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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Essay on Overcriminalization

Essay on Overcriminalization

            On September 8, 2008, a news article was released in the Portland Press Herald.  The title was “Sex offenders suing over registration law ; The mandate imposes an extra penalty for offenses for which they've served their time, 25 plaintiffs say.”   In 2005, Maine enacted a statute called the Sex Offender Registration Notification Act requiring the public registration of those who have been previously convicted for sex offenses starting 1992 (Portland Press Herald 1).  The scope of the law was later on expanded to include those who have been convicted as early as 1982.  Sex offenders have filed their suit under the pseudonym John Doe to protect their identity claiming that the state law violates their constitutional rights and imposes additional penalty for crimes committed up to 26 years ago.  They argue that they have lived their lives for the past 20 years or more free of sex offense convictions.  It would be a gross violation of their constitutional rights for them to be now viewed as a threat to the society simply because of the expansion of the Sex Offender Registration Notification Act. 
            This is a strong manifestation that the state is serious in its campaign against sex offenders.  We are indeed at war with violent crimes.  It is true that imprisonment is no longer a sufficient deterrent for some criminals.  After they are released from prison, they remain as threats to the lives of every member of the society, especially the children who are most vulnerable from sex predators. For the victims and relatives of the victims of sex offenses, seeing the offender languishing in jail does not provide the closure that they need.  The victims of these sex offenders also believe that this law is the only protection we have against sex offenders.  Because of the possibility that these sex offenders may continue to commit sex-related crimes, the public must be alerted on the presence of these offenders who are living in their community. 
            These sex offender registrant laws was triggered by an incident that happened in the early part of the 1990s when a girl named Megan Kanka was abducted, molested and later killed in New Jersey.  Police who conducted the investigation found out that the main suspect was a neighbor who was a repeat sex offender living with two other sex offenders.  Megan’s parents claimed that had they been informed by police officers that sex offenders were living within their neighborhood the incident would have happened.  As a result, Megan’s parents lobbied for the passage of the law that will protect children from being victimized by sex offenders living within the neighborhood.  Megan’s Law was finally passed which has basically two components: a) the Sex offender Registration and b) Sex Offender Notification. 
            I do not question the wisdom nor the legislative policy behind sex offender registration and notification laws.  In fact, I support it as one of the ingenious legislations ever to have been passed.  Due consideration must be given to the right of the public.  I believe that this is not about the rights of the sex offender but the rights of the people living in the same community as a sex offender. 
            The expansion however of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act to include those convicted of sex offenses in 1982 rests on unconstitutional grounds.  It seeks to change the punishment by inflicting greater punishment than the law annexed to the crime when it was committed.  By requiring the registration of sex offenders who were convicted in 1982, the state attempts to say to the sex offender that we are changing the punishment for the crime you committed and adding the requirement of registration.  This clearly violates Section 7 of Art 1 of the US Constitution which states that “No bill of attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.” 
            It also violates the right to privacy of sex offenders who have been convicted of the crime two decades before its enactment.  This requirement will only create fear within the neighborhood and expose the sex offender to harassment, verbal insult and vandalism.  Trivits citing Zevitz and Farkas stated that though the formal complaints filed are low, a study was conducted at Wisconsin with 30 adult sex offenders subject to notification revealed that 77% had been humiliated in their daily lives, ostracized by neighbors or acquaintances, and/or harassed or threatened by citizens.  (Trivits and Repucci 2)  It may also lead to vigilantism against the sex offenders.  It is a reality that we want to protect children from being victimized by sex offenders.  It is possible that this emotion may escalate into the attacks against the sex offender for fear that the latter may commit another crime, to wit:
“There have been some highly-publicized cases of vigilantes using state-run sex offender registry Web sites to gather information about registered sex offenders, which they then used to murder those individuals. Two of the more notable cases were the murders of two men in Washington State in August of 2005, and of two men in Maine in April, 2006. Sex offender community notification has also led to incidents of attempted murder, such as a thwarted attempt against an 82-year-old registered offender in Florida in July of 2004, innocent people being mistakenly identified as sex offenders, arson, and harassment of the families of registered sex offenders.” (“Megan’s Law”)

2.         Yes. I do believe that overcriminalization exists in the United States right now.  The paranoia is not only limited to sex offenders.  The United States government is paranoid about terrorists.  They send letters to telecommunication companies trying to get the phone numbers of people.  They contact banks asking for financial information in the guise of national security.  The send inquire from internet service providers about e-mail communications hoping to find data information that can link a person to terrorists.  People cannot even deposit cash right now without being suspected of being a money launderer. 
            While I respect these laws and these acts done because these steps are being taken for my protection, I am apprehensive at times if these acts may later on go overboard.  I fear that a time will come when the scope of my privacy will be severely restricted that the principles of democracy which this country affirms may be violated.  

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