Saturday, August 28, 2010

Court to decide if RSOs must have a home [to be free]

I am hoping the courts uphold the ruling striking down the practice of re-incarcerating sex offenders for not being able to obtain housing before their release dates. I am passionate about this one because I was five days away from being charged with "Failure to Register." If it was not for a church in Cincinnati, who knows when I would have found a place to live. I am hoping to have a letter from an Alabama inmate who was sent back to prison for being homeless soon.


Court to decide if sex offenders must have a home

By BOB JOHNSON Associated Press Writer
Published: Saturday, August 28, 2010 at 9:14 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 28, 2010 at 9:14 a.m.
The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals is deciding four cases that will determine if convicted sex offenders must provide a permanent address when they are released from prison.

Montgomery County Judges Truman Hobbs and Tracey McCooey ruled last year in separate cases that a law requiring inmates convicted of sex offenses to have a permanent address before they are released from prison is vague and unconstitutional.

Alabama Attorney General Troy King has appealed and asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to reinstate the law. King says the statute is necessary for law enforcement officers to keep an eye on people convicted of sex crimes like rape.

All briefs have been filed and arguments made in the four cases. Attorneys say the court could rule at any time.

This article is a longer version of the same story, courtesy of the Anniston Star:


Alabama court to decide if sex offenders must have a home
by Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer
August 28, 2010

MONTGOMERY — After serving his prison sentence for rape, Jeffrey Seagle tried to find a place to live. But with no fixed address and no family or friends able to take him in, Alabama's sex offender law kept him behind bars.

When it came time for him to leave the Kilby Correctional Facility near Montgomery, he was re-arrested. The reason: He couldn't give officials an address where he would be living.

"This is essentially an eternal prison sentence. It could be a life sentence," said attorney David Schoen, who represents Seagle and three others in similar situations. "It is the ultimate scarlet letter."

Challenged by Schoen, the law was later declared unconstitutional by two Montgomery circuit judges, but the state attorney general has appealed to have it reinstated. State's attorneys say the four inmates could have complied with the law by listing a park bench or even a street corner as their permanent address.

Montgomery County Circuit Judges Truman Hobbs and Tracey McCooey ruled last year in separate cases that the law is unconstitutionally vague. The ruling struck down charges that the four inmates violated the law when they declared that they were homeless and did not provide an address for where they would be living outside prison.

Seagle and the other three inmates were arrested for violating the notification law when they started to leave prison at the end of their sentences. They have since been released after the law was ruled unconstitutional.

Alabama Attorney General Troy King has asked the state Court of Criminal Appeals to reinstate the law, which he said is necessary for law enforcement officers to keep an eye on people convicted of sex crimes like rape. The four men — Phillip Handley, Thornal Adams, Richard Coppage and Seagle — argued in court briefs that they were unable to find a homeless shelter, halfway house or other permanent home.

Under Alabama law, convicted sex offenders are not permitted to live within 2,000 feet of an elementary or high school or college or university.

Although they are now out of prison, Schoen said his four clients are still having a hard time finding a place to live. He said they have stayed in homeless shelters and other temporary locations.

Many states that adopted stringent community notification rules for sex offenders are now grappling with the issue of how homeless sex offenders can comply.

Last year, probation officers in Georgia had to find temporary housing for nine homeless sex offenders who were kicked out of a makeshift tent city they had built in the woods behind a suburban Atlanta office building. The men said the tent city was the only place they had been able to find where they could live and comply with state law.

In a similar case, almost 100 homeless sex offenders in Florida were forced to move earlier this year from a makeshift camp under a bridge on a Miami causeway.

Mississippi has a law similar to Alabama's, but it gives sex offenders 10 days to find a permanent residence after they are released from prison. In California, sex offenders are allowed to register as "transient" if they can't find housing.

Schoen has argued that the Alabama law violates the Constitution because it requires a convicted sex offender, who has "paid his debt to society," to have a roof over his head.

But the attorney general's office has argued in court briefs that the law does not require a specific address and that inmates can say they are going to live on a park bench or under an interstate overpass, as long as they remain the required distance from schools and police know where to find them.

"You can say 'I'm going to live under the overpass on Ann Street," King said, referring to a Montgomery street not far from the Capitol.

Virginia law allows homeless sex offenders to list a street corner, parking lot or other vacant space as their home.

Deputy Attorney General Pete Smyczek denies claims that the Alabama law is an attempt to give homeless sex offenders life sentences.

"We just want them to give us something definitive enough to allow law enforcement to locate them," Smyczek said.

The law passed the Alabama Legislature in a special session in 2005. The House sponsor, former state Rep. Neil Morrison, D-Cullman, said King and some legislators were concerned that "predators were disappearing back into society" as soon as they were released from prison before law enforcement officers could find out where they were living.

