Sunday, February 8, 2009
An aggressive federal effort to keep track of sexual offenders is at risk of collapse because of objections from states and legal challenges from sex offenders and others.
The effort, approved by Congress three years ago, requires all states to adopt strict standards for registering sex offenders and is meant to prevent offenders from eluding the authorities, especially when they move out of state.
The law followed several heinous crimes by sex offenders on the run, including Joseph E. Duncan III, who in 2005 fled North Dakota, where he had been registered, and committed sex crimes and murder in three states, ending with the torture and killing of a 9-year-old boy in Montana.
An estimated 100,000 sex offenders are not living where they are registered, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which collects the data from the states and provides it to the United States Marshals Service and other federal agencies.
But officials in many states complain about the law’s cost and, in some instances, contend their laws are more effective than the federal one. The states also suggest that the federal requirements violate their right to set their own policies and therefore may be unconstitutional, at least in part.
Despite a looming July deadline, no state has been deemed compliant with the law, and some are leaning toward ignoring major requirements. As a result, one of the toughest child-protection initiatives in the nation’s history is languishing.
“We support the intent, and I’m sure every one of my attorney general colleagues supports the intent,” said Mark J. Bennett, the attorney general of Hawaii. “But we believed we couldn’t follow every single provision because, legally and practically, some of the provisions didn’t make sense.”
Some sex offenders and civil liberties groups have also taken court action to block the law’s provisions. In Ohio, a man convicted 15 years ago of “gross sexual imposition” involving a teenage girl is challenging the requirement that he remain on the state’s registry of sex offenders for the rest of his life, instead of the 10 years previously required by Ohio law.
“That’s not what I want my children to grow up with,” said the man, Darren L. Coey, 35.
Members of Congress say they may try to address some of the problems with the law. Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said through a spokeswoman that he planned “to determine whether revisions and improvements can strengthen compliance, and then to quickly make whatever changes may be needed.”
While some of the law’s backers acknowledge that the states have legitimate concerns, they remain fundamentally committed to the law, and suggest that the delays leave a patchwork of differing state laws that keep children unnecessarily vulnerable to predators.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]