Skip

ThoughtCourt
August 2, 2004 12:23 PM   Subscribe

I Think (Therefore) I'm Guilty? A convicted sex offender is barred from public parks and the zoo in Lafayette, Indiana after he revealed to his psychologist that he entertained thoughts of sexual contact with children, while visiting a park. Here's John Doe's history of arrests and charges for alleged sexual offences.
posted by Gyan (59 comments total)

 
Given his record, yeah, makes sense, he's lucky to be a free man at all, we keep people locked up and off parole based on what they say and think in parole hearings so yeah, what you think matters, assuming you have a record of acting on thoughts.
posted by stbalbach at 12:41 PM on August 2, 2004


Why don't we just execute people convicted of child sex crimes? It's a lot easier and cheaper than just taking their lives away with restrictions and supervision and embarassment.

Maybe all this attention to pedophilia will result in its eradication. Remember all that time and money we spent eradicating rampant satanic ritual abuse 15 years ago? It must have worked, because you never hear about ritual abuse anymore and it was just everywhere for ten years. Oh, and this tactic also got sharks to suddenly stop killing just a few years ago.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:41 PM on August 2, 2004


stbalach: assuming you have a record of acting on thoughts

I assume most sentient life would.
posted by Gyan at 12:52 PM on August 2, 2004


This court decision makes total sense. I don't quite see how this is "ThoughtCourt" or any sort of "Thought crime." He's a convicted sex-offender who has abused children. He has allowed himself to fantasize about children to the extent that he had gone to the park looking for a child. The only reason he did'nt commit a crime was that he could'nt find a child alone. The court has the right to restrict the movements of a convicted sex-offender who is showing signs of actively pursuing his fantasies.

on preview: Sentient life thinks thoughts, but only acts on a few of them. A convicted sex-offender hasn't shown they can have certain fantasies without trying to actualize them.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:56 PM on August 2, 2004


Mayor Curley's sarcasm aside, I sort of feel weird about the "treatment" of sex offenders as well. I live in New Jersey, home of the infamous Megan's Law... the concept of which to this day confuses me.

If sex offenders need to register, or parole, or undergo any form of restriction like the ones covered by Megan's Law or in this article, isn't that an implication that the criminal is not fully rehabilitated? In which case, why is he/she even being allowed out of jail in the first place?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:06 PM on August 2, 2004


It's a complicated issue. Here in California, there are groups of mandated reporters, including therapists, teachers, etc. Our discretion to report or not to report was removed - we *must* report if we believe there's a reasonable suspicion that someone might abuse a child.

What's a reasonable suspicion? It is a suspicion that a reasonable person would entertain.

Is it reasonable to suspect that this guy might act on his thoughts? I suppose it depends on his behavior in the past, his general level of impulse control, etc. If this guy was in treatment because of previous molestations, he probably signed a consent form that indicated what was and wasn't going to generate a report.

There's always been the stream of thought that if reporting is mandatory, then people will be less likely to talk about these thoughts in therapy. I don't know of any evidence one way or another about that theory. I *do* know that therapists have been sued by patients who talked about abusing children, but weren't reported - the patients claim that they might not have gone ahead with the abuse if the authorities had been notified.
posted by jasper411 at 1:08 PM on August 2, 2004


elwoodwiles: A convicted sex-offender hasn't shown they can have certain fantasies without trying to actualize them.

Neither can anyone else. Your thoughts are private. And I'm sure you don't have a statistical record of John Doe's successful resistance to actualization.

The only reason he did'nt commit a crime was that he could'nt find a child alone.

That's your (and the court's) presumption. It might be true, but certainly can't be conclusively inferred.

Besides,

He has allowed himself to fantasize about children to the extent that he had gone to the park looking for a child., is not what the article says. It says, "The sex offender told his psychologist and self-help group that he had fantasies about children he observed playing at a Lafayette, Indiana, city park in 2000.". Cause and effect aren't clear here. It's circular and self-fulfilling to presume that "Of course he went to the park to ogle at children. He's a convicted sex molester, for chrissakes."
posted by Gyan at 1:08 PM on August 2, 2004


"He has allowed himself to fantasize about..."