"I felt strongly about this. We owe protection to our children," Morrison said.

Schoen said he believes the Legislature intended to require sex offenders to stay in prison if they lack a permanent address and that the argument about living on park benches is being made to improve chances of winning before the appellate court.

But Morrison said that's not the case.

"Nowhere did we say in the law that they have to stay in prison. The intent was to protect children," Morrison said.

In court filings, attorneys for the sex offenders say their clients went to great lengths to abide by the law.

Seagle, who was initially convicted of rape in Montgomery County in 1995, had been in prison for 14 years when he was told he would have to provide an address before he was released from prison and at that time didn't have any relatives or friends he could live with, according to his filing to the appellate court. The filing said Seagle wrote to a number of halfway houses and was only accepted to live in one in Oklahoma City.

But that halfway house later informed him it was full and he could not live there. The filing said Seagle did not have money to rent a house or an apartment and he did not have access to the Internet in prison to help his search. It said Seagle "did not think he could put down that he would be living on a park bench and that if he did, he would probably get arrested again."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Critiquing another scare tactic courtesy of the local media

John Walsh Courtesy photo
Living in the Shoals is not all that great with all the fear-mongering and small town thinking resonating around this place. So it comes as no surprise to see a scare tactic in the local sale paper advertising that Big Brother child fingerprinting and DNA kit sponsored by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. What better way to get everyone to turn in their children's DNA to our federal government than by scaring you into believing your child's kidnapping is imminent? The TV show "South Park" covered the child abduction panic quite nicely. At any rate, I will break down this article and expose it's myths:

FLORENCE–Every 40 seconds in the United States, a child is kidnapped.

COMMENTS:  That is not true. In the NISMART-2, the definitive study of missing persons cases, and ironically sponsored by the NCMEC, found that in one year, there were 797,500 missing person reports, hence, the "every 40 seconds" bit. There is one major flaw in this logic. The NISMART-2 includes all missing person cases, including runaway children. The majority of missing person reports are of runaways. Of those who aren't runaways, the vast majority of "abductions" were by non-custodial parents. In fact, out of those 797,500 missing reports, only 115 were the so-called "stereotypical kidnappings" that people fear the most.

Law Enforcement officials insist that time is critical in the recovery of a missing child. Currently, there are over 603,000 registered sex offenders, threatening the safety of our children. That number grows daily children. That number grows daily and doesn’t include those with criminal minds who have simply not had the opportunity to take a child.

COMMENT:  There are over 700,000 Registered individuals across the USA, but most are not a threat to children. Granted, we live in a state where we prosecute teens who have consensual relations with teens three years apart in age. The vast majority of sex crimes occur in the home, by a person the victim already knows and trusts, like a parent, and is most likely someone not on the sex offender list. Ninety-five percent of sex crimes are committed by someone not on the registry.

The John Walsh Child Safety Program equips parents with the vital tools needed in a crisis which can save law enforcement precious hours or days. 

Elkins Funeral Home at 1535 Hermitage Drive in Florence is sponsoring a DNA LifePrint Child Safety Event Saturday, August 28, 9:30am-2pm in the Elkins parking lot. 

COMMENT:  I've never understood how they figure child fingerprinting and DNA helps prevent kidnapping. Honestly, it is more about data mining than anything else. A picture of the child is generally the biggest help in located a missing person. DNA would only be valuable in very rare incidents, like if a child is killed or dies from an accident out in the woods like that child in Arizona did recently.

Also joining us will be the Florence Police Department SWAT Team and the Florence Fire Department with Sparky the Robot and the Fire Safety House, Face Painting, and Bike Raffles.
Biometrics is the newest and most advanced technology available today for obtaining fingerprints. It is the same equipment presently used by Federal Agencies, Law Enforcement, and the US Military. Law Enforcement officials know that time is critical in the recovery of a missing child. The Biometric Technology allows a child’s fingerprints to be immediately submitted into the FBI Database as soon as they are reported missing. When the child’s fingerprints are entered into the FBI Database, the fingerprints become immediately available to all law enforcement agencies throughout the United States. 

COMMENT:  Again they make the statement time is of the essence. However, law enforcement is NOT going to set up roadblocks and fingerprint every kid matching a general description until they find a match. The technology has improved but is not infallible, and somehow I find it difficult to believe smaller police departments like Florence has them equipped in all squad cars.

The program is endorsed by John Walsh, host of the popular TV show, America’s Most Wanted.
Detective Sergeant Joe Matthews, a retired supervisor in charge of the homicide division for the City of Miami Beach Police Department, founded DNA LifePrint in association with Walsh after solving the nationally publicized “Baby Lollipop” homicide. 

