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Poll on Sex Offenders

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A new Rasmussen Poll shows that the American people favor tough laws on sex offenders, but they think "sex offender" should be defined more narrowly than present laws often do. Article here; toplines here.

Overwhelming majorities favor a public registry for sex offenders, continuing registration requirements after completion of parole, and even indefinite detention. However, a 17-year-old boy who has sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend is not the public's idea of a sex offender. A plurality say that should not be illegal at all, and 81% say he doesn't belong on the registry. During the oral argument of Connecticut Dept. of Public Safety v. Doe, 538 U.S. 1 (2003), the Justices expressed concern about that situation, but Doe was not in that category, so they didn't address it.

We at CJLF have never been enthused about the civil commitment laws.  Among other problems, the whole concept requires buying into the idea that rapists are sick rather than evil.  The better solution, at least for the long term, is to return to indeterminate sentencing for forcible rape and similarly atrocious sex crimes.  Impose a sentence of X-to-life and let the parole board decide when it is safe to let them out.

3 Comments

And in the real world of rampant teenage hook-ups, what percentage of 17 year-old boys who had sex with their 15 year-old girlfriends have gone to jail, or indeed have had any contact whatever with the criminal justice system?

Right. Asymptotic to zero.

It's a standard ploy of the defense bar to take a handful of freak cases and claim that the whole system is a Puritan/Nazi plot. In truth, a handful of freak cases is just that.

Probably true, but when you have a law that is rarely enforced in practice, the law should be repealed. That was the situation with the "uncommonly silly law" against birth control that ultimately went to the Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut.

Bad laws make hard cases that make bad law.

I would have no trouble repealing a law that specifically made it a crime for a 17 year-old to have voluntary sex with his 15 year-old girlfriend (if there is such a law, which I doubt, since they are both minors and close in age). But as ever with the defense bar, when you give them an inch........

What they'll demand is that any sex between teenagers be off limits to the law, enabling a 19 year-old college guy to get an eighth grader stoned and then have sex with her.

It's a matter of degree. Law is an exercise in line-drawing. It is thus inescapable that there will be problematic cases just this side of the line, or just that side. What is also inescapable is that the defense bar simply will not accept this fact of life, and instead will complain relentlessly that poor Johnny is a "victim" of Bible-pounding wahoos.

I would like to wake up one day to find that some degree of maturity had crept into defense bar thinking, but I am unlikely to live that long.

Lastly, DP retentionists might want to be cautious about the prospect that they will be quoted out of context with, "...when you have a law that is rarely enforced in practice, the law should be repealed." This was Anthony Kennedy's theme in Graham v. Florida and Kennedy v. Louisiana. In the former, Clarence Thomas had exactly the right answer, which is that when a law is not enforced much in practice, that means the public doesn't want it enforced much in practice (i.e., that it should be reserved for extreme cases), NOT that the public wants it repealed.

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