28 September 2009

The Consitution? Human Dignity? For These Guys?

The following story making the rounds of national news today highlights a situation so egregious that I am compelled to post on it, though I expect to be pilloried by many. I hope our progressive friends will join me in deploring the cruel and unusual punishment inflicted on the convicted criminals covered in this story.

Certainly, persons who commit crimes of rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse of minors and other such acts should be prosecuted. Should these crimes be proven against them, they should face appropriately harsh punishment. I have no problem with treating these crimes as serious.

However, the notion of offender registries and restrictions on where they can live after they have satisfied their criminal sentences is not only unconstitutional but a violation of human dignity. Why? Fair question.

The way the criminal process usually works is this: an activity is determined by the legislator to be worthy of being classified as criminal, and deserving of punishment. Often these acts are inherently contrary to the moral law; sometimes they are contrary only to positive law. Either way, the prohibited act is clearly identified, a range of punishment delineated, an arrest made, a prosecution attempted, a conviction secured, a sentence given--imprisonment or probation or both, and then it's over. But not so with sex offenders.

The law allows the state to prohibit such persons who have completed their sentences from living in certain areas. Subsequent legislatures widen prohibited areas. The state is allowed to mandate perpetual registration, with public posting of where the person actually does live. Other states can require the person to register even though no crime was committed in its jurisdiction. At no point can this person escape the registry and the public humiliation.

As the below story demonstrates, sometimes the residence restrictions are so severe that there are whole towns or countes where it is nearly impossible to legally live.

Is this fair? Does it matter that a murderer released from prison is treated exponentially better than a person convicted of statutory rape when they engaged in consensual (in some sense, anyway) activity as a teenager with a person perhaps only two years younger than themselves?

If your answer is "yes", then I ask-- if society wants to make certain sexual offenses worthy of a life sentence, then why doesn't the law require life sentences in prison? Because, in short, this is what they receive. The ostensible goal of registration and residence restrictions is to protect potential future victims, and yet the only way to really protect others from the potential of future criminal activity is to incarcerate offenders for life or execute them. If it is a life offense, make it so.

I think the reason it isn't is because the system relies upon plea agreements to make the system work, and if the penalty were life without parole, then more trials would ensue. The accused would have nothing to lose. And if there are trials, then young teens, and children, would be forced to testify. This would be horrific for them, but it would be necessary under the Constitution to guarantee due process. Hence, the plea deal-- plead guilty and all you get is a brief prison sentence or fine; oh yeah, you get a hidden life sentence, too.

What will the next group of people be to incur the scorn of the state to such an effect?

I realize that by posting this that some will seek to vent against priests or prelates in the combox. I encourage you not to waste the time and energy to write a comment that has no chance to be posted here. What would be welcome would be a reasonable discussion on the issue.

From the story at

Homeless Ga. sex offenders directed to woods

Associated Press Writer

MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) -- A small group of homeless sex offenders have set up camp in a densely wooded area behind a suburban Atlanta office park, directed there by probation officers who say it's a place of last resort for those with nowhere else to go.



Anonymous said...


I agree wholeheartedly with you on the unconstitutionality of such laws. I think that the only constitutional way to get these limitations on sex offenders would be to agree to the restrictions in the plea agreements. Maybe that gives the offenders the upper hand in plea negotiations, given the parade of horribles on the other side, I don't know.

FWIW, the constitional problems with these laws are similar to the constitutional problems with hate crime laws.

Delena said...

Oh, Timman. Didn't we argue about this in the past? :-)
1.) Sex offenders, in general, cannot be rehabilitated.
2.) Our judicial system is a joke.

What do you do?

If we let these people back into society, they will, in general, continue to commit heinous crimes against children.

If we put them into prison, they're out in the blink of an eye.

What do you do?

If our justice system isn't going to make sure these people are locked behind bars for life without ANY chance of parole, then what can we do to make sure these people don't get ahold of our children?

I understand that some people are wrongly accused. What do we do, though, with the people who are predatory and just looking for the next child to victimize?

I'm a fan of the registry because I feel it's the only way in our current broken-judiciary-system society that I have a chance of knowing who lives next door.

