Category: Politics

A Case of Unchecked Prosecutorial Abuse

restaurant-small1By Michael M.

Let’s talk about Bedford County, Pennsylvania’s former District Attorney, William Higgins, Jr.  On August the 17th, 2018, Higgins was sentenced after being charged with using his power as a District Attorney to coerce female defendants accused of drug offenses into sex acts. At least, that’s how the news media repeatedly framed it. There’s just one problem with that script. Prisoners and those accused of a crime cannot legally consent to sex with any law enforcement officer, District Attorney, or other officer of the court.  So, let’s just call this what it really was – what the court and news media refuse to call it: Rape.

It’s not as if the court is unfamiliar with the word or unaware of its definition. After all, courts routinely tout the legal principle that certain classes of people cannot consent to sex under any circumstances – minors under the legal age of consent, people under the influence of drugs or alcohol, people who are incapacitated while unconscious or sleeping, people who have significant mental illness, and yes, people who are in the government’s custody.

So, for raping these women, former District Attorney Higgins received the following sentence:  $9,700 in fines, eight years of probation, 1125 hours of community service, 120 days of house arrest, and mandated counseling.  That’s right… not a single day of jail or prison time, and no sex offender registry!

higgins2
Former DA, William Higgins Jr.

One might be tempted to think that perhaps he received this judicial slap on the wrist because his offense was a singularly minor infraction of the law. But, in fact, Higgins faced 31 charges which included not only the sexual assaults, but obstruction of justice, witness intimidation, reckless endangerment, giving misleading testimony, and concealing or destroying evidence.

Perhaps his sentencing good fortune was the result of the fact that Higgins is just a really, really nice guy who is simply misunderstood?  After all, Steven Passarello – Higgins’ defense attorney – extolled his ostensible altruism thusly: “To his credit he decided he did not want to put his family or the county of Bedford through a media circus trial.”  And as everyone knows, nothing says “nice guy” like wanting to spare the county a media circus.

Far more likely is the probability that the District Attorney’s office simply couldn’t stomach the prospect of the wall-to-wall media scrutiny that such attention would bring to their operations. They were apparently willing to do just about anything to avoid that kind of scrutiny and the inevitable calls for oversight and accountability that would surely result.  So, they made a deal.  It was one hell of a good deal for Higgins by any conceivable measure.  Higgins would pay a small fine, do some community service, and spend some time in “home confinement.”  But he would be spared the indignity and substantial risk of serving any jail time, and there would be no sex offender registration. In return, Higgins would retreat from the limelight, keep his mouth shut, and crawl back into obscurity like the cockroach that he is. It’s a win-win.

Image result for justiceThis case is the perfect example of how there are two distinctly different kinds of justice in America. There’s the kind of justice you get when you are wealthy, well-connected, and a potential embarrassment to officials because know where all the “skeletons” are buried. And then there’s the injustice you are subject to when you aren’t wealthy, aren’t well-connected, and wield no political clout at all.  The average citizen who is charged with one – one! – misdemeanor sexual offense typically serves significant jail time and is placed on the sex offender registry.  Higgins, with 31 charges against him, received not even a taste of either.

That brings us to another major, glaring facet of this case that most have missed.  Time and again, the appellate courts have ruled that the sex offender registry is not punishment. In Smith v. Doe, 538 U.S. 84 (2003), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Alaska’s sex-offender registration statute, opining that the registry was administrative, not punitive, and was therefore not an ex post facto law.  But, if the sex offender registry requirement truly isn’t punishment, then why was Higgins not required to register?

The answer, obviously, is because Higgins and his attorney both knew full well that sex offender registration would be the worst possible consequence to be faced at any sentencing hearing. Therefore, they did what any reasonable defendant would do under the circumstances, if they had the same kind of dirt on the courts that Higgins had. They made sex offender registration a non-negotiable item in their bargaining discussions.

