By Brenda Jones….
Although many of our constituents would love to see some sort of silver bullet to end public sex offender registries once and for all, realistically, this is a long-term war. It will take many more battles across many different fronts to win. Those fronts include our legal system, our legislatures, and the general public. It also includes… ourselves! EVERY battlefront is important, and EVERY soldier is needed.
The Legal Front
We have many legal “soldiers” out there challenging various aspects of public registration, sometimes for individuals, sometimes for entire groups. These challenges are very important but are merely one part of the war. And as dramatic as a victory may seem, there is no single victory that will take down all public sex offender registries.
In order for a court – even the Supreme Court – to end a law once-and-for-all, it would have to find that the law is unconstitutional on its face. For a law to be judged as facially unconstitutional, there must be no set of circumstances under which it could operate lawfully. The registration of sex offenders is one of the countless registration/regulatory schemes that operates throughout our country. We have registration schemes for school children, voters, automobiles, guns, and even young men must register with Selective Service. These registration schemes have and will continue to operate without violating the Constitution. This is the reason all SORNA challenges are “as applied” rather than facial. With the exception of First Amendment challenges, courts will typically consider a challenger’s unique set of facts and render an opinion as to whether or not the law is unconstitutional as applied to those particular facts.
If an appeals court finds that some aspect of registration is unconstitutional as applied to a person or persons, this does not prohibit the legislative branch from attempting to enact a fix. This is why sex offender registration, especially public registration, must also be fought through the legislative process. Courts can help prevent the ever-encroaching reach; however, those who wear black robes are not empowered to make our laws, nor can they prohibit those we elect from enacting them. Courts are limited to interpreting or correctly applying laws that are in dispute.
RSOL is closely monitoring constitutional challenges around the country, hoping to assist in constitutional challenges brought by our legal soldiers.
The Legislative Front
Bad laws are being proposed every year by well-meaning legislators whose constituents are telling them that they want to be protected from bad guys and bogeymen. Our legislative soldiers must stand up and speak up when such laws are introduced. Legislators are often shocked that there can be a “down side” to get-tough bills and that such laws cause more harm than good. It is our right and our duty as citizens to monitor and speak out on legislative issues. Our soldiers can also strive to introduce laws that will help improve the lot of persons convicted of sexual offenses (or any other conviction, for that matter). Building working relationships with lawmakers takes time, diplomacy, and persistence, but the rewards of having a legislator “champion” willing to work with us are well worth this effort.
RSOL’s Advocates and Affiliates are among the many legislative soldiers busy fighting bad laws.
The Public Opinion Front
Anyone visiting this site is probably already aware of the huge problems in our justice system and our laws, especially regarding sexual offenses and sexual offenders. Most Americans are not. Almost daily, they see news items and police warnings about abducted children, horrible rapes, dangerous strangers, and incurable sex offenders. John and Jane Public have been terrified into accepting bad laws and policies. In fact, they are begging for them. John and Jane Public need an education and a serious reality check.
Consequently, our soldiers must also stand and speak up whenever they hear untruths, providing solid facts and taking the unpopular stand against the easier “tough on crime” views. As the underdogs, we must do plenty of homework and assure that every point we make is verifiable, every story true and strong.
Every member of RSOL, and indeed every member of the public who has become aware of the incredible falsehoods and constitutional violations resulting from our country’s sex offender policies, must fight on critical battlefronts.
The Personal Opinion Front
All of us have our own internal battles to wage in this war, too. We have arrived with plenty of preconceptions and gaps in our own understanding of the big picture. Each registered citizen must recognize that he/she is not “unique.” Every registrant is suffering to some degree, and nearly everyone was forced to take a plea or got worse than he had hoped for during trial and sentencing. Likewise, family and friends must come to recognize that this cause is far bigger than their own personal struggles. NOBODY deserves public humiliation; it serves no public safety purpose and, in fact, can increase the risk. We have to distinguish ourselves from John and Jane Public by acknowledging and ACTING ON the knowledge that our “get tough” policies are failing us, and that public registries are not effective nor are they appropriate for ANY person.
We also have to take a hard look at our individual political stands and voting habits. Have we been voting for “tough on crime” and “incarceration nation” politicians all this time? Cheering when some Bad Guy “gets what’s coming to him?” Maybe it’s time to rethink our own roles and make some changes.
Who Are Our Soldiers?
Each one of us must find the strength within ourselves to take a stand against harsher sentences, public registration, and civil commitment. As within any army, though, there are a host of different roles to play. At the one extreme are those willing to take the heat and stand up publicly to loudly protest injustice, even at some personal risk. Others speak in a more measured way in legislative hearings, city council meetings, and boardrooms to assure that facts are heard and our Constitution is remembered. Still others write and publish and research and share the truth with as wide an audience as possible. There are soldiers, both attorneys and plaintiffs, willing to go the extra distance on legal appeals that will bring relief to hundreds or even thousands.
But by far the largest number of foot soldiers are those who reach out, one-on-one, and connect with their families, friends, neighbors, random passers-by… taking any and every opportunity to educate and challenge those deep, knee-jerk fears and assumptions that have brought us to this point. Rich or poor, young or old, well spoken or shy, strong or weak, whoever we are, we have a common message: citizens labeled “sex offender” are NOT monsters but human-beings who deserve to be treated with the same human dignity as everyone else. They are no more dangerous than any other neighbor. The rights we have taken away from them can be taken away from ANYONE once that door has been pushed further open.
So RSOL asks of you, have you found your role in this war to bring down sex offender registries? We hope we can count on you!
Okay Troops, let’s get marching!