Well, shit, I've fantasized about so many illegal things in my life. I didn't know it was a matter of "allowing" myself to have them, but I suppose that's the case. Lock me up now!
posted by eas98 at 1:11 PM on August 2, 2004


The court has the right to restrict the movements of a convicted sex-offender who is showing signs of actively pursuing his fantasies.

Does this have anything to do with his status as a convict? I mean, clearly, they know about his history because of his convictions, but since he's completed his sentence and probation, does he have any special legal status that would distinguish him formally from any other citizen? This is kind of a fine point of law, and I'm really curious about the answer. However, I'm also not sure if I'm making myself clear...

I guess what I'm asking is: does his status as a convict make him subject to restricted movement where a citizen who admitted to illicit and dangerous thought but had no criminal record would not be?
posted by mr_roboto at 1:11 PM on August 2, 2004


If sex offenders need to register, or parole, or undergo any form of restriction like the ones covered by Megan's Law or in this article, isn't that an implication that the criminal is not fully rehabilitated? In which case, why is he/she even being allowed out of jail in the first place?

Or perhaps that they're not rehabiliatable. But they get released because child abuse sentences (if this guy is indication) are too lenient. And, of course, because we need the cells to hold small-time pot dealers. Because our priorities are straight.
posted by jonmc at 1:20 PM on August 2, 2004


From the article:
Ripple, who wrote the dissent for the earlier panel decision, said Doe was not being punished for ``pure thought'' since he admitted he had gone to the park to look for children. He said that one reason he limited himself to thoughts was that there was a group of children, which would create difficulties.

It is upon this passage that I base my "circular" argument. Perhaps we can argue wether the article is accurate, but if we accept the text it's fairly clear why this decision was made.

Mr_roboto: The article also states that the man's probation officer had been alerted. It seems that Doe is still fufilling his punishment and is still under control of the courts.

does his status as a convict make him subject to restricted movement where a citizen who admitted to illicit and dangerous thought but had no criminal record would not be?

Yes. Absolutely. That is the basis of this decision.

eas98: It's not just that he allows himself these fantasies, but has shown signs of wanting to actualize them. It may just be my opinion, but people can control their own thoughts as much as they can control their own actions.

and what jonmc said.
posted by elwoodwiles at 1:24 PM on August 2, 2004


Oh, hmm. From the history link I see that he did complete the terms of his probation. I wonder how that impacts the legal basis here.
posted by elwoodwiles at 1:31 PM on August 2, 2004


How about "I Acted and I Intended to Act Again, (Therefore) I'm being barred from the park"?
posted by LairBob at 1:35 PM on August 2, 2004


Let me be clear on one thing: I'm not too interested in the specific case here, as related to sexual offenders. I think Mr. Doe should be restricted from places where he has easy, unsupervised access to children. I just don't like the basis on which it has been done.
posted by Gyan at 1:35 PM on August 2, 2004


So restraining orders are a bad idea?

Honestly, I don't see how this is so different than if someone who had already been in prison for beating his wife, more than once, and then said that after he completed his parole, he went back to her place with the intention of teaching her a lesson.

If she got a restraining order against him, would people really argue against that? In that situation, again, he hasn't actually committed another crime--just confessed to thinking very seriously about doing it again. I don't see how this is all that different.
posted by LairBob at 1:39 PM on August 2, 2004


Either the guy's been rehabilitated - or he hasn't. And according to the law, he's done everything we said he had to do for having committed actual crimes in the past: he completed his sentence, and no one's saying he's not complied with the terms of his parole.

It is, however, simply unAmerican to punish him in advance for something you think he might do. These "Megan's Law"s and the like have always struck me as well-intentioned but inherently unconstitutional, although I seriously doubt a sex offender is going to garner enough sympathy for their basic civil rights that these can be overturned. I mean, just judging from the kneejerk, irrationale responses I see here, of all places, where I'd have expected a more libertarian view...
posted by JollyWanker at 1:43 PM on August 2, 2004


This is exactly what happened to John Sharpe before he acted on his vile thoughts.

Fortunately, the Canadian government finally ruled that a person's thoughts on issues like this are private, and that one must actually break a law to go to jail.