Higgins, the former Bedford County PA District Attorney knows full well that not only is the sex offender registry a punishment, it is an unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment of the worst kind. The current Bedford DA, Lesley Childers-Potts, knows it, as does Judge Thomas Ling, who accepted Higgins’ plea agreement. Every registrant in America knows, without a doubt, that the sex offender registry – the so-called “civil death penalty” – is punishment.

Why doesn’t the U.S. Supreme Court know it?

The Sex Offender Registry: A Gorilla on the Basketball Court

restaurant-small1By Michael M.

 Why does the public ignore the obvious unconstitutionality and overt cruelty of a sex offender registry that not only fails to accomplish its stated purpose – keeping our communities safer – but also condemns hundreds of thousands of registrants and their family members to a lifetime of humiliation, harassment, and possibility of unemployment, homelessness, and vigilantism?  It would be easy to assume that this apathy and inattentiveness by the public is simply the result of hatred, bias, or ignorance but there may be something else at work here, something that scientists have dubbed “inattentional blindness.”

gorillaIn 1999, psychologists Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris conducted an experiment that became world famous and was the subject of their 2010 book entitled, “The Invisible Gorilla.”  In their experiment, test subjects were shown a video of a basketball game after being asked to count the number of times the basketball is passed by players wearing white shirts.  During the game, a person in a gorilla suit strolls to the center of the screen, pauses to beat on his chest, and then wanders off.  After viewing the video, as many as 70% of the test subjects had no recollection whatsoever of a gorilla being in the video.

kenneth conley
Officer Kenneth Conley

This study has become the cornerstone of various theories and further experimentation centered on the phenomenon which became known as “inattentional blindness.”  The legal community took further notice of this topic when an undercover police officer named Kenny Conley was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in 1995 for claiming that he did not see a fellow officer beating a suspect as he ran by in pursuit of another suspect.  The jury simply did not believe that it was possible to miss something that obvious and convicted Officer Conley of lying to protect his colleague.

Simons, Chabris, and others decided to conduct a test to see if it was indeed possible that Officer Conley hadn’t seen the incident.  They set up a similar scenario and asked test subjects to chase a suspect and count the number of times the suspect touched his head while running. The route took the test subjects right past an on-going fist fight yet, afterwards, as many as 72% of the test subjects had no recollection of seeing the fight, which “obviously” occurred right in front of them.  As a result, Officer Conley was exonerated in July 2000.  The results of this study were published in 2011 under the title, “You do not talk about Fight Club if you do not notice Fight Club: Inattentional blindness for a simulated real-world assault.”

The conclusion of this and other similar studies is rather straightforward and simple.  Our brains pay attention to what we think is important or, at the very least, what others tell us is important.  Everything else is subconsciously categorized as being irrelevant and is discarded before having any effect on cognition or thought. As a result, we are literally blind to it; we simply don’t see it.

misdirection-3-638The mainstream media tells us daily what we should be paying attention to.  Their laser-like focus is invariably trained on sex offender registrants, high visibility or highly-placed pedophiles, and sex-traffickers.  The constant drum-beat and warnings of “stranger danger” not only stoke our natural anxieties as parents, but it also blinds us to the potential dangers that may exist right under our noses.

97% of the sexual assaults against juveniles are perpetrated by someone the victim knows.  59% are committed by acquaintances; 34% by family members.  Less than 7% of sexual assaults against juveniles are committed by strangers and an even smaller fraction of that number is attributable to known sex offenders.  “Stranger danger” is largely a myth.  Targeting registered sex offenders as your primary focus of fear and loathing is not only irrational, it is dangerous.

As for America’s “epidemic of missing children,” over 91% of them are runaways. 5% are the victims of family abduction. Less than 1% of the missing children were abducted by strangers and most of those were not registrants.  Again, the conspicuous focus on registered sex offenders makes the public blind to the real dangers that abound in our society.

