Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Appeals court reverses judge's ruling that teacher-student sex law is unconstitutional


Appeals court reverses judge's ruling that teacher-student sex law is unconstitutional

Updated Jul 18; Posted Jul 18

By Ashley Remkus

The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals has reversed a local judge's ruling that called the state's teacher-student sex law unconstitutional.

The criminal cases against Carrie Witt and David Solomon have been sent back to Morgan County Circuit Court. Both were school employees accused of having sex with students.

Their cases recently were reviewed by the appeals court after Morgan County Circuit Judge Glenn Thompson declared Alabama's teacher-student sex law unconstitutional nearly a year ago.

In his ruling, Thompson dismissed the charges against Witt, a former Decatur High School teacher, and David Solomon, an ex-aide at Falkville High.

"The Court finds this statute unconstitutional as applied to these defendants," Thompson wrote in an August 2017 order.

Judge: AL's teacher-student sex law is unconstitutional
Judge: AL's teacher-student sex law is unconstitutional

Charges have been dismissed against two school employees accused of sex with students.

"Because Solomon and Witt failed to present any evidence regarding the facts that led to their indictments, they failed to meet their burden of establishing that their conduct was constitutionally protected or that (the statute) was being unconstitutionally applied as to them," the appellate court wrote in an opinion issued Friday.

Witt's attorneys Robert Tuten and Nick Heatherly said they will ask the Supreme Court of Alabama to consider the case and rule on the constitutionality of the teacher-student sex law.

The law in question prohibits any school employees from having sex with students who are younger than 19. If teachers or other school employees violate the law, they can be charged with a Class B felony that carries a punishment up to 20 years imprisonment. The law also requires they register as sex offenders if convicted. Consent is not a defense.

Tuten said they believe the law is too vague and broad to be considered constitutional.

Witt was arrested in March 2016 after police said she had sex with two teenagers when they were her students at Decatur High. Witt was a history, psychology and social studies teacher, who also coached girls' golf and junior varsity cheer.

Solomon was accused of having sex with a 17-year-old student while he was working as an aide at Falkville High. Police said the two met at school, but the sexual contact happened in nearby Hartselle.

Morgan County District Attorney Scott Anderson's office was prosecuting Solomon and Witt before the law charges were dismissed by Thompson. Anderson said he's not surprised by the appellate court's ruling.

"I would have been shocked if they held it unconstitutional," he said. "They decided the state had an interest to protect these children and that the legislature can design the criteria by which to protect them."

Defense attorneys have argued teachers' 14th Amendment equal protection rights are violated by the law that was created in 2010. The law treats teachers and other school employees differently from other citizens, the attorneys argue in court records. Other adults having consensual sex with 16-year-olds do not face criminal prosecution, defense attorneys argued.

Prosecutors have argued Alabama law also prohibits jailers and probation officers from having sex with people under their care. The Attorney General's Office handled the appeal.

In his order Thompson wrote that the law is problematic because it doesn't consider whether the school employee and student are in the same class, school or school system. He said the law is written in a way that doesn't let the court determine:

  • whether the parties were consenting adults
  • whether the school employees were in positions of authority over the students
  • whether the employees abused their power to coerce or groom the students, or to obtain illegitimate consent

"This court does not endeavor to absolve any wrongdoing or to excuse the defendants," Thompson wrote at the time. "Moreover, the court does not encourage any similarly situated party to engage with impunity in what may very well be criminal behavior."

Thompson cited student-teacher sex laws in other states that he believes are constitutional. Those include laws in Texas, Arkansas and Kansas. Those laws either implicitly address sex between students and employees who exercise power over them, or students and employees at the same school.

"...this Court has recently rejected the circuit court's rationale for holding (the statute) unconstitutional -- that students who have reached the age of 16 have the ability to consent to sexual activity; thus, the State may not proscribe sex acts between a teacher and a student without requiring the State to show that the teacher used his or her position to unduly influence the student's decision to consent," the appellate justices wrote.

Thompson's decision was reversed and remanded.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Senile governor has ceremony to pass bad juvenile legislation

Do we really need a ceremony complete with a victim photoshoot? Senile governor Kay Poison-Ivey must actually want to stay in office. Any time you see a photo op like this, you can be assured some pile of BS is getting signed.