Don't get me wrong, the more I read about Sharpe, the more I realize he's a child molesting psycho. However, I also realize the government had no reason to lock him up without committing a crime. Too bad they didn't just get him in a mental ward first when they learned about his problems rather than taking him to court. (idiots)

Hopefully the US will come to the same conclusion as Canada did.
posted by shepd at 1:50 PM on August 2, 2004


JW, I see your point, but I think you're conflating "being barred from the park and zoo" with other much worse things.

If this guy were thrown back in jail, or forced to undergo chemical castration, or had to suffer any other kind of genuine hardship, I think you'd have a much stronger point. He's not, though...technically, yes, his liberty has been constrained when he can't visit the zoo. Does his right to visit the zoo and fantasize about molesting kids--which is what he said he did--really supersede the rights of children to visit the zoo in safety?
posted by LairBob at 1:50 PM on August 2, 2004


It is, however, simply unAmerican to punish him in advance for something you think he might do.

Then why do we permanently revoke the liscences of repeat drunk drivers?
posted by jonmc at 1:52 PM on August 2, 2004


In the future, he'll probably just lie to his psychologist. And won't that be so much better for us all?

From the article: "Courts would not sanction criminal punishment of an individual with a criminal history of bank robbery simply because she or he stood in the parking lot of a bank and thought about robbing it,'' wrote Williams, author of the original panel decision.

That's pretty much all that needs to be said on this matter. This whole paedogeddon thing is getting way out of hand.
posted by reklaw at 1:59 PM on August 2, 2004


"Then why do we permanently revoke the liscences of repeat drunk drivers?"

Because driving is a privilege, not a right.
posted by Outlawyr at 2:03 PM on August 2, 2004


How about "I Acted and I Intended to Act Again, (Therefore) I'm being barred from the park"?

Actually, the more accurate description is "I acted, served my time, and I was aware that I could act again, but did not." What's more, the guy's in trouble because he was forthcoming during therapy that most people would have just walked through as part of their requirements. The guy is absolutely being punished for a thought crime.

Why do we always have to have a bogeyman? If we still had communists to worry about, this guy would have served his time and then vanished from the public radar. Pedophiles are not a new threat, and there's no reason to think that they're an increasing threat.

Either pedophiles are human beings with rights or they're not. Do we treat them like other criminals in that they serve their time and walk away or, do we lock them up cells for ever? I don't care about them, so I don't care which of those choices we make. But this de facto taking their lives away after we let them out of jail is horseshit.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:03 PM on August 2, 2004


This whole paedogeddon thing is getting way out of hand.

Agreed to a point, reklaw, esp. when it comes to iffy statutory rape cases. And the fact that molestation is more common within families than from outside (not that abusive relatives should'nt be punished harshly. But that dosen't mean that we can blow the whole thing off. And judging from this guys record, he does seem like a genuine danger to society. If this guy hadn't gotten such weakass sentences as this: n Nov. 7, 1979 -- Sentenced, on his guilty plea to child molesting, to 180 days in jail and 41/2 years on probation., the application of manuevers like this would be less likely.

Because driving is a privilege, not a right.

Hanging around parks and zoo's isn't in the constitution either.

Why do we always have to have a bogeyman? If we still had communists to worry about, this guy would have served his time and then vanished from the public radar

I find arguments like this extremely annoying. Is it inconcievable that people might be honestly worried about pedophiles, because, well, they don't want children molested?

Either pedophiles are human beings with rights or they're not. Do we treat them like other criminals in that they serve their time and walk away or, do we lock them up cells for ever?

Arguing for stronger sentecing for pedophiles is not violating their rights. As far as I'm concerned that's probably the most constitutionally sound and effective way of combatting them.
posted by jonmc at 2:13 PM on August 2, 2004


reklaw- I was hoping that someone would make that reference.

“I’m not sure if you can sense the air of aggression out here, but 10 minutes ago we threw this crowd a dummy full of guts. It lasted just eight seconds. This is very much a protest that’s swallowed a bomb, and given the detonator to a monkey.”
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:14 PM on August 2, 2004


I find arguments like this extremely annoying. Is it inconcievable that people might be honestly worried about pedophiles, because, well, they don't want children molested?