During his 35 year career as a criminal investigator, Matthews supervised and conducted over 20,000 criminal investigations and over 2000 death investigations. He has obtained confessions and convictions in numerous high-profile cases including several serial rapists. Matthews serves as an analyst/consultant with Fox News, USA Today, Associated Press, America’s Most Wanted among others. 

COMMENT:  The combo of Walsh and a Miami cop raises a red flag with me personally. Walsh has plenty of criticism for lying before Congress and inflating statistics and making outlandish public statements, while Miami has become an international embarassment for forcing registrants to live under the Julia Tuttle Causeway bridge. 

Those attending the event Saturday will receive: 

• a FREE FBI Certified Biometric 10 Digit Fingerprint Profile.
• a FREE high resolution full color Digital Photograph of your child.
• a FREE Child Safety Journal which will provide law enforcement officials with all the necessary vital information about your child and other important facts they will need immediately after a child is reported missing.
• a FREE Home DNA Identification Kit that is easy to use and lasts through generations.
There is no databasing: After each child goes through the line, parents are handed a Child Safety Journal which contains the Biometric Fingerprints, a Digital Photo, and a DNA Kit. The DNA Kit contains detailed instructions on how to use the DNA Kit at home. The only record of the visit is handed to you to take home: The event sponsor keeps no records on file. You will also be given John Walsh’s Child Safety Tips. All the information provided at this Child Safety Program is recommended by child safety experts and law enforcement officials to be updated every six months. 

COMMENT:  They may not "keep records" at this event, by my ex-girlfriend went to one and they took records of her kid at that time. There must be some money made on the kits since now you need to do it "every six months." Why? Does DNA and fingerprints change so drastically that six months later you have a fresh set? This may be all "voluntary," but someone's getting paid for this.

If a child comes up missing, parents greatly increase their chance of quickly recovering their child if they immediately provide a FBI Certified Biometric 10 Digit Fingerprint Profile, a DNA Sample, a High Resolution Full Color Photograph, and current statistical information.

COMMENT:  I'm a bit guilty of using the oxymoron "comes up missing," but it is still funny to see it in print. Anyways, the picture I can understand, but considering it takes weeks for DNA testing, I fail to see its value except in identifying old remains or something.

The bottom line: The NCMEC makes money off of these kits, though they have limited value at best. For the most part, a good pic is all you need with a description. Most of the time, however, cases are events like runaways or a kid spending too much time somewhere he should not be, or went to a friend's house without permission. My brother ran away three times in a year when I was a kid, so some of those "missing person" reports are of the same person. If you feel this is valuable, don't let me stop you, but personally most anything the NCMEC sponsors should be taken with a grain of salt.

Friday, August 13, 2010

11th US Ct of Appeals sends sex offender suit back to court

This is the longer and more detailed version of yesterday's headline.

Federal appeals court reverses ruling on sex offenders' lawsuit

Published: Thursday, August 12, 2010, 8:30 AM

A federal appeals court has reversed a U.S. District Court judge's decision to throw out a lawsuit filed by four sex offenders who say Jefferson County's sheriff should not be allowed to hold them after serving their sentences just because they are poor and don't have a place to
call home.

Alabama's Community Notification Act requires that before convicted sex offenders can be freed at the end of their sentences, they must provide an address where they will live after their release. The residence must meet certain requirements, including not being within a certain distance of a school.
If an inmate completes a sentence but can not provide an approved address, he or she can be held by the local sheriff in jail indefinitely, according to the state law.

U.S. District Court Judge Scott Coogler in February 2009 threw out the four sex offenders' lawsuit.
The four men appealed the judge's decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Last week two of the three judges on the appeals panel issued an order reversing the judge's decision.

"The district court failed to appreciate that this claim, if successful, would not affect the validity of their conviction nor the resulting sentence imposed, and would not necessarily result in immediate release," according to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.

One of the three judges had agreed that the judge had made the right decision in dismissing the case.
The lawsuit now goes back to Coogler, unless Hale or the State of Alabama seeks a rehearing before the appeals court.

"All this does really is let us proceed with this case," said Kira Fonteneau, attorney representing the sex offenders. "It's a great first step ... It (the appeals ruling) doesn't determine anything as to what is going to happen with the case."

Sheriff's officials said they will not appeal the ruling and will continue to fight the case in the lower court.

They feel strongly about it, Sheriff Mike Hale said, because victims of sexual assault and sexual abuse have a very difficult time putting their lives back together, if ever, especially victims who are children.
"The argument that these offenders have paid their debt carries little weight with us," Hale said. "The laws involving sex offenders were created with one thing in mind and that is to protect others from becoming victims."

