Dear Members and Advocates,
As I scan headlines and court dockets daily looking for news to post to our website, I continue to be amazed that Jeffrey Epstein remains in the headlines as one of the leading topics when searching for keywords relevant to our cause. This past week, it’s for his donations to Harvard University. The Ivy League school is being shamed for taking a nine million dollar donation from Epstein. I can’t understand why the stigma of the “sex offender” label is so tarnishing that it’s offensive to accept charity from someone on the list. It would be one thing if the money came from the proceeds of drug sales or a Ponzi scheme, but in this case the money had nothing to do with the crime, so what gives?
Giving charity is an act of benevolence. When one has done wrong and seeks to redeem themselves, community service, acts of kindness, and the giving of charity are all positive actions they can take to repent for their past misdeeds. Instead of allowing Harvard to accept Epstein’s act of repentance and apply it towards something positive, society acts as though Harvard’s acceptance of the donation somehow endorses Epstein’s past wrongs. Does society think that nine million dollars would have better served the world had Epstein spent it on a yacht? Are universities, charities and religious congregations supposed to do background checks on every donor and only accept from those who are free of any past sins?
One of the most impressive people I’ve ever met is Shon Hopwood. While serving a 12 year prison sentence for bank robbery, Shon discovered his talent as a “Jailhouse Lawyer”. He was so good, in fact, that two of his appellate filings were granted review by the US Supreme Court and he helped right injustices committed to other inmates who were incarcerated with him. After prison, he went on to complete law school and is now a professor of law at Georgetown. Shon’s ability to turn his life around is an incredible example to anyone who has made a mistake. His students are lucky to have so much more to learn from him than from any other law professor.
After hearing Shon speak at the NACDL conference a couple years ago, I was inspired to follow his example, but as a rehabilitated “sex offender”, I can’t step foot on a university campus, let alone teach at one. Apparently, I wouldn’t even be able to make a donation there either!
We need to start allowing ALL people to redeem themselves. This morning we posted about Charles R. Hobbs, Jr., who died in Jail of Coronavirus. He was in Jail for a “failure to register”. Not a new crime, but a technical violation of the registration laws. For not completing a formality that no other class of former offender is required to comply with. Incidentally, his underlying crime took place twenty-three years ago and for that, adjudication was withheld and he got 5 years’ probation, which were completed long ago. Last week we wrote about the death of Charles Peterson (1999 conviction), and before that Alan Pollock (1998 conviction). All these men died behind bars not for committing new crimes but for what they did long ago.
Research shows (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0886260514526062) that, having committed no new sex offenses in more than 2 decades, these men were generally of no greater risk to commit a sex crime than someone who had never committed one in the first place, yet we kept them on a debilitating and punitive registry for life, never allowing them redemption. [Side note: The main researcher in this study, Karl Hanson, is one of the expert witnesses in the Ex Post Facto Plus lawsuit.] Had legislation accounted for scientific research and empirical evidence, these men would still be alive today.
Being labeled a “sex offender” and especially placing all on lifetime registries, fosters a belief that there is no level of repentance that will ever let anybody with this label redeem themselves. But we and those who know us know that there is so much good that many of us would be able to do in this world if we were only given the opportunity.
It’s up to us to change that, and we need to begin by demanding our legislators pass laws based on social science and empirical studies. Share this information with them. We also need to present the research to the courts through our coordinated legal challenges. Registration IS PUNITIVE. Registration is tantamount to being on very strict probation, where one petty or unintentional misstep that is not a crime for any other class of rehabilitated offender, can cost you years in prison or as we have seen these past few weeks, your life.
Let’s make a change!
The Florida Action Committee
P.S. Harvard might not want Epstein’s donations, but we would have gladly put the money to great use. Please consider making a donation in memory of one of the men who died recently because of the registry. We can’t let that happen to more of us.
SOME HEADLINES FROM THE WEEK
The coronavirus pandemic has led to an unprecedented shutdown of many American institutions, from professional sports to many government agencies, including the suspension of many non-essential law enforcement services from fingerprinting to vehicle registration….
A lawsuit has been filed against Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams after a 78 year-old man who was jailed in March for failure to register as a sex offender contracted Coronavirus and died from it right after being released. Charles Peterson was jailed on March 11th for…
While we never want a challenge to sex offender laws to be unsuccessful, we are relieved to see a case brought by Estes-Hightower in the Northern District of Florida was dismissed last week. We had previously written about this firm and their lawsuit, suggesting they…
An excellent decision came out of Florida’s Fourth Judicial Circuit (Nassau County) Friday afternoon finding their Sex Offender Residency Restriction (SORR) Unconstitutional as applied to the Defendant (who was charged with violating the County SORR) whose offense…