By Dwayne Daughtry . . . When it comes to sex offender restrictions, some legislatures have taken unusual steps to either ban registrants entirely from the internet or restrict access to various social platforms. Convicted sex offenders aren’t allowed to use Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat as per company policies. As Facebook acquires, monopolizes, and removes registrants from its platform, it will have attributed a significant increase in national unemployment numbers of registrants and their families because of inabilities to attain equal access to tools required for industry resources. Some may argue that “removal from the registry will restore accesses to social media because requirements are no longer applicable.” However, Facebook and other company policies that align with banning sex registrants from its platforms are permanent and not subject to state or federal laws and guidelines. This argument extends to juveniles released from sex offender requirements and those pardoned, expunged, or sealed by judicial systems. Facebook policy is vividly clear that a news article is enough incrimination to remove an individual.
The war on sex offenders and compliance requirements is an easy sell by politicians, victim organizations, and community groups. When it comes to crime legislation, there always appears to be a contemptuous way to identify sex registrants in neighborhoods and suburbs quickly. Police resources are no longer able to target meth labs, organized crime networks, or child victims of disturbing home abuses. Its officer priorities are socially motivated and influenced by social media and civic craze. There will always be highly charged rhetoric about stopping opioids and other drugs flowing into neighborhoods and accessible to youth. But registrants are always falsely portrayed as a number one priority in ensuring they are the most surveilled and the highest threat to society.
The State of North Carolina recently passed Senate Bill 199 named Child Sex Abuse/Strengthen Laws. The bill passed the Senate overwhelmingly with bipartisan support. However, the bill criminalizes citizens and organizations who fail to immediately report a suspicion that a juvenile is or could be abused (§ 14-318.6). The bill directs any person who suspects or witnesses an act where a child could be at risk for physical injury to be identified and notify law enforcement immediately. That’s right. There are no anonymity provisions for those who initiate reporting to authorities. Witnesses are required to provide full name, address, and telephone number. Therefore, if at a local big box store an individual witnesses a spanking of a child, then it’s either the responsibility of the store or the witness to contact law enforcement immediately because of the suspicion rule mentioned in the bill. While the bill is attempting to target dangerous conditions, its ambiguous wording allows an opening for many scenarios to be weaponized either by law enforcement or people. Essentially the bill, if it becomes law, will arm businesses and people to act on suspicion or else it may criminalize those that fail to become involved if that is discovered during an ongoing investigation. It creates an attack on the Good Faith law.
In part three of the bill, § 15-1, it increases the statutes of limitations from two years to ten years for misdemeanor crimes against children. This is where the law, while intended to target serious offenses, becomes diluted to include adults who feel or believe they were physically abused or felt in danger as a child at the time to prosecute family members, coaches, educators, bullies, former friends, or anyone accused of abuse. This portion of the bill generates a possibility for the defense to exploit an emotionally filled victim impact statement long after defendants are able to produce or contribute plausible exculpatory evidence. The amendment provision appears to be driven by social media and external influencers to align with the popularity of timetable expansions for statutes of limitations in an ex post facto situation. There is no proof or data to suggest an urgency to amend this part of the law by citizens of North Carolina.
Part Four, § 14-202.5, bizarrely named Protecting Children Online From High-Risk Sex Offenders is perhaps the most negligently researched bill introduced in the history of North Carolina legislative cataloging. The bill mentions High-Risk sex offenders, who are not a classification to be found within North Carolina law. (§ 14-208.6 Definitions of Offender Types). According to the bill, High-Risk offender is convicted those found guilty of sex with a minor. Should the bill become law, that would include nearly 87% of the over 17,840 registrants on the North Carolina registry.
Part Four also includes provisions that would prohibit high-risk offenders from contact with a person believed to be under the age of 16. There are several dilemmas about that particular part of the bill in direct conflict with current North Carolina law. First, there are several laws on the books covering contact with a minor for exploitative purposes (§ 14-190.13). However, those particular laws clearly state that a minor is anyone under the age of 18. Additionally, it says, “Mistake of age is not a defense to a prosecution under this section.” Therefore, has the state erroneously created conflict with taking indecent liberties with children (§ 14-202.1), “immoral, improper, or indecent liberties,” by attempting to distinguish two separate ages as a minor, creating an opening for legal challenges?