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A case filed in US District Court, Nashville, TN last week has the potential to be a pivotal point in changing the registry, not only for John Doe who is filing the suit, but for all registrants.
Plaintiff John Doe has filed suit against Mark Gwyn, Director of Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and William E. Haslam, Governor of Tennessee. In a nutshell, the complaint focuses on registration laws being illegally applied retroactively to Plaintiff John Doe, whose offense dates back to 1994. Since that time, registry laws,restrictions and revisions have morphed into a threatening monster with a far reaching grasp.
Due to the seemingly never ending revisions in state laws, people like John Doe who years ago had never been required to be on the public registry are now not only on the public registry but many who were never violent, are now listed as “violent against children”. Sounds like defamation to me. And if John Doe wins this case, shouldn’t everyone whose status on the registry is listed as “violent” when they are not, have their status changed immediately? Or would the state of TN rather deal with the myriad of ensuing law suits that would be sure to follow?
While the majority of this lawsuit deals with John Doe’s retroactive situation, there’s plenty of issues in it that relate to all registrants, here are just a few.
The first one is what I like to refer to as “The Greenway Effect.
Registrants are excluded from job opportunities in many major cities like Nashville and Knoxville because of Greenway locations, those exclusionary areas where registrants dare not go..
The registry rules are “clear as mud” on the boundaries that registrants are informed about on most sex offender registry law directives, 1000 ft, from schools, playgrounds, public parks, athletic fields, and recreational centers that are used by the general public. (The assumption I guess is that A) registrants always carry a handy tape measure in their pockets to make certain they are in compliance and B) that registrants are not considered part of the general public !) But Greenways, those nifty little sidewalks or paths that all of our tax dollars help pay for, that parallel parks, shopping centers and restaurant districts, that provide entrances and exits at various points along those venues, are also off limits to registrants. Who knew? And, because the Greenways themselves are off limits (even though they aren’t listed anywhere in the directive), everything within 1000 ft of them is also off limits to registrants. Well, sort of. The waters are a bit muddier here. Like every place else, the Greenways are off limits “unless” the registrant has a specific reason to be there.
So, here’s the rub-
You can’t WORK within 1000 ft of the Greenways, so if it’s a restaurant job or a retail position you’re applying for, No, Nada, Not gonna happen!.
But wouldn’t work be a legitimate reason for being within 1000 ft of a greenway?
Registrants can eat at restaurant ! They can shop at retail stores. But they can’t work at any of them if they are too close to a Greenway.
How does that make any sort of sense? What does an outside Greenway have to do with a registrant working inside? Nothing. Nothing at all.
According to this type of governmental logic, it’s a wonder that registrants are able to work at any jobs because, and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, one usually has to walk on some kind of public pathway or sidewalk to get to most jobs. Streets, paths, sidewalks are everywhere and that’s all Greenways are, they are paths and sidewalks, alternatives to the street.
Registrants are not given maps of Exclusionary Zones. Oh no, that would make their lives too easy. Instead, every time they are offered a job or locate housing they must contact the registry to find out whether or not the address for job or home is in the Exclusionary Zone, some zone on some master map that apparently only those who are in charge of the registry have access to. In some states, entire towns and counties seem to be Exclusionary Zones. Why doesn’t the registry want registrants to have access to these zoning maps? Is it so they can trip up registrants when they venture more than the allotted 1000 ft and send them back to prison or is it to keep registrants from finding jobs and housing? There’s got to be some reason, but so far, those in charge of the registry aren’t willing to share it.
Loss of job opportunities due to distance restrictions, travel restrictions, speech restrictions, hindrance of maintaining normal family relationships and being publicly identified and falsely labeled as violent are all mentioned in this lawsuit.
Also included in the suit is the unreasonable task of registrants having to take time off from work and their daily lives to register in person. As the rules have changed, registrants who formerly registered once a year by mail are now subject to quarterly in person registration because they are now considered “violent offenders” and that’s how often “violent offenders” have to register. Makes no matter that they have never been nor are they now “violent”, that’s the way the rules have changed. In person, violent offenders!
John Doe was convicted in 1994, 9 years before the The TN Sex Offender and Violent Sex Offender Registration Verification and Tracking Act went into effect, and 20 years before the Act’s most recent revision. During that time, the Act was revised in 1996, 1997, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007,2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2015. Except for a few years here and there, we are talking about new restrictive revisions almost EVER YEAR! These revisions are cruel and punitive. Their sole purpose seems to be to make the lives of registrants as difficult as possible, to keep them from gaining employment, securing housing and maintaining family and supportive relationships. In general, every year there are new restrictions that isolate registrants and purposefully make them pariahs in society.
I’ve already got my letters in the works for both the TBI Director as well as the Governor of TN,. It doesn’t matter if you live in TN or not, these rulings have trickle down effects, when one state makes changes, that sets a precedent and that’s all we need for other states to follow suit. Letters from the public can make a difference. If they are smart, those in TN government will realize that Registrants who have served their time are now standing up for their Constitutional Rights. They are hiring lawyers. Good Lawyers. Registrants are no longer cowering in the dark, allowing themselves to be made to feel like outcasts in society. No longer allowing their rights to be trampled on.
Everyone makes mistakes. When you’ve paid the price for your mistake, that’s were it should end, you should be able to get on with your life and not have to deal with a never-ending barrage of revisions and retroactive rules.
Thank you John Doe and the attorneys that you’ve hired. We hope you win big time, for yourself and for the rest of us!