Governor ceremonially signs juvenile sex offender bill
Monday, May 21st 2018, 7:53 pm EDT
Monday, May 21st 2018, 7:53 pm EDT
By Michael Doudna, Reporter

Monday, Gov. Kay Ivey put her signature on a score of legislation. Although the signing was just for the camera (the laws were already signed in private about a month ago), it still had a special meaning for the Cook family.

“Amazing, it was the biggest blessing for us to experience this today,” Kristina Cook said.

Ivey put her signature on a bill that will require each school district to come up with rules on how to deal with juvenile sex offenders. The bill came after the Cooks’ first grade daughter was sexually assaulted by an eighth grader. The eighth grader was convicted of a sex crime, but, according to the Cooks, was back in class one year later without much oversight, because of a lack of school district policy.

“I just hope that no one has to go through the experience that we did to get a law in place to get people to do the right thing,” Cook said.

Some of the policies from school districts will be determined based on how likely the court deems the offender is to re-offend.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Will state legislators render teachers 'improper' sex cops?

OpEd in last week's paper

Will state legislators render teachers 'improper' sex cops?

Updated Mar 19; Posted Mar 19

By Cameron Smith

We want schools to be educational safe havens for our children. At the same time, public policies designed to make schools safer may carry unintended consequences. Legislation making teachers liable for policing "improper sexual conduct" is winding its way through the Alabama Legislature, and it shouldn't become law without serious vetting by legislators.

Senator Clyde Chambliss (R-Autauga County) introduced SB26 responding to a constituent family's preference that juvenile sexual offenders (JSOs) not be "mainstreamed" in Alabama's public schools. At the beginning of this school year, the family's son spotted the JSO who had abused his sister attending Autauga County high school.

Cambliss's legislation kicks moderate and high-risk juvenile sex offenders out of public schools entirely. Those students would move to alternative education programs, homeschooling or virtual schools. Such changes create budgetary and logistical challenges in their own right, but also make redirecting those JSOs away from poor behavioral choices that much harder.

The bigger problem with SB26 is what happens with "low-risk" juveniles who remain in public school classrooms.

The recidivism rate of youth adjudicated for sexual offenses is already extremely low. Research by Dr. Michael Caldwell at the University of Wisconsin suggests, "[T]he most current sexual recidivism rate is likely to be below 3%." When we're talking about the "low-risk" contingency of this entire population, it's an even smaller number.

SB26 shares information about low-risk JSOs with local law enforcement, the local superintendent of education, local board of education, principal of the school, and supervisory staff and teachers.

Improperly disclosing such information is a Class C felony--significant criminal liability.

The legislation also requires classroom teachers to report violations of a JSO's agreed-upon "individualized student safety plan" to their principals. The plans are essentially predetermined monitoring protocols for these low-risk juvenile offenders. Monitoring sounds simple enough except that the behavior scrutinized is so vague as to include "behavior that may be indicative of improper sexual activity." That standard is far broader than the criminal legal standard we expect classroom educators to understand and report.

Consider just one example. Should a low-risk offender be reported for asking a peer for his or her phone number? Under normal circumstances, it's innocuous. Is it an indicator of problematic conduct for an adjudicated juvenile? Even if it's not an actual indicator, might it be?

Teachers shouldn't be forced to agonize over that sort of decision.

They're trying to instruct a classroom full of children--a tall order without any new legislative burdens. Now they're liable for a felony if they disclose the JSO's status and expected to monitor low-risk JSOs with excruciating attention to detail according to standards that don't currently exist. They're teachers, not classroom sex cops or juvenile probation officers.

JSO's ought to face the consequences of their actions, and we should make every effort to ensure that victims are made whole and protected. The goal of having a juvenile system in the first place is giving children the opportunity to get their lives on a better path that doesn't end up in a perpetual life of crime--with many future victims.

We're right to focus on school safety, but legislators should carefully consider SB26's unintended impacts on Alabama's classrooms before it becomes law.