Possibly, but why weren't people as outraged before this? There isn't any evidence that molestation is on the rise. It's more likely that bored people's emotions are being stoked, and consequently they're demanding more cosmetic legislation to feel secure about something that they, until recently, didn't know that they supposed to be worked up over.

Just like the communists that had allegedly completely infiltrated the armed forces and government weren't really there in the 50's.

Just like the strangers abducting children that hardly happened and still happens with the same frequency but isn't worried about on a grand scale. (does 1-800-I-AM-LOST still exist? If it does, how many children were abducted by strangers instead of estranged relatives?)

Just like the daycare centers that were alleged fronts for satanic cults but weren't.

And here's an example that should hit especially close to home, jonmc:

Just like the backmasking in records that was turning children to stanism and suicide but didn't really.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:23 PM on August 2, 2004


> "ThoughtCourt"

>"He has allowed himself to fantasize about..."

Well, shit, I've fantasized about so many illegal things in my life. I didn't know it was a matter of "allowing" myself to have them, but I suppose that's the case. Lock me up now!
posted by eas98 at 3:11 PM CST on August 2


When on probation for a crime, justice is now “just us.”
posted by thomcatspike at 2:25 PM on August 2, 2004


Arguing for stronger sentecing for pedophiles is not violating their rights. As far as I'm concerned that's probably the most constitutionally sound and effective way of combatting them.

And here I agree with you. Let 'em rot, provided that when they're convicted we say "you will rot in jail.". As long as we stop saying that they get their lives back, but then we don't really give it to them.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:25 PM on August 2, 2004


Possibly, but why weren't people as outraged before this? There isn't any evidence that molestation is on the rise.

Well, up until fairly recently, the very idea of pedophilia wasn't even talked about openly. Besides, whether it's stranger abductions or (more likely) a pervy uncle or neighbor, they do have to be dealt with, regardless of the numbers involved. Again I don't deny that people can be goaded to hysteria on this issue, but that dosen't mean that there isn't plenty of room for improvement in dealing with the problem, and it is a problem.

And mayor curley, records whether they say stuff in backmasking or openly, are still just words, molesting a child is a deed. So, flawed analogy.

On preview: ok, then we're more or less on the same page. I'm a strict constitutionalist as well. So by giving guys like this longer sentences, we'd spare the urge to use end runs like this, and also calm the hysteria by actually keepig the dangerous individuals away from society.
posted by jonmc at 2:33 PM on August 2, 2004


Or perhaps that they're not rehabiliatable

I find it interesting that many who would posit that treatment is as or more effective for drug addicts wouldn't concede the same for sex addicts (of any persuasion). A very good friend of mine has spent that past couple of years launching a career into sexual addiction therapy, opening my eyes to something that I'd never really considered. Perhaps it's that most everyone knows someone that has struggled with addiction to controlled substances, but hasn't known/isn't aware of friends with similiar afflictions in sexual relations.

I definitely think there should be punitive actions taken against rapists/pedophiles/other perversions that violate other's rights, but it seems like people are more willing to throw the book at them than they are drug offenders. Both are addictions that people are likely to struggle with for life. Both can be treated effectively.

(not picking on you, jon, you just happened to be the one that threw out the phrase that I knew was coming).
posted by Ufez Jones at 2:35 PM on August 2, 2004


After his former probation officer was alerted, Lafayette officials banned the man from entering any city park, including the zoo and a golf course.

>From the article: "Courts would not sanction criminal punishment of an individual with a criminal history of bank robbery simply because she or he stood in the parking lot of a bank and thought about robbing it,'' wrote Williams, author of the original panel decision.

That's pretty much all that needs to be said on this matter. This whole paedogeddon thing is getting way out of hand.


No, because he has NOT completed his time. The thing to remember here and is lost in the post is that he is on probation unlike a person that has fully paid for their crime, doing the time. My reference above “just us” may be harder understanding if you have never been in the system. Ask someone on probation how the system treats you.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:36 PM on August 2, 2004


Ask someone on probation how the system treats yous them.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:41 PM on August 2, 2004


thomcatspike: He had completed his probation when he spilled the beans at the self-help group.
posted by Gyan at 2:41 PM on August 2, 2004


thomcatspike: see the "history" link in the original post. His probation was completed. Hence, "former probation officer."
posted by mr_roboto at 2:44 PM on August 2, 2004


- How about "I Acted and I Intended to Act Again, (Therefore) I'm being barred from the park"?