Bu what about sex trafficking?  Surely, that is an issue we can all agree needs more attention and aggressive prosecution.  Yet, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an astonishing 88% of the children who end up being sex-trafficked became victims after going missing from government social services and foster homes!  It isn’t some creepy guy at the park who is snatching children from their homes and turning them into chattel, it is the very same government that is fueling your unwarranted fears of “stranger danger” and registrants.

Inattentional blindness causes the great majority of Americans to overlook the unconstitutionality and cruelty of a sex offender registry that makes our communities less safe by focusing your attention where it is least needed and accomplishes absolutely nothing.  It is a classic case of misdirection, blinding you to the political incompetence, law enforcement impotence, and contemptible court decisions that are so pervasive in the realm of sexual offense laws and policies.

It’s time we “just said no” to the media hysterics and political grandstanding about sexual offenses and start paying attention to the (now) painfully obvious gorilla on the basketball court.

How Big Money Stymies Sex Offender Law Reform

restaurant-small1

by Michael M., NARSOL & The Registry Report

When SORNA (Sex Offender Registration Notification Act, aka Title I of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006) required the states to establish comprehensive minimum standards for their state sex offender registries, it created an unfunded mandate that left many states scrambling to comply or lose Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG)  funding from the federal government.  Many states did not have sufficient funds earmarked for the creation of a whole new bureaucracy, especially one that depends so heavily on expensive information technology, so they outsourced it.

watch-systems.jpgOne of the big beneficiaries of that outsourcing decision was a company called  Watch Systems LLC.  Watch Systems provides a turn-key solution called the Offender Watch Network to over 3500 government agencies, including sheriffs’ offices, police departments, attorney generals’ offices, US Attorneys, federal and state probation offices, the Department of Corrections, indian tribes, and  the US Marshal’s Service.  In fact, they claim that 61% of the nation’s sex offenders are in their database, which resides on their privately owned hosted servers. Their “supplemental” products include mobile sex offender mapping applications, a postal sex offender notification mailing service, and a robo-caller to verify sex offender phone numbers.  In addition to their sex offender registry products, Watch Systems also maintains and markets other registries for arsonists, deadly weapon offenders, metal thieves, gang members, and animal abusers.

Watch Systems employs about 40 people at their HQ in Louisiana and they generate $7.2 million per year in revenue, almost entirely from government contracts. Their clout in the industry reaches far beyond their Covington LA home base, however.  In 2017 alone, Watch Systems spent $120,000 on lobbying efforts in Washington D.C. and is on track to spend even more in 2018.

Other corporate players in this market include TriBridge with $130 million in annual revenues and 650 employees, DeveloApps with their COPS™ (Court Ordered Program Supervisor) platform, idSoftware with their ASOMS (Automated Sex Offender Management System, and GCOM’s SOMS (Sex Offender Management Software).

In addition to high-tech sex offender management software solutions, there are literally hundreds of government contractors peddling sex offender treatment and rehabilitation programs, analytical tools, penile plethysmography testing, and polygraph testing.

polygraph1The polygraph industry is huge.  The U.S. market for polygraph testing is estimated by one “lie-detector” manufacturer to be $3.6 billion per year.  70% of U.S. states use polygraph testing as part of their sex offender management programs.  One state, Colorado, has spent $5 million in the past seven years on polygraph testing for sex offenders.  In addition to what the state spends, offenders are expected to pay out-of-pocket costs of $250 for each inconclusive or deceptive test, which are more common than one might think. That’s a lot of money for tests that are considered by many states to be so unreliable, they can’t be used as evidence in criminal or civil courts.

In 2003, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences reported to Congress that “practitioners have always claimed extremely high levels of accuracy, and these claims have rarely been reflected in empirical research.” They also noted serious conflicts of interest, systemic bias, and a significantly high rate of false positives in their use.

According to the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry,

“Studies report an average specificity of 52 percent, meaning that out of 100 people who are not lying, only fifty-two will be identified as telling the truth while forty-eight of these honest individuals will be branded as liars. These odds are similar to a coin toss, which would have a specificity of 50 percent.”

