Monday, June 9, 2014

Loopholes cast doubt on effectiveness of sex offender laws in Volusia cities

Posted by on June 8, 2014 in Articles


PORT ORANGE — Registered sex offender David Allen Hall lives 2,112 feet from Spruce Creek Elementary School.

He and other offenders who have served their sentences have been the targets in recent months of politicians including the Port Orange City Council who have enacted new regulations in the name of safety. Port Orange expanded its requirement for sex offenders to live further than 2,500 feet from schools, day-care centers and playgrounds, while in March Gov. Rick Scott signed a package of bills tightening penalties and prison sentences for sex offenders and South Daytona became the 10th city in Volusia County to increase living restrictions for sex offenders.

Yet Hall – who served 14 years for lewd or lascivious assault upon a child, a second-degree felony in 1996, after he was found guilty of molesting a 7-year-old child he was baby-sitting in New Smyrna Beach — remains in his home. Because of exemptions in local and state regulations, Hall can live anywhere he wants and believes that he should have that right. He said he has undergone rehabilitation and is trying to get his life back together, but the politicians’ efforts have only served to complicate those efforts.

“I just want to have a normal life like everyone else,” Hall said. “I’m not a risk to anyone.”
Some criminal justice advocates and researchers concur that recent law changes targeting sex offenders are costly to taxpayers and make it harder for ex-convicts to re-enter society and become productive citizens.

“This legislation is not based on research; it’s based on fear and political advantage,” said University of Miami Law Professor Tamara Rice Lave. “When legislators are passing laws, they are competing against each other to show who is toughest on crime and are choosing sex offenders because they are vilified.”


After Port Orange residents discovered that Howard Thomas Porter, a sex offender convicted of distributing child pornography, was living across the street from Sugar Mill Elementary School earlier this year, the City Council adopted an emergency ordinance to require sex offenders to live at least 2,500 feet from child care facilities, schools, parks and playgrounds — 1,500 feet farther than state law requires.

But Porter, like Hall and at least 21 other sex offenders in the city, can live wherever they want because state law exempts sex offenders convicted prior to 2003 in Florida and those convicted out of state before 2010. That means Porter, who was convicted by a New York court in 2004, could return to the duplex on McDonald Road. He moved to Jacksonville shortly after the ordinance passed, saying he was kicked out by his uncle who owned the duplex. Ordinances trying to close the exemption would likely face legal challenges, as would amending state law to apply statutes retroactively, officials said.

Port Orange Vice Mayor Don Burnette proposed requiring that red signs be placed on city-owned right of way outside the homes of sexual predators. Of the 64 sexual offenders living in Port Orange, four are sexual predators who have been convicted of first-degree felony sex crimes or two second-degree felony sex crimes.
Burnette’s proposal drew a mixed reaction from council members like Bob Ford who expressed concerns about how the signs would impact neighboring property values. The council decided to table the measure after a legal review.

The city of Perry in North Florida adopted a similar measure last year for its only sexual predator, who has since moved to Clearwater.

“We had several concerns from a legal standpoint and whether we could defend or enforce something like this,” Port Orange City Attorney Margaret Roberts said. “There isn’t a lot of guidance as far as other cases on record, but there could be a serious challenge.”

Burnette said it wasn’t fair to throw away taxpayer money in a potential court battle and thought it was better to raise awareness about sex offenders through an education campaign.
“I think the fact that we talked about it and brought it forward has caused parents to take a look at things,” Burnette said. “They are talking to their kids, and we have raised awareness and just by doing that I think we have accomplished a lot.”

Port Orange resident Margie Patchett, who has a grandchild at Sugar Mill Elementary, has organized several meetings with concerned parents. A legal challenge would be worth keeping offenders from preying on young children, she said.

“What better way to use our taxpayer dollars than defending ourselves to make children safe?”

Patchett said. “Even if one offender re-offends, that’s not good enough.”
Lave at the University of Miami said policies such as increasing living restrictions and placing signs in the yards of sex predators would make it more difficult for sex offenders to find jobs and integrate back into society.

“To live a law-abiding lifestyle you need a stable home and community,” she said. “If you don’t have that, you are more likely to commit crimes.”


In 2003, the U.S. Department of Justice tracked 9,700 sex offenders and found that 5 percent of those offenders were arrested for another sex crime within three years. Researchers like Lave consider that rate low, pointing out the recidivism rate for offenders of all crimes is 43 percent and 67 percent for non-sex offenders released during that same time period.
“There’s an idea that once someone is a sex offender, they are always a sex offender, but that’s not always true,” Lave said. “We know that cognitive therapy can help lower recidivism rates.”
Hall, the sex offender who lives near Spruce Creek Elementary School, has not been convicted of any other sex-related crimes since his 1996 arrest. Even though he is exempt from living restrictions, he will remain in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s sex offender registry for the rest of his life.

Sex predators and violent offenders face additional oversight after serving their prison sentence. They are evaluated by a team of mental health professionals to determine the likelihood of repeating acts of sexual violence. If they are determined to be a violent predator, they will be sent to the Florida Civil Commitment Center in Arcadia to wait for a trial.

Senate Bill 524, which Scott signed last month, will require all offenders to be evaluated for civil commitment and require additional assessment and procedures for that determination as of July 1.
Hall served 13 years in the state’s civil commitment center after his 16-month prison sentence. He said the commitment center punishes offenders for laws they haven’t yet committed.

“They are setting people up for failure,” he said.