Cameron Smith is a regular columnist for and vice president for the R Street Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Shoals area Sheriff catching heat for outreach ministry

When are idiots in the Shoals area going to educate themselves instead of constantly attacking anything successful?

Sheriff catching heat for outreach ministry

By Russ Corey Staff Writer 22 hrs ago

TUSCUMBIA — Chester McKinney said he's not ashamed of what he's doing with a new faith-based Outreach Re-entry Ministry designed to help criminal offenders return to society after being released from prison.

McKinney, the owner of McVantage Packaging, which many people know as McKinney Lumber Co. on U.S. 43, said he simply "wants a chance to fail."

"But what if we succeed?" he asked.

The program is designed to help inmates transition back into the community through a strict program that requires participants to give up their old life, embrace God, and learn an array of life skills.

Inmates can sign up for the program while they are still in prison, said Rev. Willie Simpson, the executive director of the program. Simpson said he himself is a former inmate who has been out of prison for 30 years.

"This isn't a job," he said. "This is a calling for me."

McKinney called the ministry a pilot program that, if successful, could be a model for similar programs in other areas.

"It's faith-based and I'm not apologizing for that," McKinney said.

He said participants are vetted before they can enter the program, and they must sign an agreement to abide by all rules. They must pay $220 per week to participate, and they live at the old Four Way Inn on U.S. 43, which is surrounded by McVantage Products.

At present, there are only two people in the program. They are both sex offenders, but McKinney said they were convicted of "non-contact" sex offenses, which are offenses where the defendant did not have actual contact with a victim.

Both are from outside the Shoals, which causes some concern for Colbert County Sheriff Frank Williamson.

The sheriff said the county does not need criminal offenders from outside the Shoals.

McKinney, however, said the newly released inmates need to be "taken out of their comfort zone," meaning, they need to put distance between themselves and those who could influence them and lead them back to alcohol abuse, drugs or crime, and possibly back to prison.

He said the program is not for local offenders.

Williamson said both sex offenders involved in McKinney's program have registered with the sheriff's office as they're required to do by law. Sex offenders cannot live within 2,000 feet of a school, or a Department of Human Resources certified day care center.

In other words, they're complying with the law.

While he may not like their presence in Colbert County, Williamson said there isn't anything legally he can do about it.

However, Williamson said he researching what can be done about inmates from outside the area coming into Colbert County.

"I have a problem with them bringing sex offenders in here," he said. "We have our own sex offenders. I have a problem with bringing violent offenders in here."

The sheriff said there are 122 sex offenders living in Colbert County.

McKinney said he would not allow any "sexual predators" on his property. He said the motel is not owned by McVantage Products, but by a company that is affiliated with McVantage.

Williamson said he has received numerous phone calls about the situation. McKinney said he has also heard complaints, but he's not deterred by the criticism. He just wants to have an opportunity to see if the program can be successful.

According to the agenda for Tuesday's Colbert County Commission meeting, one person has asked to address the commission on the topic.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

SB 26 will ban juvenile registrants they deem moderate or high risk from attending public schools

Whereas many states are lessening restrictions on juvenile offenders, Alabama is still going the other way.

Bill would change school reporting, enrollment for juvenile sex offenders
By Mary Sell Montgomery Bureau Feb 28, 2018

MONTGOMERY — Juvenile sex offenders who are considered high or moderate risks for repeating such crimes would not be allowed to attend traditional public schools under proposed legislation in the Statehouse.

Senate Bill 26 also would require the State Board of Education to develop by next year a policy for the supervision and monitoring of juvenile sex offender students considered by courts to be low risk for offending again.

“Essentially, we’re trying to give those who are responsible for the care of children all the information that they need,” bill sponsor Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, said Tuesday. “We had a situation in my district where that was not done.”

Senate Bill 26 has passed in the Senate. It is on the agenda Thursday in the House Education Policy Committee. It’s unclear how much money finding alternative education options for juvenile offenders could cost local school districts.

Chambliss’ bill says a moderate- or high-risk juvenile sex offender “poses a potential threat to the safety of other students and teachers that is detrimental to the educational process and not in the best interests of the other students.”

The school system would have to assist parents and guardians to determine “appropriate alternative educational placement.”

