Weekly Update 20200414

Dear Members and Advocates,

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” This famous quote comes from the opening paragraph of the Dickens’ novel, ‘A Tale Of Two Cities’. It is said to mean that on one hand it was a time of suffering and despair and on the other hand it was a time of joy and hope. The same can be said of these times. On one hand this worldwide pandemic has brought out concern, compassion and love. On the other hand, it has exposed a lot of indifference and inhumanity. Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in our criminal justice system and in particular, the treatment of those who are required to register as sex offenders.

Our story isn’t a tale of just two cities. It is a tale of 50 states, hundreds of counties and thousands of communities, all dealing with the same plague but dealing with it in dramatically different ways. Some chose to show concern and compassion. Some are choosing to handle it with indifference and inhumanity. While some states (such as Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Michigan and Oregon) have suspended in person registration state-wide, that is not the case in Florida.

For the past few weeks, FAC, with the support of several other organizations, has been calling on the Governor to suspend in person registration in favor of reporting the same information through other means. Currently, reporting requires a trip to the local Sheriff’s office or Jail to wait in line among other registrants and sit, face to face, with a law enforcement employee and tell them information you can just as easily tell them over the phone. For many without cars, that also involves travelling on public transportation. It’s an illogical requirement during a period where doing this can put one’s life at risk.

But we have to do it because the stakes are high. Failure to register is a third degree felony. As we’ve also unfortunately seen happen in Florida this past week, an individual in jail for a registration violation died from Coronavirus and another in civil commitment also died. Undoubtedly there will be more. Dying is a pretty harsh punishment for a “registration” scheme that’s not supposed to be punitive.

We won’t spend more of this weekly update writing about how cruel and draconian the Florida registry is. We can wait for the Court to judge the way our state has treated us during the Coronavirus pandemic and hurricanes when this matter will be tried (among many others) later this year. Instead, we’ll focus on the disparity in registration requirements from state to state and offer some food for thought to ponder…

When Congress enacted the Adam Walsh Act, it was said to be “a floor, not a ceiling.” A set of minimum guidelines each state had to meet in order to not lose certain federal funding. The states were given the unfettered discretion to increase the requirements and restrictions above those minimums. Some states found that the AWA’s “minimum” requirements already offended their constitutions and they refused to comply with AWA, others implemented registries which (as we call it in Florida) are “AWA on steroids”.

The result has created a tremendous sentencing disparity (we know… registration is not supposed to be a sentence… but nobody believes that anymore). An individual in one state might be subject to registration for 10 years, in another state, life. In one state a “Tier I” is not subject to public notification, in others they are listed on the same Google-indexed public registries as SVPs. In one state registrants are free to live and work wherever they find the opportunity and in other states they are legislated under bridges. How is it that two people, committing the exact same offense and receiving the exact same sentence, have different rights and liberties depending on which state they happen to live?

Sentencing disparity has always been considered in the context of disadvantaging a protected class of person. For example; the disparity of sentences for crack vs. powder cocaine exposed racial discrimination and a University of Michigan study exposed gender discrimination in sentencing.  Country of origin is a protected class that we can’t impose disadvantage upon, but what about State of residence?

Principles of fairness suggest that offenders convicted of similar crimes under similar circumstances should expect to receive similar consequences. But that is not the case at all. Particularly in the case of federal offenses; two people can commit the exact same federal sex offense and receive the exact same federal sentence, but the state can then impose dramatically different consequences when it comes to; residency and employment restrictions, duration of registration, frequency of reporting, aggressiveness of public notification and even one’s right to vote in a federal election!

While we sit and social distance, lets ponder whether we have an equal protection argument here.

Sincerely,

The Florida Action Committee

REMINDERS:

Member Workshops and Meet-n-Greets will be conducted via Zoom and Conference calls.  Details will be sent in separate emails.

Family Support Sessions via Zoom or by Phone.  Sessions are only for loved ones ans family members (not for the Registered Citizen).  You can RSVP for the session on Saturday May 2 from 11am-1pm at http://evite.me/WZMn4y9U1s.

Take this time to write to your representatives.  Click on the link for a full list of contacts for the FL House of Representatives and the FL Senate.

SOME HEADLINES FROM THIS WEEK

FDLE Responds to FAC Letter RE: Coronavirus and Registration

The following was received from the FDLE From: Sexual Predator Unit <[email protected]> Date: April 8, 2020 at 1:52:05 PM EDT To: gail colletta Subject: RE:  Letter To FDLE re coronavirus 03122020.pdf Good afternoon, During the current State of…

Member Submission: Tampa and Easter Week

Recently the city of Tampa, in partnership with Catholic Charities, has built a camp for homeless people. The concern is that the homeless people may not have access to a facility where they can wash their hands frequently and have access to hand sanitizer. The camp…

Person dies from Coronavirus in Florida’s Civil Commitment Center

A resident at the Florida Civil Commitment Center in Arcadia – a “treatment facility” where persons who have already been convicted, sentenced and served their full punishment are sent for involuntary and indefinite confinement has died from Coronavirus, according to…

Inmate diagnosed with coronavirus had emergency motion filed for release prior to his death

NOTE: Please post comments on the original article A Broward County inmate who died this week after testing positive for the new corona virus had an emergency motion filed for his release prior to his death, Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein confirmed…

 

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