- Actually, the more accurate description is "I acted, served my time, and I was aware that I could act again, but did not."


No, that's not exactly what happened--if it were, I would totally agree with you. According to the article, at least:
"...he admitted he had gone to the park to look for children. He said that one reason he limited himself to thoughts was that there was a group of children, which would create difficulties."
That's a huge difference--his confession was not that he "just fantasized". According to the account, he confided that he actually entertained the possibility of molesting a child, and it was more circumstance than personal restraint that stopped him.

That's what makes this more than some kind of "thought crime" issue.
posted by LairBob at 2:44 PM on August 2, 2004


(not picking on you, jon, you just happened to be the one that threw out the phrase that I knew was coming).

don't worry about it, ufez, it's a difficult and prickly subject.

The crucial difference between drug addiction (and even sexual addiction) and pedophilia is this: while they may be outward ramifications for society from the former, in the form of crimes committed to maintain those addictions and quality of life issues, the latter involves by it's very nature, the victimization of a class of people (children) whom we as a society (and most other societies) have determined need special protection from more physically and psychologically powerful adults.

I definitely think there should be punitive actions taken against rapists/pedophiles/other perversions that violate other's rights, but it seems like people are more willing to throw the book at them than they are drug offenders

Well, I think that we as a society have agreed (correctly I believe) that an individual who commits rape is more dangerous than one who smokes dope or shoots heroin. Thus I think there's general agreement that a rapist should spend more time in prison than a dope fiend or even a pusher. Although thanks to drug hysteria, that isn't always reflected in laws.

I should make it clear that when I speak of sex criminals, I'm not speaking of peeping toms, weenie waggers, and 17 year old boys charged with statutory rape for sleeping with a willing 15 year old girl. Even though these people may or may not commit harmful acts.

I'm talking about forcible rape, sexual assault and child molestation. Again I don't differentiate between date rape and stranger rape, inter-family molestation or stranger abductions. It's the violence and the force that determine the crime for me.
posted by jonmc at 2:48 PM on August 2, 2004


Gyan: Then why was it reported back to his probation officer if he was out of the system. Was there "more" that he had to do or abstain from which kept him out of the probation system? It seems obvious his “help” group had earlier contact with his probation officer since they contacted the person.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:03 PM on August 2, 2004


thomcatspike: see the "history" link in the original post. His probation was completed. Hence, "former probation officer."

Missed that. Yet perplexed that his help group turned to the probation officer, rather than the authorities like the police. Which then I would think there was a wrong her yet they seem to be taking his own guilt as word not the help groups word alone.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:14 PM on August 2, 2004


LairBob, you're right. I missed that. And it definitely makes it seem less cut-and-dry to me.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:18 PM on August 2, 2004


n January 2000 -- Successfully completes probation. Two weeks later, he discloses during a group therapy session that he had recently visited Murdock Park, watched children and had sexual fantasies but left the park without acting on his urges. Someone reports the incident to authorities.

It says he “discloses” after his probation had ended, yet what does "recently" mean there. Was he on probation those days he was having the thoughts in the park? Pretty sure, if you are done with probation and then admit you committed violations during your probation period then they could later prove it, you would be back in the system.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:36 PM on August 2, 2004


*nods in agreement with jonmc, deletes own similar comment.*
posted by synapse at 3:43 PM on August 2, 2004


Part of the interpretation of the 8th Amendment is proportionality.
...in addition to prohibiting punishments deemed barbarous and inhumane the Eighth Amendment also condemned ''all punishments which by their excessive length or severity are greatly disproportionate to the offenses charged.''
A consequence of this is that a state can't just decide to make a child molestation conviction require a life sentence because the law would (eventually) get overturned as unconstitutional for violating proportionality.

IANAL, and I don't know the details of how the law considers some offenses "worse" than others, nor of how much disparity states can get away with.