These estimates are further corroborated by a “truth verification” company called NITV Federal Services, which markets high-tech voice stress analysis equipment as an alternative to polygraph testing:

“Studies have varied results measuring the accuracy of the polygraph, with estimates ranging from 70 to 90 percent accurate. Furthermore, only 29% of 194 “scientific studies” touted as proof by polygraph advocates met the minimum standards of scientific adequacy…  Former polygraph examiner and Oklahoma City Detective Sergeant Doug Williams was sentenced to two years in prison by the federal government in 2015 for activities associated with his teaching people how to beat the polygraph. After years of using the technology, he came to distrust the results and taught thousands of people to use countermeasures. He rates the accuracy of the polygraph at 50 percent at most. In fact, U.S. government agencies have taught individuals involved in undercover operations to beat the polygraph, thus validating Williams claim that techniques can be taught to defeat the polygraph.”

The Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) tracking of sex offenders is, likewise, big business.  The devices themselves cost between $100-$150 each, and then there’s the associated equipment, software, and technical assistance required to run a monitoring program.  gps-ankleFederal and state courts are spending approximately $36 a day per offender for GPS monitoring, which is more expensive than traditional methods of enforcing parole or probation ($27.45/day), but cheaper than civil commitment, which averages more than $100,000 a year per person.  According to Peter Michel, the president and CEO of iSECUREtrac (a maker of electronic monitoring devices), about 40 states currently have legislation on the books or are in the works that require GPS monitoring of certain sex offenders.  In 2015, there were more than 125,000 people overall being monitored by the courts using GPS devices, up from 53,000 in 2005.  With an estimated 10% rise in that number each year, that’s would equate in 2018 to 166,000 users, or $6 million dollars per day – $2.2 billion per year.

Seven companies have already captured 96% of the offender GPS market. Since GPS device users can’t be upsold or super-sized (limit, one per customer) the only way these companies can increase sales and revenues is to increase the size of their potential market.

The 900,000 people on the sex offender registry represent a huge potential market for more GPS tracking devices and software applications.  If even one tenth of those offenders become future candidates for GPS monitoring, that would amount to $3.2 million every day, or an additional $1.2 billion dollars per year.

Let’s also consider the privately owned and managed civil commitment facilities for sex offenders who have completed their criminal sentences, but are deemed too dangerous to be released into communities.  The cost of incarcerating one prisoner in a traditional prison is roughly $31,000 per year, but civil commitment facility costs run closer to $100,000 per year by some estimates due to programming and therapy costs.   There are over 5,400 sex offenders currently languishing in civil commitment facilities in twenty states. That’s a whopping $540 million per year!

Private prison companies are raking in the cash.  And they’re dishing it out, too. They paid 10 lobbyists $480,000 dollars to lobby Texas state lawmakers in 2017. The GEO Group alone spent $320,000 on lobbying there.  Private prison lobbyists also gave more than $225,000 to Texas lawmakers via political action committees between 2013 and 2016.  And that’s just one state.

Boogeyman.jpgFinally, we should make note of the fact that the news media industry absolutely loves sex offenders, but not in a good way. Consider this recent Newsweek story: “Sex Offender with no nose jailed for child pornography,” where the writer goes out of her way to outrageously depict the accused man as a real-life boogeyman. Just when you think the media can’t sink any lower, they prove us wrong, and in a big way.

Network television news revenues have been stagnant for years and newspapers and magazines seem to be leading a charge into bankruptcy.  This leaves the media increasingly desperate to generate as much hysteria and fear as possible to increase ad revenues.  Sex offenders, like it or not, are their new cash cow.

Is it any wonder that, every year, companies that specialize in “sex offender management” solutions for the courts and law enforcement send their lobbyists to each of the state capitals and to Washington D.C. to influence public policy and legislation with huge wads of cash to spread around? At the same time, many sex offender registrants are deprived of their right to vote, kept off the internet, and saddled with unemployment and homelessness.

