Deal raises questions about probation’s reach in sex-offender cases

Following on the heels of two recent posts [here and here] dealing with sex offenders and probation terms comes this story from the Stamford Advocate about an elementary school teacher who pled guilty in 2005 to an offense that did not require admission of sexual contact with a minor.

The charge is not a sex offense. Prosecutors dropped charges of fourth-degree sex assault, or fondling, as part of the plea deal, though they insisted they could have proven the charges at trial.

The state Department of Children and Families concluded the sex abuse allegations were not credible, court records show.

Lang, who now lives in Trumbull, was sentenced to five years probation with a possible prison sentence of up to two years if he violated probation.

All well and good. However, eighteen months later, DCF changed its mind and concluded that there had been sexual contact. As a result, it contacted Lang’s probation officer, who then imposed a new condition of probation: that he had to complete sex offender treatment and take a lie detector test.

Lang refused to take the test, according to the affidavit. As a result, he was charged late last month with violating his probation and now faces at least two years in prison.

I’m not the only one who thinks this is problematic:

Leading defense lawyers said the probation officer might have overstepped in ordering Lang to be treated as a sex offender.”The probation officer here exceeded his authority under the law,” said Michael Fitzpatrick, a Bridgeport attorney and former president of the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. “If you start having situations where there is uncertainty about the conditions of a plea agreement, it could cause chaos in the criminal justice system.”

As my readers know, I do not like this requirement to begin with (even when it is made a part of a plea agreement). This subsequent addition is even more problematic. Basically, in order to complete probation, an offender has to admit to an offense which is not what he pled to. This is obviously not the first time and won’t be the last:

The case is the latest to raise questions about the practice of dropping sex offense charges during plea deals in such cases. Last year, a Madison man refused to admit being a sex offender during therapy sessions because he pleaded guilty only to non-sex charges.The man, Robert Pentland III, was kicked out of probation for failing to comply with treatment.

Some district attorneys in the United States ban such plea deals or use them rarely because they can create chaos during treatment.

Pentland’s attorney, Norman Pattis, said last year he would fight any move to charge Pentland with violating probation or to force him to register as a sex offender.

I eagerly await the outcome of Mr. Lang’s violation of probation case.

My apologies for copying the title of the news story. Try as I could, I was unable to come up with something better.

4 thoughts on “Deal raises questions about probation’s reach in sex-offender cases

  1. Woman in Black

    The MN case is useful, with its compulsion analysis, but seems to be most useful if the case is on direct appeal, or if the “treatment” is forcing admissions that can lead to additional charges. Our client did plead to a sex crime, but no contest and he did not provide a factual basis for his plea. I think you have a host of better arguments when your client has not pled to a sex offense. I’ll be interested to see what happens.


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