But I do know it does complicate upping penalties for a given offense.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 4:01 PM on August 2, 2004


And it definitely makes it seem less cut-and-dry to me.

But does it really? If this guy had robbed a bank and admitted to a therapist he went to the bank thinking about doing it again, this conversation wouldn't be happening. I understand it's a compulsion and it involves kids, but arresting someone for impure thoughts skeeves me out.
posted by yerfatma at 4:07 PM on August 2, 2004


"If this guy had robbed a bank and admitted to a therapist he went to the bank thinking about doing it again, this conversation wouldn't be happening."

yerfatma, it would totally depend on what the proposed penalty was--if someone got thrown back in jail just for coming "this close" to robbing a bank for the seventh time, then again, yes, I'd admit your point.

But we're not talking about putting anyone back in jail. To really take your example more closely, this guy would have robbed not one bank but several banks, and this is not a bank robber who just hacks bank computers. He has a long trail of victims, and has regularly inflicted emotional and possibly physical harm to others as he perpetrated his past crimes. He's also confided that the last time he was in a bank, he was ready to rob it, and it's only because he noticed a cop car outside that he didn't.

Now, in that scenario, would one of those banks be within its rights to turn him away at the door? In a world with ATMs around every corner, would it be acceptable for a judge to say he can't go into a bank without an appointment? Do his rights to go into a bank and actively mull robbing it at gunpoint override your right and mine to go into a bank without the threat of harm?
posted by LairBob at 4:36 PM on August 2, 2004


And I don't mean those questions rhetorically, to imply there's only one possible answer...I'm just trying to say it's not a simple as you've suggested. Those are much harder questions to wrestle with, I think, than the simpler version of the situation that you posed in your example.
posted by LairBob at 4:47 PM on August 2, 2004


Well, I think that we as a society have agreed (correctly I believe) that an individual who commits rape is more dangerous than one who smokes dope or shoots heroin. Thus I think there's general agreement that a rapist should spend more time in prison than a dope fiend or even a pusher. Although thanks to drug hysteria, that isn't always reflected in laws.

I don't disagree with that a bit, but I don't think tacking an extra 3-5 on a 15 year sentence is going to cure someone of the compulsion to molest children. I think you will find that treatment can alleviate the rate of recidivism for many crimes, including pedophilia.

I'm talking about forcible rape, sexual assault and child molestation. Again I don't differentiate between date rape and stranger rape, inter-family molestation or stranger abductions. It's the violence and the force that determine the crime for me.

Again, I agree. I've had a host of close friends that have been victims of all three of these crimes. It's absolutely infuriating and probably the worst thing one human can do to another. But unless you're willing to lock them up for life or invoke capital punishment (and certainly there are many willing to say that that is the correct punishment) letting them out after they've served their sentence without any kind of support isn't going to help anything.

This has strayed far off topic anyways though. I don't disagree with banning this guy from parks and zoos as he obviously showed clear signs, active signs, of relapsing.
posted by Ufez Jones at 5:08 PM on August 2, 2004


this guy would have robbed not one bank but several banks, and this is not a bank robber who just hacks bank computers. He has a long trail of victims

All of which comes into play after he commits another crime, not before. And the bank banning him from the premises isn't really germane since it's private property.
posted by yerfatma at 6:03 PM on August 2, 2004


Despite the well argued posts above, I'm still with you, yerfatma - as a citizen who has completed both his incarceration and his parole, this guy has the same rights as anybody else, including the right to enter and enjoy public properties where, oops, children go. That paedophiles should have longer, even life sentences, is arguably true, but this man is living in the here and the now. Slippery slope and all that, but it's takes a willful disregard for logic to argue that the mere thought of committing a crime is enough to have one's civil rights limited, because no matter how heinous the "thought crime" is no crime has yet been committed and therefore there's no logical basis for arrest or other punishment.
posted by JollyWanker at 7:53 PM on August 2, 2004


So restraining orders are out, then?
posted by LairBob at 8:08 PM on August 2, 2004


I think you will find that treatment can alleviate the rate of recidivism for many crimes, including pedophilia.