“They would have to have an alternative-type school, a virtual school, home school, that sort of thing,” Chambliss said.

As of January, there were 1,305 juvenile sex offenders in the state, according to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. Locally, there were 22 in Morgan County, 16 in Limestone County and 12 in Lawrence County.

The data is not broken down by offenders’ risk levels.

Information about how many of those offenders might be enrolled in public school wasn’t available Tuesday.

Juvenile offenders who are deemed by the court a high risk to offend again are put on the state’s public registry of sex offenders.

The bill also requires that school superintendents and school board members be notified when a low-risk offender is enrolled in a system. Chambliss said the bill may be amended to remove school board members from the notification.

“We’ve gotten some pushback on that,” he said.

Current law only requires principals to be notified and information shared with teachers and staff with supervision over the juvenile.

Alabama State Department of Education spokesman Michael Sibley said the department is watching the legislation.

“We are monitoring the bill, and if enacted, will work to develop a model policy to ensure a safe and secure environment for all students and staff, as the law instructs, to be implemented by (local systems) with regard to juvenile sex offenders in our school settings,” Sibley said.

Offenders also would be required to notify local law enforcement if they change school systems. Failure to do so would be a Class C felony.

Also on Thursday’s Education Policy agenda is House Bill 447. It creates an Alabama Task Force on School Safety and Security that would make recommendations annually to the Legislature. Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, is the bill sponsor.

A similar task force existed a few years ago.

“They’ll meet annually to see if we have any gaps, if any states have best practices that we want to incorporate and to make sure we’re still on the right track,” Collins said Tuesday.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Alabama schools struggle with juvenile registrants in classrooms

There are some interesting stats in the following article.

Alabama schools struggle with juvenile sex offenders in classrooms

Marty Roney, Montgomery Advertiser Published 10:13 a.m. CT Feb. 22, 2018

PRATTVILLE — The parents of a young Autauga County sex crime victim want something done.

Three years ago, their daughter was victimized by a then-14-year-old boy. What happened next combines the heartache of a family trying to get back to “normal,” a young man paying his debt to society, old wounds being reopened and a bureaucratic maze of board of education meetings and potential legislative action.

Juvenile criminal cases are sealed in Alabama. For this story the Montgomery Advertiser spoke with the young girl’s family and their attorney. Facts about the case were confirmed by off-the-record sources who have knowledge of what took place. The Montgomery Advertiser does not identify victims of sex crimes. The names of the victim’s parents in this story are not used, so as not to identify the victim.

More: Where do juvenile sex offenders live in Alabama?

The young man was found guilty — or “adjudicated delinquent” in juvenile court terms — of enticing a child for immoral purposes, the victim’s parents said. They attended the hearing before Autauga County District Judge Joy Booth, who handles juvenile case in the county. At the time of the incident, their daughter was younger than 12, the parents said. There are no jury trials in juvenile court; the judge makes the decisions.

Under Alabama law, the young man is considered a sex offender.

At the time, the young man was enrolled in an Autauga County high school. In the wake of the court’s action, he was expelled from Autauga County Schools for one year, the girl’s parents said.

It was time to try and put the pieces back together.

“We really don’t know what ‘normal’ is any more,” the girl’s mother said. “We tried to put it behind us, as if that could happen. Then …”

At the start of this academic year, the victim’s older brother was an incoming freshman at an Autauga County high school. When getting ready to start school, the brother spotted the convicted juvenile sex offender at the school. The young man had re-enrolled.

“You can imagine how horrified we were,” the girl’s mother said. “We had no forewarning. No one told us this was possible at all. I mean, for our son to have to go to school every day and see the person that abused his little sister?”

Having juvenile sex offenders in the classroom is a controversial subject. Children have a right to receive an education. In fact, Alabama has a mandatory attendance law. Children younger than 16 must be enrolled in school. They can attend public, private or parochial schools, or they can be home-schooled. It is the responsibility of local boards of education to ensure that children under the age of 16 in their districts are enrolled.

The girls’ parents understand that, said Stephen Perdue, their attorney.

