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Baseball, Apple Pie, and Sex Offenders

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Why it’s time to reconsider juvenile sex offender lists

Let’s see how many clichés we can think of:

  • “The exceptions swallow the rule”
  • “Too much of a good thing … ”
  • “Lose the forest in the trees”
  • “Hide in a crowd”
  • “Watered down”

So what’s this have to do with sex offenders? Well, nothing, exactly. It’s more about what this has to do with Sex Offender Registries.

Here’s the scoop. About 15-20 years ago, it seemed like a great idea to make a list of sex offenders. Politicians and lawmakers loved that platform. After all, it makes a certain amount of sense: Put the bad guys on a list for everyone to see, that way we can protect our kids from predators. But, like most things in politics, “it’s gone too far” (another cliché).

Everyone would probably agree that they wouldn’t want their kids around a known repeat child molester. And if that person lived next door or in the same neighborhood, it would be nice to know. We could keep our kids clear of the predator. That makes sense.

But now the politics have taken control. After all, “if a little is good, than a lot is better” (yup, another cliché). The problem is, where do we draw the line? How and who should determine who makes the list and for how long? It’s easy to push for being tough on sex offenders and making them all register on a public list. But where does it stop?

Now we have states putting juvenile offenders on the list, perhaps for life. Think about that. A kid, confused about his or her sexuality, merely touches another kid, and they find themselves registering for life. (It’s one reason some states are slowly scaling back their juvenile registries.)

Thinkstock Photo

Thinkstock Photo

And what about the types of offense. We typically think child predator or midnight rambler rapist. But what about the 18-year-old who had consensual sex with the person he (or she) thought was old enough, but wasn’t. It starts to make less sense to have that person on a sex offender list. In 10 or 20 years, does the community really need to worry about the kid who thought his boyfriend or girlfriend was old enough?  

Forget for a minute what it’s doing to the person registering. They have to find a local sheriff every 30 days to check in or update a residence address and check in with a sheriff if they are traveling for more than a week in another state or county. It’s obvious that the burden on the offender is significant.

But what about the value of the list? At some point (if not already), there will be too many people on the list. We won’t know if the person is a true sexual predator or just a kid who made a juvenile mistake. As the old saying goes, the exception will become the rule. And then it’s meaningless.

What’s the point? When hot political issues invade the sound discretion of the court system, results can be unexpected at best and catastrophic at worst. If something doesn’t stop or change, registration will be a common pastime, just like baseball and apple pie.

Avoid the list, call a Columbus criminal defense attorney

It’s not always possible to avoid registration on sex offender lists. But getting a quality, experienced criminal defense attorney can help. Twice in recent months we have had success at Yavitch & Palmer helping kids avoid juvenile registration.

There are legal and policy arguments emerging. Make sure your attorney (or your child’s attorney) knows what to do. Don’t take anything for granted. And if you want to brush up on Ohio Law regarding juvenile sex offenders, here’s a quick cheat sheet. Or, better yet, just give us a call to discuss your child’s case.

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