Not really true, unfortunately. Recidivism for sexual predators is remarkably high with or without treatment. Empathy treatment is available (and make no mistake that sexual predators are people suffering to a greater or lesser degree from a lack of empathy, they're not in the same ballpark as sex addicts) but its success is debatable. Of course, there are opposing views to the idea of treatment.

For those who would argue that sexual predators are sick, the response is simply: So where's the cure? Unless and until rehabilitation of predators approaches the medical model it purports to imitate—that is, to rehabilitate a broken arm so it returns to its former state of functioning—why should all society be the butt of bizarre (and life-threatening) experiments?
posted by Cyrano at 8:56 PM on August 2, 2004


My opinion on this matter is shaped, for better or for worse, by the combination of my 15- and 13-year-old nieces and nephew (and myself) living 350 feet from this fellow.

The article breezes over the specific crime for which he was incarcerated. He abducted a three-year-old girl unknown to him, raped her, and drowned her in a creek. After serving that sentence, he spent some time in a state mental health facility, then a halfway house with limited freedom, and last fall was placed by the state where they could. (Later, bless their souls, they added a similar fellow to the same address. Local authorities -- such as the police, who had to go door to door with leaflets and pursed lips -- had no power to object.) For nearly a year, the kids in my family have had to go to Walgreens some other way.

The terms of his release under Wisconsin's Sexually Violent Persons Law [pdf] included an ankle bracelet and absolutely no drugs or alcohol or, obviously, contact with children, employment or recreation where children might be found. In the end, he was sent back to the state mental health facility because of "thoughts" alone. They call it propensity to reoffend in the business. The law doesn't apply to all sex offenders, only gross violators, but it has a very short leash and indefinite "sentencing". The bonus is that the society (Wisconsin) doesn't have to pass a "disproportionate" life sentence law, just to appease the very real, very widespread desire of the citizenry to keep these offenders away from their kids.

Prior restraint is an established principle. Judges can issue orders against publication, against trespass, against demonstration, given certain circumstances. We should always make sure the societal gain is worth the societal loss, and there should be a high bar.

It's an awful compromise, and the civil libertarian in me is conflicted every time I think about it. But only for a moment. Then I think of this guy.

As for John Doe, perhaps Indiana needs a civil commitment law for pedophiles. Sex offender registries are, in practicum, often voluntary. Civil commitment and conditional release provide for active monitoring, and in theory permit the offender certain freedom post-incarceration while protecting the interests of the community.
posted by dhartung at 9:12 PM on August 2, 2004


Does anyone know anything about LairBob's question regarding restraining orders and constitutionality? It seems that if a person is a stalker, for example, a restraining order can be issued based on that person's demonstrated likelihood to commit a crime if allowed proximity to their victim. The difference here is that there isn't only one victim, but couldn't the same sort of logic apply in a general way?
posted by taz at 12:20 AM on August 3, 2004


By the way, this guy said that the reason he did not act is because he could get access to a child alone. So, I'm curious. If I, as an ex-con who has served a sentence for a murder conviction, said this: "Last night I went to personX's home to kill them, but personX was not home. Tonight I am going to personX's home again.", and it was reported to the police, what would the response be?
posted by taz at 12:29 AM on August 3, 2004


^^ make that "couldn't get access".
posted by taz at 12:34 AM on August 3, 2004


Well, that's assault, isn't it? Threatening bodily harm. Are restraining orders just between two private parties or can they work in a situation like the one suggested above?
posted by yerfatma at 4:08 AM on August 3, 2004


taz, to my understanding, there are a couple of things that would happen in your case...

1) "Person X" would probably rush to get a restraining order against the stalker.

2) Your example is a little complicated, because in many states, now, stalking is illegal. The actual definition of "stalking" varies from state to state, I'm sure, but if your hypothetical ex-con fit the profile--which I'm almost certain includes behavior and intent--he could theoretically be charged with a crime. (Or, perhaps, as yerfatma suggested, assault.)
posted by LairBob at 5:03 AM on August 3, 2004


Prior restraint is an established principle.

For your information, the Supreme Court has roundly rejected prior restraint!