"We strongly believe they are trying to create a loophole in that law by claiming to be indigent so they may go about in society unmonitored," Hale said. "We will fight that vigorously and look forward to the case being considered by the lower courts."
Closing a loophole

The sheriff said he will ask the state legislators to strengthen the law closing any such loophole possibility.

"We agree with the state of Alabama that they must provide a legitimate address before being released back into our society," he said.

Chief Deputy Randy Christian said investigators would have little success doing that if a sex offender was released without authorities having the ability to warn the public about who they are, what they look like and where they intend to live.

"Our job is to be advocates for crime victims and protect potential victims. Not only is that the right thing to do, but Sheriff Hale demands it," Christian said.

The four men -- Sidney Gipson, William McGuirk, Timothy Guthery and James Sasser -- had sued in 2008. Their lawsuit asks that a procedure be put in place to determine if they are indigent. If they are deemed indigent, provisions would be made for them to comply with the law without being indefinitely held in jail.

Lack of a process

If the state is going to require people to get housing then there ought to be some process for people who can't afford to get housing, Fonteneau said. "The law does not provide a process for law enforcement or the individual to deal with it ... There's just nothing there," she said.
Gipson and McGuirk remain in the Jefferson County Jail, while Guthery and Sasser have been released.

Fonteneau said she doesn't know exactly how many inmates in the Jefferson County jail are in the same position as the four men who filed the lawsuit.

Christian said Wednesday there were six inmates in the county jail who have provided addresses, but they aren't compliant with the law, so they haven't been released. Either the addresses don't exist or they fail to meet with guidelines, for example, being too close to a school, he said. One inmate continues to be held because he hasn't provided any address at all, he said.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Lawsuit against keeping RSOs past EOS date reinstated

The practice of arresting someone for "Failure To Register" in Alabama simply because a registrant lacks the ability to find a home after his/ her End Of Sentence date is draconian and should be abolished!

Ala. sex offenders' lawsuit reinstated

The Associated Press
Published: Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 1:16 p.m.
A federal appeals court has reversed a U.S. District Court judge's decision and reinstated a lawsuit filed by four sex offenders.
The sex offenders say Jefferson County's sheriff should not be allowed to keep them in jail after they finish their sentences just because they don't have a place to call home. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to a lowe court for reconsideration.
Alabama's Community Notification Act requires that before convicted sex offenders can be freed, they must provide an address where they will live after their release.
If an inmate completes a sentence but can not provide an approved address, he or she can be kept in jail.
The lawsuit now goes back to U.S. District Court Judge Scott Coogler.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Authorities stepping up efforts to combat child exploitation in North Alabama and the nation

The National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction: Report to Congress Aug. 2010:

It is a bit of grandstanding; however, the US Marshals are conducting regular compliance sweeps these days so it is good to be mindful of these type of announcements:

Authorities stepping up efforts to combat child exploitation in north Alabama and nation

Published: Monday, August 02, 2010, 3:30 PM

Two undercover operations have been launched to target online child exploitation in north Alabama, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Birmingham announced today.

The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency in Birmingham and the Hoover Police Department are conducting one operation and the FBI office in Birmingham is conducting the other, according to the press release from U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance. Both operations were begun in the past 60 days. The announcement of the operations came in conjunction with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement today of the U.S. Justice Department's first-ever National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction. That plan calls for specific goals for existing programs to combat online-predators and child pornography, and increase cooperation in investigations among federal, state and local agencies. Among the changes are that the U.S. Marshals Service is launching a nationwide operation to target the top 500 most dangerous sex offenders who are not complying with registration laws. The U.S. Justice Department also has added 38 more assistant U.S. Attorney positions around the country devoted to prosecuting child exploitation cases. The U.S. Attorney Office in Birmingham is not among those expected to get one of those assistants, said Peggy Sanford, a spokeswoman for the Birmingham office.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Person accused of sex crime actually acquitted!

It is a rare occassion to see a man acquitted of a sex crime, even more so if the person accused is allegedly a registered sex offender.

Houston County jury acquits Ohio man of sex abuse

By Matt Elofson

A Houston County jury acquitted an Ohio man Tuesday of sexually abusing a 7-year-old boy.

Gregory Hermans, 30, of Chester, Ohio, was arrested July 22, 2008, about five days after the alleged offense happened.

Assistant Distrist Attorney David Holmes said the boy testified during the trial of how he reported the sexual assault to his teacher and school principal. Holmes said the jury deliberated about four hours before returning with the not guilty.

Attorney David Hogg said his client Hermans was acquitted even though there was testimony his client was already convicted of attempted rape and of failure to register as a sex offender.

Hogg said argued that neither the child’s mother of the child’s school principal believed the child was molested by the defendant.