The following story making the rounds of national news today highlights a situation so egregious that I am compelled to post on it, though I expect to be pilloried by many. I hope our progressive friends will join me in deploring the cruel and unusual punishment inflicted on the convicted criminals covered in this story.
Certainly, persons who commit crimes of rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse of minors and other such acts should be prosecuted. Should these crimes be proven against them, they should face appropriately harsh punishment. I have no problem with treating these crimes as serious.
However, the notion of offender registries and restrictions on where they can live after they have satisfied their criminal sentences is not only unconstitutional but a violation of human dignity. Why? Fair question.
The way the criminal process usually works is this: an activity is determined by the legislator to be worthy of being classified as criminal, and deserving of punishment. Often these acts are inherently contrary to the moral law; sometimes they are contrary only to positive law. Either way, the prohibited act is clearly identified, a range of punishment delineated, an arrest made, a prosecution attempted, a conviction secured, a sentence given–imprisonment or probation or both, and then it’s over. But not so with sex offenders.
The law allows the state to prohibit such persons who have completed their sentences from living in certain areas. Subsequent legislatures widen prohibited areas. The state is allowed to mandate perpetual registration, with public posting of where the person actually does live. Other states can require the person to register even though no crime was committed in its jurisdiction. At no point can this person escape the registry and the public humiliation.
As the below story demonstrates, sometimes the residence restrictions are so severe that there are whole towns or countes where it is nearly impossible to legally live.
Is this fair? Does it matter that a murderer released from prison is treated exponentially better than a person convicted of statutory rape when they engaged in consensual (in some sense, anyway) activity as a teenager with a person perhaps only two years younger than themselves?
If your answer is “yes”, then I ask– if society wants to make certain sexual offenses worthy of a life sentence, then why doesn’t the law require life sentences in prison? Because, in short, this is what they receive. The ostensible goal of registration and residence restrictions is to protect potential future victims, and yet the only way to really protect others from the potential of future criminal activity is to incarcerate offenders for life or execute them. If it is a life offense, make it so.
I think the reason it isn’t is because the system relies upon plea agreements to make the system work, and if the penalty were life without parole, then more trials would ensue. The accused would have nothing to lose. And if there are trials, then young teens, and children, would be forced to testify. This would be horrific for them, but it would be necessary under the Constitution to guarantee due process. Hence, the plea deal– plead guilty and all you get is a brief prison sentence or fine; oh yeah, you get a hidden life sentence, too.
What will the next group of people be to incur the scorn of the state to such an effect?
I realize that by posting this that some will seek to vent against priests or prelates in the combox. I encourage you not to waste the time and energy to write a comment that has no chance to be posted here. What would be welcome would be a reasonable discussion on the issue.
From the story at STLToday:
Homeless Ga. sex offenders directed to woods
By GREG BLUESTEIN
Associated Press Writer
MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) — A small group of homeless sex offenders have set up camp in a densely wooded area behind a suburban Atlanta office park, directed there by probation officers who say it’s a place of last resort for those with nowhere else to go.