and You’re Out law.

I am not opposed to tiering sex offenders. It would enable to public to better assess their threat. But that does not mean that huge numbers of individuals should be removed from the sex offender registry based upon an arbitrary number.

 

I will actively oppose the recommendations of the California Sex Offender Management Board just as I actively opposed AB 109, SB 9, and Proposition 36. Just look back before Megan’s Law, before 3-Strikes, before any attempt was made to hold criminals accountable. Back in the early ‘90’s when Polly was tragically taken from us California had soaring crime rates. We had the highest crime rates in history. After the implementation of these programs, and I know that they are controversial in certain circles; crime in California had been reduced by half. I think that this is a legacy to be proud of. I think attempts to undermine those efforts are cynical. I think they are based on flawed ideology and I think that they place the good citizens of California at risk.

Realignment Continues to Drive up Crime in California (Part 1)

Perceptions of crime are changing in California. The very real threats that we experienced leading up to the mid 1990’s have been replaced by complacency in the early 2010’s. Society seems to have forgotten that the threat of crime diminishes our social structure, creates fear in our neighborhoods, leaves victims of property crimes feeling vulnerable and victims of violence broken or dead. That, and concerns about runaway budgets, financial mismanagement, and the role of government have created a climate in which our elected leaders believe, and people support, the notion that it is better to release criminals back into society rather than the build the prisons necessary to house convicted criminals.

 

On November 6, California voters will choose whether or not to modify California’s Three-Strikes-and-You’re Out law when we vote on Proposition 36. Thousands of three-strike prisoners, individuals who have at least two prior serious or violent felony convictions on their rap-sheet may be eligible for re-sentencing hearings that can put them back onto our streets.

 

If passed in November, Proposition 34 will retroactively overturn California’s death penalty in favor of a sentence of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP). Prop 34 proponents say that this will guarantee, among other things, that remorseless baby killers, cop killers, serial killers, and mass murderers will die in prison. What they fail to mention is that on September 30, Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 9, which can overturn LWOP sentences for 309 remorseless killers currently housed in our prison system.

 

October represents the one-year anniversary of Assembly Bill 109, Governor Brown’s Prison Realignment Program. Realignment is supposedly the most benign of the measures being promoted in the current trend towards prison reform, because under Realignment, inmates who are classified as non-serious, non-violent, and non-sexual offenders are sent to local jails instead of California state prisons or put under community supervision. However, these Post-Release Community Supervision inmates (PRCS) could have prior convictions for murder or sexual offenses as long as their most recent conviction was for a non-serious, non-violent, and non-sexual crime.

 

The Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation has been tracking the impact of Governor Brown’s Realignment Law (AB109) since it took effect in October 2011. Here are some of their findings.

 

According to the minutes of a recent Los Angeles county meeting on Realignment, “Thus far, over 7000 inmates released. 4227 (about half of those released) have been screened. Of the 4227, 2692 showed at the assessment center for a full AOD assessment (63.6%). Of those assessed, 1176 (43.7%) were referred to treatment and of those 545 (46.3%) have shown to treatment. So, looking at the overall numbers, of the more than 7000 released, 545 have entered treatment for AOD (less than 8%).” This means that less than half of the offenders referred to programs are even showing up.

 

LAPD Sgt. Jeff Nuttall states, “Some of the people who are on this program are absolutely dangerous career criminals.”

 

In San Francisco, there are 306 inmates who were released under PRCS. On average, each of them has been previously convicted of eight felonies, and more than half convicted of violent, sexual, or weapons-related offenses. San Francisco Adult Probation Chief Stills said, “the population is high-risk with high needs.”

 

In fact, one prisoner who was segregated in a secure housing unit in Pelican Bay, where the state’s worst criminals are incarcerated, was put on probation through California’s Realignment.

 

Carl Landry, a San Bernardino Probation Department supervisor, said that there is an increased number of high-level or leading gang members which have been released as a result of AB109.

 

In Lancaster, more than 300 offenders were released under partial supervision to Los Angeles probation officers since Realignment began. Nearly 200 of these offenders have been rearrested for new crimes or charges.

 

From October 2011 to July 2012, 3054 offenders were released into PRCS in San Bernardino. Of that number, 606 of them have been rearrested for new offenses, consisting of 489 felonies and 117 misdemeanors. Another 5 percent were re-incarcerated for technical probation violations.