Ooh, ooh! What are your thoughts on chemical castration for these folks?

Jessica's Law said...

How did this group of sex offenders find each other? This is suspect to me.

I know that if you look up sex offenders in St. Louis City, you will find at least forty located right around the nicer areas in St. Louis. I don't see them in the woods!

i do think that most states now have harsher sex offender laws with a longer mandatory minimum jail time for violent crimes committed against children, called Jessica's Law (it is very high) Thanks to Bill O'Reilly rallying the American people to put pressure on their Governors.

If judges do their job and punish these heinous crimes to the fullest extent of the law, there isn't a need for sex registries. These sex registries should be discontinued.

Anonymous said...

Timman I think that if you are so concerned about these individuals rights, you should personally invite some to move in next to you. Wouldn't that be the Christian thing to do?

X said...

As far as I'm concerned many, if not most, of these offenders should be executed. In a real country they would be.

Dennis said...

Obviously some precautions have to be taken regarding sex offenders - a pedophile should not be allowed to work at an elementary school, at an absolute minimum. At the same time, these human beings - because while they act monstrously they remain human beings - should surely be allowed the opportunity for rehabilitation (and, more importantly, redemption), and this can be far more difficult when they are thoroughly marginalized for their prior offenses. Conventional wisdom tells us that sexual offenders are incorrigible, but a comprehensive study concluded that only 5 percent of convicted sex offenders are rearrested for another sex crime (see www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/rsorp94.pdf), and other studies reinforce that the likelihood of another offense is far lower when they are treated in the community (instead of being shunted off to sleep in the woods somewhere). But should, say, a convicted pedophile be allowed to live next door to a neighborhood playground? Down the street? Within a mile? Within ten? A hundred? Where is the mean between society's right to protection from potential predators and the individual's right to forgiveness?

Anonymous said...

Maybe you can find a picture of a (male) sex offender, showing some shoulder, wearing sandals, at Mass.

What an opportunity for comments!!!!!!


Andy said...

I agree with x, with some exceptions (statuatory rape for instance). In a healthy Catholic society there would be no sex offender registry because these heinous crimes would be capital crimes (and were in this country's past).

Andy K. said...

I agree with the latest Anonymous.

If you think these people are so great and nice and loving and caring, invite them to your neighborhood.

I wouldn't be surprised if they molest again. After all, sexual offenders (at least the ones against children) typically have the HIGHEST recidivism rate.

Anonymous said...

You are spot on re the differences. A high school senior being intimate with his sophmore in high school unfortunately will be labeled a sex criminal for life, and treated in the same way as a 50 year old would be after jail if he had sex with a 10 year old girl.

re "X"'s comment above - it is deeply troubling to read on any Catholic website someone beliving that "offenders should be executed." One only has to go back to when the late Pope John Paul II came to St. Louis, mentioning the word 'abortion' three times, but 'capital punishment' 21 times in his talks because we as Catholics and we as Christians know that all life is sacred, both unborn and born.

thetimman said...

X, Delena, Andy K,

If the legislature mandates more jail time, or life in prison, or capital punishment, for the most horrible of these crimes, then that is one thing. But to add punishment after the mandated punishment is the problem for me.

Of course, no one would want a sex offender living near them. And despite the anonymous' sarcastic comment that such would be the Christian thing to do, intentionally putting one' children in harm's way isn't the Christian thing to do.

I completely understand the desire to protect one's children, and the desire to prevent such horrible crimes. Indeed, many pedophiles are satanists who do this as an unholy anti-sacrament. Dangerous people. But the solution for me is to jack up the lawfully imposed penalties.

As an aside, the death penalty remains a punishment that is at least theoretically usable for some crimes by the state-- this is constant Church teaching. The recent push to end the death penalty is based upon prudential judgements that it is not necessary to protect society. In the case of the serial pedophile, this may be an open question. I don't advocate it, but it is important to remember that there is no absolute moral prohibition against captial punishment, whatever the practical issues.

Delena said...

Don't ex-cons have to tell new employers if they were ever in prison? Even if it was for something "petty" like shop-lifting? I think the employer has the right to know what they're getting into.

