Still waiting for registry reform

13 months ago, almost to the very date, State Rep. and co-chair of the Judiciary Committee Mike Lawlor gave an interview in which he touted the need for sensible reforms to the sex offender registry. I was buoyed by it and a little hopeful. After all, who can not see the benefits of a tiered sex offender registry? Still, back then, I noted some suspicion, given the political climate, that such changes would ever come to fruition.

So, it was with a sense of deja vu that I read this editorial in the Courant last week from Mike Lawlor, entitled “Sex Offender Registry Riddled With Flaws”. In it, Lawlor makes some of the same observations he made over a year ago and expresses the same hope and optimism. He also makes the same arguments in favor of the registry and some new ones:

First, many true sex offenders are avoiding the registry altogether by “charge bargaining” in our courts. Current law requires sex offender registration only for convictions under certain specific statutes, such as first-degree sexual assault. Skilled defense attorneys know this and will agree to have their clients plead guilty and even accept a prison sentence in exchange for a prosecutor’s agreement to have them plead to charges that do not require registration.

The law should be changed to allow a Sex Offender Risk Assessment Board to look beyond the specific crime of conviction and instead classify a convicted felon as a sex offender based upon the underlying facts, including the police reports and prior history of the offender. Minnesota and other states have such a procedure, including due process protections, and the constitutionality has been successfully tested in the courts.

I don’t know what other registries he’s talking about that employ this procedure or what the challenges have been, but it strikes me as rather problematic.

The part about charge bargaining seems misguided and really another attack at the prosecutors and defense attorneys who are in the trenches every day.

Frankly, there’s one primary reason why this “charge bargaining” occurs (I firmly believe that Lawlor just made up that term. I haven’t heard anyone use it. Have you?): because almost every case is resolved through plea bargaining and one central tenet of bargaining is “you give something, you get something”.

Why would plea bargaining to an offense that does not have a sexual assault component be attractive to both the State and the defense? Because the State gets a conviction. The defendant, on the other hand, gets the opportunity to actually rehabilitate himself and reintegrate himself into society upon release without the stigma of being a sex offender and the avalanche of problems that come with it. If society hadn’t made sex offenders the object of their hatred and fear, this may not be happening with “such frequency”. After all, if after your release from prison, you’re going to be denied employment and a place to stay, if you’re going to be required to send a letter confirming your transient residence every 90 days, if you’re going to be denied access to parks, libraries, movie theaters, bus stops, [insert any conceivable place children can go or gather], be on tenterhooks for the rest of your life…well you can imagine why people aren’t lining up in front of that booth.

I also question his claim that this “charge bargaining” is happening with increasing frequency. My experience (limited as it is) has been that prosecutors are loathe to plea bargaing away from sex offenses and do so only in the rarest of circumstances. In fact, judges are more trigger-happy with sex offense sentences (90 years!) and terms of probation. Sex offenders are less and less likely to slip under any crack these days and there’s a reason for that. That reason is not “charge bargaining”.

It’s been a year now, and there hasn’t been any progress. I remember reading something about a task force or some such thing being formed and I believe they actually me to consider the Risk Assessment Board. What has come of it remains a mystery to me. Will it be another year before there is actual movement? I hope not.

4 thoughts on “Still waiting for registry reform

  1. Miranda

    I’m glad you brought up the point about how often this “charge bargaining” really occurs because I wondered the same thing. It seemed to me that if Lawlor is going to make a comment like that, implying that this is going on with frequency in our system, he should have the stats to back it up. Otherwise, he leaves people with a dangerous misconception about how these cases are actually resolved.

    Overall, I am in favor of positive changes to the registry, but, like anything else, whenever legislative changes are discussed, I am nervous. Would it be appropriate to remove many people from our registry? Yes. But I have serious doubts about our legislature’s motivation in “reforming” our registry requirements. Yay for the small number of lucky ones who will benefit, but yikes for the many who will end up worse off. More than a 10 year registry requirement? Allowing a board (made up of whom by the way??) to decide who has to register regardless of the particular conviction? These are not changes I am anxious to see happen.

    Reply
    1. DJ

      I don’t know what other registries he’s talking about that employ this procedure or what the challenges have been, but it strikes me as rather problematic.

      He said that in his editorial:

      “Minnesota and other states have such a procedure, including due process protections, and the constitutionality has been successfully tested in the courts.”

      Reply
      1. Gideon Post author

        Right. that’s what I was referring to. What other states. Constitutionality been tested in what cases? I was asking the readership, some of whom are up on this stuff to chime in. As much as I try to keep on top of this, I can’t remember reading a case out of MN or “other state” where the Constitutionality of any such board going beyond the offense of conviction, where the offense is a non-sex offense.

        Reply
  2. Mark in Jersey

    Registry reform will never happen as long as the U.S. Congress does not amend SORNA (Title I of the Adam Walsh Act).

    Anything that Lawlor enacts short of what the U.S. Attorney General’s recommendations propose will have Conn. lose out on Byrne Law Enforcement funding, which, like Federal highway funds, are a carrot the Federal government uses to get State laws changed (This is one reason why all States are required to have an over-21 alcohol consumption age).

    SORNA extends internet publication of registration info to all individuals, not just dangerous sex offenders like violent predators or child sex offenders.

    SORNA has offense-based Tiers, which has a flaw: The child predator who pleads to Burglary I is off the registry, while the 18-year old kid with the 14-year old girlfriend, think consensual touching, C.G.S. 53-21(2) “Risk of Injury”, which is often charged, is branded a Tier II offender, has to register for 25 years, and is on the ‘net.

    Worse off, the 16-year old juvenile who makes a mistake and touches a 12-year old, even if adjudicated as a juvenile offender, will have a predicate offense in the Tier I, with a lifetime classification as a “child molester” (The SORNA cutoff for juvenile offenders is 14!)

    Even more bad news: If you have committed a predicate offense, and it has been considered “set aside” but a court sanction was imposed – think Accelerated Rehabilitation (Conn.) or Pre-Trial Intervention (N.J.) – SORNA mandates that this is a “conviction” for registration purposes:

    For example, the need to require registration would not be avoided by a jurisdiction’s having a procedure under which the convictions of sex offenders in certain categories (e.g., young adult sex offenders who satisfy certain criteria) are referred to as something other than “convictions,” or under which the convictions of such sex offenders may nominally be “vacated” or “set aside,” but the sex offender is nevertheless required to serve what amounts to a criminal sentence for the offense.

    [Emphasis mine].

    Final SORNA Guidelines (source):
    http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/smart/pdfs/final_sornaguidelines.pdf

    I’ll get back with more Conn. and N.J. specific registry comments time permitting…

    Reply

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