Overhaul of sex offender laws raises some concerns


During a gubernatorial debate Thursday night, Gov. Butch Otter left the door open just a crack for Medicaid expansion.

The board that assesses Idaho’s most dangerous sex offenders is asking lawmakers not to drop the violent sexual predator (VSP) designation in a proposed overhaul of the state sex offender laws, though that tag has come under constitutional fire. Members of the Sex Offender Classification Board (SOCB) say they’re also concerned that victims of sexual crimes could have less input as the board potentially expands and broadens its scope.

“There are people out there that we just shake our heads and say ‘it’s not if this person is going to do something awful, it’s when,’” said Moscelene Sunderland, who serves on the SOCB.

Idaho currently has more than 50 men listed as VSPs, which means they committed serious sex crimes and are deemed by the board as posing a high risk to offend again. However, the SOCB has been unable to label someone as a VSP since a 2009 Idaho Supreme Court case ruled the process of deeming offenders as violent predators violated the state constitution.

The VSP designation allows law enforcement officials to keep closer tabs on select sex offenders, since they have to register in person and by mail more frequently.

Scrapping the VSP is part of the changes to state sex offender laws heard by a Senate committee Monday. The SOCB would also be renamed the Sex Offender Management Board (SOMB) and the state’s reporting requirements for all sex offenders could increase, requiring offenders to tell authorities their car license plates and online accounts, including e-mail.

The changes are part of legislation backed by the Idaho Criminal Justice Commission (ICJC) and follow recommendations from the Center for Sex Offender Management, a national group that advises state and local governments on dealing with sex offenders. “If this measure is adopted, Idaho will be using the best science available to assess offender risk, hold offenders accountable and protect the public,” said Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke, who also chairs the ICJC.

Steve Bywater, who works in the attorney general’s office and helped put together the overhaul plan, said Idaho should get rid of the VSP label because of the Supreme Court case, and because he said there’s no evidence that the extra reporting requirements reduce the likelihood that sex offenders become repeat offenders or deter potential new offenders. He also said the men currently listed as VSPs would likely still be considered as aggravated offenders and would be unable to take their names off the state’s sex offender registry.

Thomas Hearn, a clinical social worker in north Idaho who serves on the SOCB with Sunderland, said told lawmakers Monday that Idaho should keep the VSP on the books, even if there’s not a constitutional way to add new members. “This is a small but very dangerous group of individuals who re-offend at a high rate,” Hearn said.

The proposal to shift the SOCB to the SOMB would double the board’s size from four to eight members while expanding its scope from classifying VSPs to managing state policy related to sex offenders. Hearn said the board generally supports those changes, though he’s concerned that the shift would get rid of Sunderland’s place on the board, as an advocate for victims of sex crimes.

Sunderland said she thinks it’s imperative for victims to have a voice in state policy, and that not including an advocate on the reformed board doesn’t make sense. “I think it marginalizes victims and is not very politically astute,” she said. She added that she’s likely to leave her post on the board, since she’s moving to another state.

All eight spots on the board are accounted for, by either law enforcement officials, lawyers, or professionals such as Hearn who treat sex offenders. Reinke said the board could easily have 12 or 25 members, but that an eight-member board would keep costs down and be more manageable. The larger board is expected to cost the state an added $74,000 a year, due mostly to additional operating expenses.

The changes to the state sex offender registry would require offenders to report an address change or a new job within two days. Much of the information required by offenders, including name, address, and crime committed, is part of a searchable statewide database run by the Idaho State Police.

The overhaul would also require people found guilty of disseminating material harmful to minors, which is a misdemeanor, to register as sex offenders. The crimes that trigger sex offender registration are generally felonies. A person could be guilty of the misdemeanor by giving a child a book, picture, or video that depicts nudity or sexual conduct and is harmful to minors.

Bywater said that change arose out of the ICJC’s discussions on sex offender laws, and that it applies to people who knowingly try to harm minors. During the hearing,Gabriel McCarthy, a criminal defense attorney from Boise, questioned why that crime was added to the sex offender list, saying that extending the huge burden of being a sex offender is disproportionate to the crime.