“What we would like to see is a change in policy statewide in dealing with juvenile sex offenders in the classroom,” he said. “We understand that they have the right to receive an education. We think a better approach would be to remove any convicted juvenile sex offender from a classroom setting.

“They can complete their education in an alternative school type setting, where they can be more closely monitored and controlled than in a school situation. But we strongly believe that convicted juvenile sex offenders should not be mainstreamed with the general enrollment.”

The numbers and the registry

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is charged with maintaining the registry of juvenile sex offenders. ALEA also maintains the statewide adult sex offender registry, which is open to public view.

As of Jan. 16, there were 1,305 juvenile sex offenders on the registry, ALEA data shows. Juvenile sex offenders fall under a classification system in Alabama, separated by the likelihood of their chances to offend again.

The lowest tier, known as "Number Ones," have been deemed by the courts as the least likely to offend again. The young man in the Autauga case was declared a Number One offender. The second- and third-tiers have been judged by the courts as being of moderate or high risk to offend again.

On the ALEA juvenile sex offender registry, information on offenders deemed at a low or moderate risk to offend again is not public. Information on juvenile sex offenders deemed as having a high risk to offend again are on the public website.Information on the site for juvenile sex offenders is basically the same as adult sex offenders. The one change for juvenile sex offenders is the address of the school the offender attends, if that is applicable.

Other information on the public website for juvenile sex offenders are:

Name: Including aliases, nicknames, ethnic names or Tribal names.

A current photograph.

Home address.

Address of the school the offender attends, if applicable.

Work address.

License plate number and description of vehicle the offender uses.

Physical description.

Criminal history of the sex offender, included what crime he was adjudicated delinquent for and why the court deemed the offender as being high risk.

The juvenile registry at ALEA tracks all juvenile sex offenders in the state. Juvenile sex offenders are younger than 18 when they were adjudicated. There is no way to determine how many of the juvenile sex offenders on the ALEA registry are enrolled in schools, but the numbers do give perspective as to how many juvenile sex offenders there are in the state.

There were 13 juvenile sex offenders listed on the registry as living in Autauga County, with Elmore County having 27 and Montgomery County having 86. Jefferson County, the state’s most populous county, had 129. Henry, Perry and Wilcox counties showed no juvenile sex offenders on the registry.

State law holds that for low-risk juvenile sex offenders, local law enforcement is required to notify where the juvenile has established a residence to the principal of the school where the juvenile sex offender will attend. The information given to the principal includes the offender’s name, living address, date of birth, and a statement of the sex offense he or she has been “adjudicated delinquent.” That information is considered confidential by the school and shared only with teachers and staff with supervision over the juvenile sex offender.

Anyone else who directly or indirectly discloses that information could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor.

For moderate-risk juvenile sex offenders, local law enforcement is required to provide notification of where the juvenile has established a residence to all schools and childcare facilities within three miles of the juveniles declared address. High-risk juvenile sex offenders are placed on the public sex offender registry website and local law enforcement conducts notification to the public as though the juvenile were an adult sex offender.

Even after the juvenile sex offender reaches “majority,” or 19 years old, they may still have to register for a period of 10 years from their first registration or must comply with lifetime registration depending on their offense and their age at the time of the offense.

State law also holds that juvenile sex offenders aren’t allowed to work or volunteer “at any school, childcare facility, or any other business or organization that provides service primarily to children..” but may not fall under the same living and employment restrictions as an adult sex offender once the juvenile sex offender reaches 19.

But juvenile justice advocates feel that treatment may be too harsh. The Alabama Juvenile Justice Task Force published its final report of the state of the state’s juvenile justice system in December. The treatment of “Low-level juvenile sex offenses lead to long-term collateral consequences,” the report reads.

“While many states, such a Georgia, do not allow juvenile sex offense registration at all, stakeholders such as (Juvenile Probation Officers) and judges reported to the Task Force that Alabama youth who have committed juvenile sex offenses for low-level behavior are in many cases statutorily mandated to register as sex offenders long into adulthood and sometimes for the remainder of their lives. In roundtables, JPOs reported juvenile sex offense registration hinders a youth’s future prospects for gainful employment and military service, among other collateral consequences.”