But in all seriousness, I'm conflicted here. Obviously nobody wants more children molested. On the other hand, this guy is a person, too, and part of the whole point of incarceration (in theory at least) is that once you've served your time you can be allowed to live a normal life. Of course, that's a problem with the prison system-- we throw people in jail without really considering if that'll help rehabilitate them, and we let them out when their sentences are up without really considering if they're rehabilitated, or what we can do for them on the outside to reduce recidivism.

Now a guy like this will probably never live a normal life, true. He's attracted to children, and that sucks-- I can't read his mind but I suspect he might feel much worse about not being able to control himself than we do. Nothing in his criminal history indicated violence. If he's weak, he needs help-- it really bugs me that our approach to crime seems to just be to throw people like this under the metaphorical train.

I think what might bother me the most, and I'm not sure if it's been addressed, is whether or not some sort of doctor-patient privilege was violated by his psychologist. I know they can do it if they feel someone is threatened, but I didn't notice anything like that-- he just fantasized about children he saw. I fantastize about women I see all the time; I don't go around raping them, though. Again, if he's weak and can't control himself, he needs help, or no matter where you ban him from, eventually he'll find a place to act again.

Ugh. It's difficult playing devil's advocate for a child molestor.
posted by nath at 3:15 PM on August 3, 2004


Especially in this situation, nath, where the guy admitted not only to fantasizing. but to intent, when he said that what restricted him solely to thoughts was the fact that there were too many children present for him to actually do anything.

The article doesn't say that his psychologist told the police; he was in a group therapy situation, evidently, when he talked about it, and someone reported him.

The logic is compelling: he is a serial offender who likes to frequent places with easy access to potential victims, who has admitted that he had thoughts of doing the same again, and would have acted if the situation were more congenial to his purposes. There are many, many horrible abuses of the legal and justice systems, but I don't see an effort to prevent this man from preying on more children as one of them, and I guess I'm a bit of a pragmatist who does not feel that every case is necessarily equal (though I understand and support the idealist who does). For my part, though, if I see a career arsonist standing in front of my building with a gallon of gasonline and a pack of matches, I probably won't delay calling the fire department.
posted by taz at 9:58 PM on August 3, 2004


nath --
heh. I just watched TBL again recently.

In most states, therapists of all stripes are mandated reporters. Doctor-patient confidentiality is off the table, by legislative fiat. The courts have also held that professional confidentiality rules, as between individuals and their doctor, priest, or lawyer, are legally little more than a courtesy, and generally do not apply in the case of knowledge of illegal acts. In other words, it may be against the Hippocratic Oath for a doctor to violate confidentiality, but the law has different motivations and doesn't answer to Hippocrates.

Anyway, I'd like to believe that the report came from a fellow patient in his therapy group. One seeking absolution, rather than probationary perks.

Your allusion to rehabilitation is (and I don't mean this badly) naive. Many believe that the purpose of incarceration is punishment, not rehabilitation, and jails serve more than one purpose for society. At present, rehabilitation isn't high on voters' checklists. If anything, I would argue that a civil commitment to a violent offenders' program, where the offender is under medical supervision and is required to participate in various types of therapy, is exceptionally more likely to lead to rehabilitation than mere incarceration. Additionally, we all know that jail often has negative effects, such as introducing inmates to their future criminal associates, the sharing of new criminal skills, and in the case of pedophiles, a high risk of rape, beatings, and death. Those who survive prison may come out with more psychological burdens, and fewer coping tools.

So while it burns my heart to think of any human in Clockwork Orange stimuli-response gear, I have to conclude it may be for the best, or at least the best of a load of lousy alternatives.
posted by dhartung at 10:21 PM on August 3, 2004


Your allusion to rehabilitation is (and I don't mean this badly) naive.

I can't argue with that. I think something more along the lines of what you propose in the rest of this comment is much more along the lines of what I'd like to see-- but I'm one of those wacky people who thinks everyone is capable of making a positive contribution and that violence and hatred are learned, not innate.

I missed the part about him saying he would have acted, though, and it seems reasonable to assume someone else in his group turned him in. So that answers those questions for me. Still, like I said, I don't think just banning him from parks is really going to solve anything. It'll just mean that if he's going to do it again, he'll find somewhere else.
posted by nath at 3:03 PM on August 4, 2004


« Older Take a vacation from your car   |   Iraq's Child Prisoners Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post