I think parents have the right to know if they're living next door to a man who used to touch little kids. I think parents have the right to know that the guy next door who keeps talking to your kids, even when you're standing there watching, has done horrible things to children in the past.

I understand that some people on the list were people in high school who had a fling with a girl, and that girl's parents chose to prosecute. I get that. I think it's ridiculous that they're lumped into the sex offender registry.

So, maybe it's the registry that needs changed.

If you are a high school senior who had a fling with a freshman, you should not have to worry that you will forever be known as a "predator" when you weren't. And when you aren't.

If you're a sick human being who gets their kicks raping, molesting, sodomizing, touching, whatever it may be...then you should know that you are a sick human being who will forever be known to others for what you did. I do not agree in any way that the people who do the above (molesting, touching, etc.) suddenly snap out of it one day and turn from that lifestyle. They, in general, will go out and commit even more of the same crimes and sometimes even worse crimes. We didn't get the BTK's, the Ted Bundy's, and the Albert Fish's of the world by them being little angels their entire lives and then suddenly snapping. They had the above crimes under their belt at a very young age.

Oh, man, Timman. I don't know if we're ever going to agree on this one, buddy. :-) But we sure can have fun trying to convince each other of our points, right?

LB said...

I have to keep posting this article because Catholics are so ignorant of the timeless teaching on capital punishment:

Note: the letter is from Karl Keating, not exactly a "rad-trad."

TGL said...


There's only an absolute moral prohibition against capital punishment if one is fully pro-life. If one is merely anti-abortion, then I guess he or she can rationalize capital punishment any way they want to.

Anonymous said...

The Founder of the Servants of the Paraclete had a lot to say on this topic. He said that pedaphiles were beyond rehabilitation. As a matter of fact, he bought an island in the Fifties on which to put them. But Pope Paul VI made him sell it.

His name escapes me at the moment (Fr. Gerald something), but these facts are verifiable.

thetimman said...

TGL, I think the way for a Catholic to approach the death penalty, like any other topic of moral theology, is to follow the Church. See, that's not rationalization. Rationalization is when you have to excuse your Church's teachings to fit into your political party.

Anonymous said...

Stop making sarcastic comments about progressives, and I'll stop making sarcastic comments about you. I happen to be an individual who leans conservatively in some ways and progressively in others. I don't believe conservatives walk in lock step and neither do progressives. What your blog says to me, however, is that your brain is set on cruise control in the conservative direction. It's like reading Ellen Goodman or listening to Rush. Once you know the topic, you know exactly how their going to feel about it. Is their really any thinking involved in that? I can't believe there isn't at least an occasional time when your assuredness isn't tested, but I guess not. It must be nice to be just so positive your right about everything.

X said...

Citing John Paul II as an authority on how to deal with child molesters is like citing Plaxico Burress as an expert on the care and handling of firearms.

Anonymous said...

Dennis'comments are helpful. Personally I believe that our country is addicted to imprisoning people and that needs to stop! Who is helped by the imprisonment of white collar financial crimes, for example? With all of the creativity and sophistication in our country can we not come up with more humane and helpful punishments for criminals? Some, especially the violent, need incarceration, of course. But most do not. Many (not all) sex offenders CAN be rehabilitated and returned to society. Probably all of them should be treated as dangerously mentally ill people rather than criminals. Go ahead and call me all sorts of names, that's what I feel. I am a Latin Mass Catholic.

just wondering said...

Jesus is very clear when He speaks about crimes inflicted upon little children. The CCC is very clear also.
#2266 Preserving the common good of society requires rendering the aggressor unable to inflict harm. For this reason the traditional teaching of the Church has acknowledged as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty.
I am not advocating the death penalty for sex offenders. But I happen to agree with the Church that they should be rendered unable to inflict harm. If this means incarceration, then so be it. Unfortunately our society is so decadent, that, if all were incarcerated for sexual crimes committed, there would be no room for any other offenders. As long as children are viewed as a commodity in the world to be bought and sold, discarded and exploited, this problem will never be equitably solved.