August 7, 2020, 11:38 am
Take two individuals who commit the exact same federal offense. One person lives in State “A” and the other in State “B”. The person living in A will be on the public registry for life while the person living in B will be on for 10 years. Then there are two completely separate people who live in States “C” and “D”. They were also convicted of the same crime. The person living in C can’t live within 2500 feet of a school, the person living in “D” can live wherever. Two more people, one in State “E” and the other in State “F” were also convicted of the same exact federal crime as the people living in A, B, C, and D. The person living in E is able to vote in the upcoming election, the person living in F can’t. And so on…
There are an infinite amount of combinations of statutes and ordinances, containing varying rules and restrictions imposed on people required to register as sex offenders. Knowing the consequences of an offense (or foreseeing what they might be changed to in the future) is impossible. The myriad of federal laws, state statutes, county and city ordinances were all passed with the stated purpose of “public safety” but what makes this legal imbroglio most offensive is that none have anything to do with public safety and there is zero justification or scientific foundation to any of these laws.
Ask yourself; are people in Florida inherently more dangerous than people in Georgia, such that we need to be monitored for life? Apparently someone thinks registrants are worse voters in Florida, because in the same federal election here we can’t vote and in Iowa we could. What analysis went into defining the distance for residency restrictions? Are children living 1401 feet from a school in Ft. Lauderdale less valuable than children in Miami where the buffer is 2500 feet? And why are people in Palm Beach county able to attend their government meetings but people in Brevard cannot?
In the absence of some really unfortunate experiences, such as a rash of voters exposing their genitals at polling booths in Tallahassee or kids being abducted from the County Commission meeting in Brevard, these laws are just arbitrary. The fact that you can eat breakfast at a Burger King in one county but not in the next is nonsensical. This could all be somehow justified if any of these rules achieved their stated goals, but none do and that’s why the fact that it’s ruining lives and families is so much more inhumane.
In a recent study, four scholars broke down the failure of SORNA (the “Adam Walsh Act”), which was “intended to improve uniformity and consistency across jurisdictions” and showed how it does none of that. They highlighted 5 components; registrable offenses, registration requirements, enforcement and compliance, required data elements and inter-jurisdictional transfer.
Essentially, something might be a registrable offense in one state, but not another. For the same offense you are on the list for 15 years in one state but life in another, you might be on the public website in one state but not another, and you report annually in one, quarterly in another. A registration violation is a misdemeanor in one state, where (as in the case of Florida) it’s a felony with a mandatory minimum sentence in another. Different states collect and post different information online. And finally, traveling from one state to another is handled differently among the states. Nothing is uniform or consistent. Citizens are not treated equally based on where they live.
The fact that in a decade and a half only seventeen states out of fifty have “substantially implemented” SORNA, should give anybody with an ounce of common sense the clue that the states themselves see this Act as bad. But we don’t have to live under the oppression and confusion of only one useless law, we have the State Statutes beneath it, the County ordinances beneath that and City ordinances below that. It’s a patchwork of rules and restrictions that create a maze of tripwires to catch people in technical infractions that would not be illegal conduct for anyone but someone on the registry.
IF there has to be some registry scheme (and I emphasize “if” because I don’t think there should be one), any disparity or discrimination should be individualized and carry a legitimate government interest (ie: chronic voting booth masturbators can’t participate in an election because the problem has become prevalent in Missouri). Article IV, Section 2 of the Constitution states that “the citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states.” So why can’t I vote in the upcoming election when someone who committed the exact same offense as me in another state can?
The federal government needs to step in and take control over this debacle, but I’m not holding my breath on that happening. For that reason we need to combine forces with the other states’ affiliates to find a vehicle that we can all ride to the Supreme Court. When it comes to restriction of rights, federal law should create a ceiling not a floor. Otherwise it will just become a political pissing contest to see which lawmaker can come up with the harshest law and then every couple of years after, when they need more political points, make it even harsher.
I end this very long week (and this very long post) with a plea to support registry reform (I prefer ‘registry abolition’, but I didn’t coin the phrase). Whether you help support FAC (which you can do here) your own State’s affiliate or a national organization, we need to make things happen and we need to make things happen faster.
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Author: Florida Action Committee
The opinions expressed within posts and comments are solely those of each author, and are not necessarily those of Women Against Registry.