Sex Offender Loses Bid to Stay Off Web ID List
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
From NPR News, it's DAY TO DAY.
You probably know many states keep online registries of sex offenders with list of who sex criminals are, what they did and where they live. In Virginia, the registry used to only include violent sex offenders. Since July, non-violent sex offenders are added to the list too.
One man sued to stay off - yesterday a judge ruled against him in another case set amid the tensions between privacy and public safety. Joining us is Slate and DAY TO DAY legal analyst Dahlia Lithwick. Dahlia you live in Virginia, give us some background on this man - would you please? We know his name only as John Doe. What's his crime? Why is he required to register?
MS. DAHLIA LITHWICK (Legal Analyst; Slate Online Magazine): And that's really what this case is about Alex, is whether or not he's going to be known as more than John Doe in the near future. Twelve years ago our John Doe, who is now a Virginia aquatics coach, was convicted of incest - which is a misdemeanor -with his sister. At the time he was 18, she was 14. At the time he plead guilty - to again, a misdemeanor - he was sentenced to 90 days in jail, which was suspended pending some counseling and his subsequent good behavior. That all happened in 1995.
Here we are in 2003, Virginia changes the requirement. The sex offender registry is no longer about just violent sex offenders, now non-violent sex offenders are also included. Therefore his incest conviction comes up and he's sent a letter by the state, last July, saying you have to register as a sex offender in Virginia - your face and your name are going to be up on the database next to all the child molesters.
CHADWICK: Well, okay this is certainly going to be an embarrassment for him and maybe a problem with getting jobs in the future, especially if he's an aquatic's coach. But why does he think he should not be on this registry? I mean he has been convicted of sex crimes.
Ms. LITHWICK: Well, because he says this registry should be for people who are a danger. He says I'm not a danger, this happened twelve years ago, it was not a violent offense. In his pleadings he claimed, quote, that the registry would severely damage things like his ability to have a job, his standing in the community. He said it would cause irreparable damage to him and so he asked the judge if he could remain anonymous. The state announced that if he did not register they were going to arrest him and that's why we found ourselves in court yesterday.
CHADWICK: Interesting that the sister joined his plea and said yes, please don't list him. But, the judge didn't agree, why not?
MS. LITHWICK: That's right. Yesterday the judge dismissed his suit all together saying look, the statue is perfectly clear, register you have to register there is not an exception.
CHADWICK: So, what are his options now? Can he appeal?
Ms. LITHWICK: He does have a right to appeal, he even has a right to ask for an expedited appeal, so it's not clear exactly what's going to happen in the short term. But it looks like, one way or another, his name is going to come out fairly soon.
CHADWICK: So from a legal standpoint, Dahlia - and we mentioned personal privacy, public safety - earlier. What is going on here, what is it about this case that interest you?
Ms. LITHWICK: Well it's you know, the Supreme Court heard a pair of cases in 2003, about similar - they are called Megan's Laws, named after Megan Kanka the little girl who was killed by a sex offender who it turned out lived in her neighborhood. And after that you know - states rushed to put up these databases so parents could see who is around their children.
When the Supreme Court heard it, it was exactly the same issues were hearing about today. On the one hand there is a terrible problem with sex offenders, there is a high tendency to recidivate. And parents say, look I have a right to know who's around my kids.
The offenders at the same time say look, I've served my time, I'm not dangerous in this particular case, I've done nothing that suggests I'm a ongoing danger, and this is going to wreck my life.
In the 2003 cases the court found nothing wrong with these databases and said, look, it's not a punishment or a stigma to have your name up on a registry. I think John Doe probably feels otherwise.
CHADWICK: Slate and DAY TO DAY Legal Analyst Dahlia Lithwick. Dahlia thank you again.
Ms. LITHWICK: It's my pleasure.
CHADWICK: There is more DAY TO DAY just ahead, stay tuned.
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