There’s a problem-solving principle called “Occam’s Razor” which postulates that a person, when presented with competing hypothetical answers to a problem, should select the answer that makes the fewest assumptions and is inherently the “simplest.”

You want to know why very little ever seems to get accomplished in the sex offender law reform movement?  The answer is simple.  Money talks.

Congress Moves to Ban Child Sex Robots

restaurant-small1by Michael M., Editor, The Registry Report

Apparently, there’s been a child sex robot crisis brewing in America that no one knew anything about until now.  Not to fear, though. Congress, which is always anxious to peddle a solution for which there is no corresponding problem, is on it.  The bill, which has already cleared the House and is now on its way to the Senate, stands a fair chance of actually becoming law. After all, who in Congress wants to be portrayed by an opponent’s campaign ads as being “soft on child sex robots?”

creepy-dollI don’t even want to contemplate what unintended consequences this ridiculous piece of legislation will bring.  For starters, there is zero evidence that child sex robots are actually being imported to the U.S. in any significant numbers.  A few companies are certainly attempting to make and market such items, but we shouldn’t mistake their marketing hype for actual sales and imports. In fact, they are probably salivating at the thought of all the free publicity they’re about to get from our nitwit lawmakers.  There’s irony for you.  By trying to outlaw these things, our elected representatives are practically guaranteeing their commercial success.

Second, even if these little abominations were being imported into the U.S. in any significant numbers (and there isn’t any evidence of that), there’s no evidence whatsoever regarding who’s purchasing them or for what purpose.  Sure, we can assume, but if you’re going to pass laws about something like this, shouldn’t you actually have some hard data upon which to base your conclusions?  And oh, by the way, we shouldn’t ignore the journalist’s flair in referring to these gadgets as the “child sex robots favored by pedophiles.” Exactly how, pray tell, do we know this?  Did they conduct a survey? I’m guessing no.

Finally, there is absolutely no evidence that “child sex robots” will have any effect at all upon the incidence of actual child sexual abuse.  It could exacerbate it, but for all we know, it could just as likely reduce child sexual abuse.  No one actually knows, because there is no data. None. Nada. Not that a complete lack of understanding or evidence has ever stopped Congress from passing laws about things it knew little or nothing about in the past.

Below is an excerpt from the original article by Tim Johnson at The Fresno Bee:

 June 13, 2018: Congress moves to ban child sex robots favored by pedophiles

The U.S. House approved a ban Wednesday on the importation and trafficking of anatomically correct child sex dolls and robots that “normalize sex between adults and minors.”

The proposal was approved in the House by a voice vote and now moves to the Senate.

“These dolls can be programmed to simulate rape. The very thought makes me nauseous,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican.

“Once an abuser tires of practicing on a doll, it’s a small step to move on to a child. My bill takes necessary steps to stop these sickening dolls from reaching our communities,” said Rep. Dan Donovan, a New York Republican who sponsored the legislation.

The child sex dolls are imported from China, Hong Kong, and Japan, often labeled as mannequins or models to avoid seizure by authorities. No current U.S. law specifically bans the importation and sale of the sex dolls.

Sex robots are increasingly lifelike, composed of silicon flesh-like material, some with basic artificial intelligence that allow conversations based on moods.

The bill is called the CREEPER Act, which stands for Curbing Realistic Exploitative Electronic Pedophilic Robots Act.”

The proposal says the obscene dolls and robots “are customizable or morphable and can resemble actual children. … The dolls and robots normalize submissiveness and normalize sex between adults and minors.”

Goodlatte said he was “distraught” that the problem of child sex dolls even exists.

“I am saddened that there are people in this world who would create realistic child sex dolls and distraught that there are people in this world who would buy them,” Goodlatte said.

“Customers can order bespoke dolls, providing pictures of specific children they would like the doll to resemble. They can indicate a preferred facial expression such as sadness or fear,” he said.

A change.org petition in support of the CREEPER Act has received more than 166,700 signatures.