And youth sex offenders are “statistically” less likely than are both adult sex offenders and juveniles who committed non-sex offenses to re-offend, according to the Campaign for Youth Justice.

“More than 90 percent of arrests for youth sex offenses represent a one-time event and will never recur,” the campaign says.

Using data from the National Center on Sexual Behavior for Youth, the campaign shows “.. that only 5 to 14 percent of juvenile sex offenders offend again (compared to approximately 40 percent of adults, as reported by the Bureau of Justice). The re-offense rate for sex offenses is substantially lower than are the recidivism rates for other adolescent delinquent behavior, which range from 8 percent to 58 percent.”

Where to from here?

State Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, is sponsoring a bill that would change the way notification and enrollment of juvenile sex offenders is handled. The bill has passed out of the Senate. Chambliss’ bill would expand the pool of people notified of low-risk juvenile sex offenders to include the superintendent of education and each individual board of education member.

That’s a start, but not good enough, said Perdue, the Prattville lawyer.

“My clients went to several Autauga Board of Education meetings to express their concerns,” Perdue said. “They were told that (Superintendent) Spence (Agee) and the board members knew nothing about the situation.

“Oh, really? This is the same board and superintendent that expelled the young man for a year after he was adjudicated. We’ve been getting a runaround from the school system since this whole thing began.”

Montgomery County Schools have no policy in place addressing juvenile sex offenders in the classroom, said Scott Johnson, a spokesman for the school system. Elmore County Schools also do not have a policy on juvenile sex offenders in the classroom, said Superintendent Richard Dennis.

Autauga County Superintendent Spence Agee referred all questions to Spud Seale, the school system’s attorney. Seale expressed concerns about giving too much information, given the juvenile status of the case. He would not confirm if the Autauga County schools has a policy in place for handling juvenile sex offenders in the classroom.

“I will say this, in this particular situation, the board followed the letter of the law,” Seale said. “We were in close contact with District Attorney Randall Houston and his investigators every step of the way. R.H. said we handled this thing properly.”

And as to the treatment of the victim’s family?

“I really don’t know how to address that,” he said. “Parents and students of both parties were treated fairly and equitably.”

Seale declined to confirm if the young man in question received a one-year expulsion.

“We won’t comment on student discipline matters,” he said. “I’ve been doing this a long time, and I know of no school board that will comment on student discipline matters.”

Chambliss’ bill also addresses enrollment of convicted juvenile sex offenders. It calls for the Alabama Department of Education to craft an enrollment policy that addresses a statewide framework. But the bill leaves it up to local boards of education as if juvenile sex offenders are allowed in a classroom setting.

“In my district, the schools in Autauga, Elmore and Coosa counties are very different,” he said. “Coosa County only has one school. I feel the local boards are best able to modify and fine tune any enrollment policies.

“I’m sponsoring this bill because constituents came forward and asked me to do something. As I did my initial research, and as the process has moved forward, I quickly realized just how broad and complex this problem is statewide.”

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Signs in Yards & Chemical Castration: Bad Legislation to oppose during the 2018 Alabama legislative season

The following bills MUST BE opposed during this legislative season.

By Senators Ward and Shelnutt
RFD Judiciary
Rd 1 18-JAN-18

Under existing law, community notification of sex offenders requires a flyer be mailed or hand delivered to required residences. The existing law also provides any other method reasonably expected to provide notification may be utilized. This bill would further authorize local law enforcement to post public notices on the property where adult sex offenders who are subject to community notification reside.

Reason this is bad: This means the state will allow local sheriffs to place signs in the yards of registered citizens. This would further ostracize registered citizens and make them targets of vigilantes.

By Representative Hurst
RFD Judiciary
Rd 1 09-JAN-18

Under existing law, there is no provision for the castration of certain convicted sex offenders. This bill would provide that any person over the age of 21 years who is convicted of certain sex offenses against a child 12 years of age or younger be chemically castrated before his or her release from the custody of the Department of Corrections. This bill would require that the cost of the procedure be paid by the adult criminal sex offender.

Reason this is bad: Castration. This time, Hurst removed the surgical part in hopes that this time, it will pass. That means some folks might take this bill seriously.