Gov. Sandoval puts fear over pragmatism

If you ever wondered what sort of offenders live in yourneighborhood:

In 1994, Jesse Timmendequas raped and murdered 7-year-old Megan Kanka. Four months later, the New Jersey legislature passed Megan’s law, which created the first publicly accessible registry of sex offenders.

Since that horrible crime, the sex registry laws have spread to every state. Overzealous legislatures have included non-violent offenses like public urination and flashing in the same list as violent child rapists like Timmendequas.

Sex with an underage girl should be judged on a case-by-case basis. A 50-year-old who seduces a 14-year-old is morally different from a 17-year-old who has sex with a 15-year-old boyfriend or girlfriend. But the sex registry laws dump those convicted of these two very different crimes into the same registry. The registries themselves rarely contain any real description of the severity of the offense. This has led to vigilante violence against non-violent offenders.

Being on a sexual offense registry can severely limit your life options. It makes it much harder to get a job, have personal relationships, and fully rehabilitate yourself. Civil commitment after the criminal sentence is served is a possibility. There are often severe restrictions on where you can live. Many jurisdictions have laws forbidding residence by someone on the registry thousands of feet from any school, day care center, park, even school bus stop so that in some cities the registered can find literally no place to live and are instead living under bridges. There can be no realistic rehabilitation for people living in these conditions.

These draconian restrictions are often justified by the claims that 90 percent of sex offenders are so compulsive they cannot help but offend again. In fact, despite what the actors say in Law and Order, SVU the recidivism rate for sex offenders is no worse than—and in many cases better than—other crimes. Furthermore, repeat violent offenders with long rap sheets are the most likely to commit another sex crime. Many of these people are simply career criminals who also commit sex crimes. Yet most sex registries make no attempt to distinguish between these criminals and the non-violent young violators of our sex taboos who are the least likely to commit another crime.

Two legislators with very different ideologies, Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Clark County, and Assemblymember Michele Fiore, R-Clark County, co-sponsored SB 99, a bill to grant teenage sex offenders the opportunity for a hearing to show rehabilitation and escape the sex registry. Sedgerblom is one of the most liberal of Democrats, a leader in marijuana reform and other liberal causes. Fiore is a constitutional conservative, one of only 10 Assembly Republicans who voted against Gov. Sandoval’s tax hike.

The bill would require teenagers to show by clear and convincing evidence that they are not a danger to society—a high standard of proof. But, it gives young people the opportunity to remain free of a lifelong stain for what in many if not most cases was a youthful indiscretion.

That these two different politicians would sponsor this bill is a clear sign that the left and the right are coming to an understanding that the criminal justice system is broken. We are seeing the Tea Party sit down with the ACLU. Sen. Rand Paul often works with the liberal Sen. Cory Booker on sentencing and prison reform.

Unfortunately, SB 99 was passed in the Legislature, but was vetoed by our moderate Gov. Sandoval. Hysterical fears once again prevailed over reason and justice. More young lives will be harmed, while the public will not be one bit safer.