The rate of child sexual abuse in the United States is difficult to determine because it often goes unreported. The Department of Health and Human Services has found nearly 3 million cases referred to agencies for investigation of child abuse annually, and believe that more than 8 percent involved sexual abuse.

A smattering of social scientists say the child sex dolls may reduce pedophilia but Goodlatte said there is no scientific literature to support that view.

“To the contrary, these dolls create a real risk of reinforcing pedophilic behavior and they desensitize the user causing him to engage in sicker and sicker behavior,” Goodlatte said.

Child sex dolls are one niche of a nascent robotic sex industry that has generated debate about the ethics of the use of lifelike machines for sexual activity. It is a subject that turns from squeamish to outright revulsion for many when it touches on child sex dolls and robots.  (More…)

Read the full article at the Fresno Bee.

18 U.S. Maps That Just Might Blow Your Mind

restaurant-small1by Michael M.

The Registry Report

We’ll start with the most obvious map of interest, dated 2017, and from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Admittedly, this map is kind of ho-hum, unless you happen to live in Oregon, Wisconsin, or Michigan, which have the highest percent of registered sex offenders in the nation.

NCMEC May 2017 Map

Next, let’s take a look at our incarceration rates by state. This map might give you pause if you happen to live in the deep south. The question that this map raises is, are the people in the southern states just that much more criminal-minded than those in the north? Or are southerners being held to a different legal standard than those in the rest of the country?

incarceration

As if incarceration alone weren’t bad enough, here’s a map that shows the states that can continue to keep a sex offender locked up civilly after he has served the sentence imposed by a criminal court of law.  In essence, people are being incarcerated for what they might do in the future.

civil-commitment

By the way, did you know that HIV sufferers have to register as sex offenders in six states?  I didn’t.

HIV-criminalization_map
Click to Enlarge

Click here to read the entire article and see all 18 crazy maps at RegistryReport.org

What If the Sex Offender Registry Ended Tomorrow?

dsdaughtryby DS Daughtry,  The Subjective Belief Blog

 

Subjective Belief

What if the U.S. Supreme Court miraculously ruled that sex offender registries were unconstitutional? First, the major news networks would be in meltdown mode. I am confident that cataclysm based voice commentary would involve Ron Book, John Walsh, and a cameo appearance by Nancy Grace would be in order. Police, politicians, school boards, and outraged registry supporters would behave like a Kanye West moment during Hurricane Katrina.

A recent web traffic study of the North Carolina Sex Offender Registry shows most searches of the website disclose a higher portion of commercial viewing than individual users. That indicates the registry overall is a business instead of a service to the community. Virtually citizens outraged at the registry termination are service-based organizations that provide traffic content. Which brings me to my first examination. Private registries such as Homefacts or other similar websites would scurry to improve its databases to unofficially track former…

View original post 1,383 more words

SO Registry Endangers the Lives of Those It Was Meant to Protect

thehill-logo-bigExcerpt from The Hill, October 25, 2017

Registries just don’t work.

The scientific consensus is that registries don’t actually do anything to prevent sex offenses, which means they’re an enormous waste of taxpayer resources. Michigan’s registry, the fourth largest in the country, is bloated, with nearly 44,000 registrants, and growing by about five people every day. There are more than 850,000 registrants nationwide.

Registries are dangerous because they push registrants to the margins of society, making it harder for them to get jobs or an education, find homes or take care of their families. Draconian restrictions mean registrants face years in prison if they to do something as simple as borrow a car without immediately notifying the police. And the internet has turned these registries into modern-day scarlet letters, leading to harassment and even vigilantism.

The good news is that there are effective ways to keep our families and communities safe. We need to focus on prevention and support the critical work being done by sexual assault survivor groups. We need to recognize that the vast majority of child sex abuses cases — about 93 percent — are committed by family members or acquaintances, not strangers, and focus on where the real danger is…

Read the entire article at TheHill.com