 

Hesperia Capt. Steve Higgins said, “Of the 88 burglaries committed since 2011,…49 of them were committed by four people — two of whom were PRCS probationers. And of those 49, he said nearly 30 burglaries can be linked back to one PRCS probationer.”

 

 

Sex Offender Scott Herman

Scott Herman, a sex offender from Santa Rosa, violated the terms of his parole within two weeks of being released under AB109. He was found by his parole officer following young girls around and behaving suggestively in a Walmart. He has been convicted of indecent exposure and molesting children six times (including parole violations) since 1996. Rather than serving his full one-year sentence in a California prison, he served only two and a half months in the Sonoma County Jail.

Words Left Unspoken

Professor Lawrence C. Marshall

On Sunday afternoon, October 14, I participated in a public forum at Santa Rosa’s Shomrei Torah Synagogue. The focus was on two propositions that will appear on California’s November ballot. Proposition 34, if passed, will replace California’s death penalty with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Proposition 36 would amend the Three Strikes and You’re Out law by requiring that the third strike is a serious or violent felony.

 

I was invited to support No on Prop 36, as I believe that the Three Strikes and You’re Out law should not be amended. Defense attorney and ACLU of Northern California board member Steve Fabian represented Yes on Prop 36. Kent Scheidegger, Legal Director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation argued against Prop 34. The argument to overturn the death penalty was represented by Stanford University Professor and legal clinic Director Lawrence C. Marshall. Congregation Shomrei Torah Rabbi George Gittleman concluded the program with reflections on the death penalty in Judaism.

 

Overall it was an educational and informative forum that was well attended by an enthusiastic audience. However, the incident that stood out the most was not witnessed by the audience as it occurred after the forum was concluded.

 

Throughout the years I have witnessed numerous interactions between crime victims and those who advocate on behalf of death row inmates. These criminal apologists make impassioned, and often times very compelling arguments on behalf of remorseless killers or other serious and violent criminals; yet they fail to look me in the eye, rarely shake my hand and never reference the circumstances that have brought me to the podium.

 

Proposition 36 was presented first. Mr. Fabian made his case for ten minutes and then I made mine. We were each given a five minute rebuttal and then took questions from the audience. Both sides were given equal weight and I hope that I changed some minds toward my position.

 

The same format was followed by the Prop 34 discussion. In his opening statement, with obvious emotion and in the throes of passion Professor Marshall said that life sentences give society “every bit of protection” it could ask for without risking “the cost of executing innocent people.”  This despite the fact that Governor Brown just signed Senate Bill 9, which can overturn prison sentences of life without parole for 309 convicted killers. He also seems unaware that Governor Brown, a death penalty opponent, recently said that, “There are no innocent inmates on California’s death row”. At one point in his opening, Professor Marshall even referenced my commentary that, “You can’t blame 3-strikes for racial disparities, because they exist throughout the criminal justice system.”

 

I don’t want to minimize Mr. Scheidegger’s opposition to Prop 34 because it was eloquent, strong, and based upon facts, but this about things that weren’t said, not things that were said.

 

During his rebuttal Professor Marshall made an impassioned plea for death row inmates when he said, “They are us, they’re our children. We are a community.” He obviously felt very differently about me because, although he was sitting a mere three feet away from me he didn’t look me in the eye, didn’t shake my hand and didn’t acknowledge the loss of my child at the hands of one of “his” children. In fact, as soon as the Rabbi had finished his remarks at the end of the program Professor Marshall bolted to the back of the room in what seemed to me a desperate attempt to avoid meeting me.

 

I know that death penalty opponents don’t like people like me. I remind them of the heinous nature of their constituency: cop killers, baby killers, serial killers, and mass murderers. I represent a truth that they would rather deny. After all, how can somebody evoke the humanity and brotherhood of a blood thirsty psychopath when the fruit of their murderous intent is sitting but a few feet away?

 

If Professor Marshall has empathy then it is misplaced.  How can he advocate society’s inhumanity to death row inmates without first acknowledging the impact of the heinous crimes that death row inmates commit, and the impact upon families, friends, and the community at large?

 

Personally, I believe that his gesture at the Temple speaks more to Prop 34 and Prop 36 than any of the formal presentations. Too bad nobody noticed it but me.