When Good Sex Offender Laws Go Bad

Monday, November 3rd 2008, 7:14 pm
By: News On 6

Let me start this by saying I am as against sex offenders as anybody on the planet. I see firsthand the devastation and long-term turmoil they cause in victim's lives and the lives of those who love them.

I am a big believer in the sex offender registration law. I think it's great to make people register their addresses with police when they get out of prison.

I think however, our state legislators have gone too far with some of the other laws, like not allowing  sex offenders to live within 2000 feet of a school, daycare, etc.  The problem is the law includes everyone, not just criminals who victimized children.

The police asked state lawmakers for a tiered system last year to be more fair to people who are clearly not a danger to children and not at risk to re-offend. People like the woman who flashed her breasts at a concert or the couple who had sex in high school (he was 18, she was 15) who has now been married for years. But, the tiered system we got went way overboard from what police requested.

There are more than a few cases like this. They are very committed to following now only the sex offender registration law, but, all laws. I don't think they should have to be excluded from living near a school or daycare. Police hoped the tiered system would solve this problem, but, it has not, since the requirements put  far too many people in the top, most restrictive tier.

Such is the case with a young man named Ricky. His story is starting to be more commonplace. He's a teenager who met a girl who lied about her age and they developed a relationship that included sex. When he learned her real age, he quit seeing her. Then her parents found out and even though she didn't want him prosecuted, they did and he was and now he's in the top tier of sex offenders.

His whole high school experience is ruined and many chances for college and a good job, because he has to register as a sex offender for life, even though his record has now been expunged.

I realize some men could use the line, "I didn't know her age" as an excuse, but, there are genuine cases of teenage boys whose whole life is being thrown away because they're romantically involved with a young girl. I realize you could just tell those boys to keep their zipper up and they'd never have this problem or check a girl's I.D. (and hope it's not a fake.)

But, the truth is, young men and women have been romantic for decades. That has not changed. What has changed is the overreaching law that now lumps those kids into a category with wretched men and women who prey on helpless children and scar them for life. Yes, there are consequences for every choice. Yes, there should be punishment for doing things against the law and ignorance is no excuse.  But, to lump these folks into a category of sex offenders who are really dangerous isn't right either. Police will tell you they need to focus on those sex offenders who pose a real danger. It seems lawmakers often see a problem and go to the extreme to solve it. Whatever happened to common sense and a reasonable approach?  I've talked to lawmakers who understand the law is bad and didn't want to vote for it, but, would never dare vote against any legislation that seems tough on sex offenders. That would make them seem soft on crime to voters at home who couldn't understand all sides of the issues.

I don't think voters are that dumb. I absolutely think people would understand voting against bad legislation and then working to get good legislation that is tough on crime, but, not unduly fierce for those people who are not a danger to any of us.