I thought it started out as a good news article from The Exponent Telegram in West Virginia. A judge was reading sex offender rules to a defendant at a sentencing hearing. The author of the article correctly noted that defendants at a sentencing hearing are focused on “sentencing” and probably not absorbing much of the information the judge is providing them regarding the requirements surrounding life on the registry.
I had to agree that newcomers to the registry should be informed of what is expected of them, their life as they knew it is going to change and the rules and requirements they will need to learn are many.
West Virginia’s legislature rational is that if defendants are advised of the rules in a court of law they can’t come back later and say they were never informed of the registry’s requirements. They can’t use an illiteracy defense somewhere down the road. I wonder, has an illiteracy defense been used very often by registrants or does the author assume that there are a lot of illiterate registrants?
In this particular hearing it took 14 minutes for the judge to read the rules to the defendant. Now, if the judge covered all the questionable gray areas that the registry encompasses, let’s just say, he’d probably still be reading! While 14 minutes may cover the “written registry rules”, the unwritten rules are endless and always expanding. So I’m certain even the judge would have difficulty knowing and explaining all there is to know.
Like I said, I thought it was going to be a good article, but then it took a turn, as media representation of sex offenders usually does, to the most bizarre and unsubstantiated “facts” regarding offenders. I had to email the author and managing editor, Matt Harvey, and ask him what gives?
His first comment that I took issue with was that “most taxpayers aren’t going to shed a tear for sex offenders, what should be of interest to them is what this (incarcerated sex offender) will mean to their bottom line.”
I reminded Mr. Harvey that REGISTRANTS ARE TAXPAYERS TOO! They and their families are also concerned about the bottom line.
He then went on to say that the registry laws are too hard for registrants to understand so some offenders keep getting convicted over and over again.
No, Mr. Harvey, registrants are not stupid. Probation, the registration, does occassionally get violated, but most of the time it’s unintentional and only because the rules are often impossible for registrants and law enforcement to clearly understand. Registrants are not getting “convicted over and over again.” Don’t imply that registrants repeatedly re-offend. That, my dear fellow, is simply not true.
Add to this, Mr. Harvey’s comment that “many offenders have low or middling IQs” and that they “might have trouble remembering how to get to the grocery store, much less recall that they have to report a color change to a vehicle.” Where does he get such strange misinformation? Does he not realize that many registrants were white collar and blue collar workers “before” they became registrants, that many have college degrees. And surprise, many of them succeed AFTER they become registrants. Registrants are not dumb Mr. Harvey, not by any means.
The article goes on to state that in West Virginia, the state police are “just about always going to charge a sex offender who slips up.” The implication is that the risk of not filing a charge against even the most harmless allegation, could result in a potential disaster. What if the sex offender went out and did something horrific ? The officer would never forgive himself, he might even lose his job, his career would be ended. Oh, the horror.
What if? What if a police officer treated a sex offender who harmlessly slips up, like he would treat anyone else. What if he “gave him a break” and sent him on his way and the sex offender never went on to committ any other offenses? What if?
Mr. Harvey suggests that a better way of dealing with all of this is to put the onus back on government, then registrants would be more compliant and heinous repeat offenses would be curtailed.
Where exactly are these heinous repeat offenses Mr. Harvey? Did you do any research for this article of did you pull all of these bizarre references out of (OK, I said, thin air, but you know what I meant)?
He also suggests that sex offenders should be checked on “once every couple of weeks” instead of once per year, “you know, just to see if anything’s changed.” Guess what Mr. Harvey, many registrants already “check-in” more than once per year, they pay registration fees, they get questioned and have their photo’s taken and spend money on gas and lose time from work. So, no, registrants don’t need to be checked-up on every few weeks, just for the fun of it. Some have jobs, families and homes and they don’t need or want any “extra” intrusions into their lives.
While Mr. Harvey acknowledges that extra costs would be incurred by these “added” measures, he sees it as a way to create more jobs (of course not for registrants) and for the government to save money. If we check on sex offenders more often, they wouldn’t offend as much, which would mean they wouldn’t need a court-appointed attorney or spend taxpayer money relaxing in jail or prison.
“Check on sex offenders so they wouldn’t offend as much.” I can’t believe he really wrote that.
Mr. Harvey, there’s a lot of registrants that have paid their own attorney fees, a lot of families that went into debt to pay for a lawyer for their loved ones. They didn’t all get a court appointed attorney.
There are a lot of offenses that have put people behind bars at taxpayer expense that could have been handled other ways, perhaps with probation or rehabilitation instead, that would have saved the taxpayers lots of money.
If taxpayer money is being wasted Mr. Harvey, blame the government, not the registrants.
So, I emailed Mr. Harvey, gave him the names of various websites where he can get current, up to date, real facts regarding those people that are labeled sex offenders and registrants. I hope I’ve enlightened him, maybe helped him to become a better journalist.
I’ve yet to receive a response.