Two recent articles, one from NJ the other from TN have me wondering how we ever make any progress when one court takes a step forward while another seems to take a step backwards. Does this country enjoy being in a perpetual rut when it comes to sex offender laws?
In Trenton, NJ this week, the Supreme Court threw out a state-sanctioned internet use ban for a convicted sex offender. Plain and simple, the Parole Board had infringed on a man’s rights. A state Parole Board had, without any kind of authorization, ordered an “almost total internet ban” for this fellow.
Released from prison in 2009 the sex offender had agreed to an order by the Parole Board requiring him only to refrain from accessing any social networking or chat rooms on the internet. Later, in 2010 he was found to have accessed unauthorized websites with nude photos of minors and was then banned from using any internet-capable device. At another point in time he was scolded by the Parole Board for checking out “benign” websites, specifically those of his church and one maintained by his therapist. (Smells of harassment if you ask me.)
This fellow served time again for parole violations and then was placed in a program for sex offenders know as “community supervision for life.” The Parole Board advised him that his only access to the internet would be to the employment networking site, LinkedIn.
Well within his rights, he appealed the pretty much “blanket internet ban”, and the Parole Board, thinking they were well within their right, denied him a hearing using his “prior history” as their reason for denial.
Turns out, according to the judges in NJ, the Parole Board had violated the man’s right to due process by having denied him his hearing.
The judges in this case makes sense. They wisely responded that “the ban may undermine this man’s rehabilitation and hinder his ability to succeed as a free agent in society”. The judges saw access to the internet as a “basic need” in today’s world.” And, while the goals of the state’s law regarding supervised release of sex offenders is meant to protect the public, it’s also meant to ensure that ex-offenders can reintegrate into society after their sentences are served.
Without a hearing to determine a “legitimate public safety reason” for the near total internet ban, the judges have now sent the case back to the Parole Board for the legitimate hearing, which is what should have occurred in the first place.
Great, judges with some common sense.
Then there’s TN, what can I say….
In Knox County, TN a “suspected child molester” had been ordered by the court to “stay away from minors and the places they frequent”. (Where are those places again?) Without going in to the whole background of this case, the guy is out on bond and wearing a GPS ankle monitor while awaiting trial. He shows up at a football banquet for his son’s football team, to set up audio/video equipment, turns out, that’s not allowed. He takes his son and a friend to the movies to see the latest X-Men flick, apparently that’s not allowed either. Going to the mall, that too is banned.
While according to the Assistant District Attorney, the accused was blatantly “thumbing his nose” at the court’s order to “stay away from minors and the places they frequent”, I’ve got to say, I think the courts need to clarify these ridiculous “blanket orders”. Just give us some examples other than a bar, stripclub or casino, where minors aren’t. Every place I went this week, there were minors. They were at the grocery store, the clothing store, the craft store, the bank, restaurants, everywhere. And I’ll bet they are “frequently” there.
Perhaps judges can’t clarify the order because there’s no common sense to it at all.