The push to strengthen sex offender laws came after Donald James Smith raped and murdered 8-year-old Cherish Perry Winkle in Jacksonville last June. Smith, who was convicted of kidnapping in 1993, was a registered sex offender with a criminal record, and he committed the crime three weeks after he was released from jail for an attempted child abuse conviction in 2012.

Lave said that cases like Smith’s are rare and making policies that paint all sex offenders with one broad stroke is unfair.

“Because so few people re-offend, we are locking up many people who aren’t dangerous,” she said.
But even if the chance of a sex offender committing future sex crimes is slim, that’s not a chance leaders like Burnette want to take.

“You can’t get into their minds so you don’t know what they are going to do,” Burnette said. “If we keep making it increasingly difficult for where they live there is the possibility that they will go off the grid completely.”


Florida Action Committee (FAC), founded in 2006, is a state-wide consortium of concerned citizens and professionals whose purpose is to promote the prevention of sexual abuse while preserving the safety and dignity of all citizens through carefully structured laws targeting the truly violent, forced, and/or dangerous predatory acts of sex. FAC believes that many aspects of the current approach to sex offenders seriously undermine justice and actually increase the threat of sexual assault against others, particularly children. FAC opposes a publicized registry of sex offenders and seeks to bring an end to the humiliation of people who have already paid for their crimes. FAC asserts that only by supporting justice for all people—offenders and victims alike can a truly safe society be built and secured for all Americans. 

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"When an American says that he loves his country, he means not only that he loves the New England hills, the prairies glistening in the sun, the wide and rising plains, the great mountains, and the sea. He means that he loves an inner air, an inner light in which freedom lives and in which a man can draw the breath of self-respect."
~Adlia Stevenson U.S. Vice President (1893–1897) and Congressman (1879–1881)

On a Personal Note

Thanks for the opportunity to express my thoughts regarding the issue of citizens’ rights, particularly addressing certain sex offenders’ crimes that do not fit the devastating, inequitable and endless punishment given.

As you know, many young men and women lives across the nation are being destroyed by incarceration, life-time registry and restrictive laws that do more harm than good. For those individuals, there is no second chance.

Below is a personal letter to President Obama:
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“Dear President Obama,

I truly agree with your sentiments that individuals, such as ex-felons, should be able to receive a second chance at life. Since we all know that one can veer off that path of life and travel along rough, rocky terrain, sometimes running off and ending up in some ditch. We all have made our fill of mistakes and sometimes those held a costly consequence that changed life forever. So we lived through it, trying harder to make things right with family, friends and those around us, but what about those who aren’t able to make things right even if they tried…because they’re labeled as too dirty, a leper, a person who is rejected from society and home.

But what if they’re a seventeen year old and had sex with a fifteen year old, consensual at that? Or they’re a teen that had gotten so enraged after a breakup that he sent out naked pictures of his girlfriend on his cell phone or email? Or an individual urinates where someone just happens to see them?

All are wrong and a travesty but do they deserve the life of no second chance with a registry that ends all. They are labeled, no jobs, no where to live…they have been deemed a menace to society, a plague. These certain circumstances, and many other situations similar to these, I believe still deserve a second change.

Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

After my son’s early release and two years of prison, I thought I had handled that fact graciously knowing after serving his time he would be able to get that fresh start, that second chance. He was an exemplary inmate, GED, college courses and vocational classes. Little did I know that a second chance on the outside was the farthest from the truth? He now struggles and lives in a trailer park sharing a trailer with another and surrounded by others in the same rocking boat, one to float endlessly in shark infested waters. I see him little because of probation requirements (he couldn’t live with us because we were 800 feet near a school). My family is afraid of what would happen to them if he lived with them…vigilantism. My son has no other place to stay since others condemn him of his crime that is screamed from the highest rooftop. Sex offender, sex offender!

Not all sex offenders are pedophiles or predators but some are simply young kids that make one stupid and rash decision that eventually changes everything, and they have no idea what they’ve done until their life is never their own. Exactly, where is that second chance for those sex-offenders who are lumped together with pedophiles and predators? Now, it makes me sick to think of my son’s future and many like him that are on the registry and many with no second chance…ever. I am asking you as a mother and as another concerned citizen of the United States that these laws are looked at again and taken into serious consideration in what they are doing to the Constitution of the United States, not for sex offenders in general but the future rights of every citizen, before anymore are put into effect. They unjustly strip an offender of their rights and place them in a guillotine that can be easily set off by anyone and at anytime. Where is the second chance for ex-sex offenders in the present, pending and future laws?”
* * * *
What truly saddens me is the weakness and deterioration of what the sex offense issue is doing to our once, great nation. Across Europe, others are seeing the injustice and disregard of rights, but we ignore this problem and it makes me wonder where humanity is heading….

We have become a hysterical society in which our latest witch-hunt is a sex offender--no matter his/her crime.

Below is a email sent from a foreign advocate to a father of a sex offender:
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“The tragic story of your son's death is just so sad that it's difficult to explain how. It was very hard to read your letters. It seems almost unbelievable that this can take place in a democracy! From our point of view, there is no justice in this. Not in any way: not for you, your son, the former girl friend – or even the state.

It is an abusive legal system. It seems barbaric. And we are so very sorry that this takes place. That's why it's so important for us to try to neutralize the debate with this…, hopefully making some changes. ….. to show the every day life of the sex offenders, trying to show how they keep on being punished, even after served prison time…..But we will for sure tell the story of the injustice that your son has been exposed to.”
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I appreciate everyone's commitment and backing to protect everyone's civil rights, plainly as noted in the Constitution of the United States and is presupposed, giving ALL men are “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”