“Nobody will touch you,” McCarthy told lawmakers. “It affects where you can live, where you can work.”

The Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee is scheduled to act on the proposed legislation Wednesday afternoon. The committee chairman, Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, is sponsoring the plan and has called it a major piece of legislation.

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Legislation makes several changes to Idaho sex offender laws, Legislation makes several changes to Idaho sex offender laws
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12 Comments

  1. Reality

    The only reform that needs to be done to the SEX OFFENDER Registries is get rid of them. They are truly idiotic and only fools believe they prevent crime.

    The Registries are negligibly beneficial. The minor benefits that they give us can easily and much more effectively be gained by other means that we all ought to be doing anyway (“must be doing” if you actually want to keep your children from being victims).

    If the Registries were only nearly worthless, they wouldn’t be so bad. But unfortunately, they are worse than worthless. They are immoral, counterproductive, anti-factual, often clearly idiotic, often illegal, anti-religious, extremely wasteful, and un-American.

    But no one really cares. So you people who support the stupidity: just keep it up and keep feeling like you are actually doing something moral and productive. I just wish that you people would pay for your nanny governments.

  2. Reality2

    WA state did a study that notes that well over half of all sex offender convictions are first-time. In other words, they wouldn’t be on any registries.

    But parents will think, and politicians keep telling them, their children are safe if nobody on the registry is around.

    They’ll drop their guard, create a target-rich environment, then wonder why their kid got molested by somebody not on the registry.

    the registries are not only stupid but dangerous.

  3. WakeUpAmerica

    Massachusets just passed a law for the same thing – restricting and penalizing obscene material or material harmful to minors. It was immediately enjoined by the courts barring enforcement.

    Massachusetts Laws
    MGL c.272, s.28-31:

    St.2010, c.74: Expanding the prohibition on the dissemination of obscenity: effective 7/11/10. Enacted in response to Zubiel decision, it includes, in part, “electronic mail, instant messages, text messages, and any other communication created by means of use of the Internet or wireless network.”

    Preliminary Injunction issued by Federal court October 26, 2010, barring enforcement of the law.

  4. Pingback: ‘Violent sexual predator’ label could stay in sex offender reforms « IdahoReporter.com

  5. idaho1111

    i believe that the people who are at a low level and or are non violent should not have to register this is just a means to mess up peoples lifes i get the offenders who are really offenders that do things with kids but the people that were 18 years old and slept with a 16 and or 17 year old these things happen every single day and these people should no be classfied as sex offenders the ones that are actually sexual pretators should be on here and should be shown to the public think about who we need to protect our kids from!

  6. moogie

    i am a sex offender all i did was take a pic of my wife and another girl flashing me now i have to register and put up with threats on my life my famlys life. how much do me and my famly have to pay for one mistake these laws are not going to effect the worst of sex offenders it will efect the stat offenders.

  7. victim's rights

    Moogie, if all you did was take a picture, you wouldn’t have been charged. What was her age? 14? 16? Someone pressed charges and the DA thought they had substance. If all you did was take a picture, why did you plead it out or were found guilty?
    People need to get over the rights of the offenders and focus on peoples’ rights to know if the creepy guy down the street is just creepy or actually dangerous.

  8. daniel goichman

    the pubic notification and online registry do not reduce sex offender crimes. they set up people who have already paid their debt to society up for retaliation, murder, vandalism of privately held property, and harassment. pubic posting of peoples’ criminal records is only approved if it doesn’t cause injury or harm to the people that are on it. it has done that. how many sex offenders need to be murdered or injured before these laws change? how many people have to die before enough is enough? if the registry is not punishment, then why won’t they take anyone off of it?

  9. Jo

    The Registry is a violation of people’s rights! Let’s stop the Witch Hunts already!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Wanda

    The girls now days look older and dress indecent, therefore enticing a male and some are entrapped. This is what is unfair and not right.

  11. Cabs

    I used to believe the registry was a good thing, in my mind, why wouldn’t it be, right?! Wrong…so wrong. I have seen the corruption in the system now, first hand and have a loved one who is being forced to register due to a twisted Idaho law. The registry is not effective and will only help offenders be pushed back into the criminal courts.

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