November 6, 2011

Texas Removes Sex Offender Designation From 176 Parolees

11-6-2011 Texas:

Texas has radically shifted its policy with respect to parolees and removed the sex offender designation from 176 people on parole since May 2011. The prisoners were of the group who had never been convicted of a sex crime but still had the sex offender label, and all of the penalties that accompany it such as a listing on the state's Sex Offender Registry, due to having what the Texas Department of Criminal Justice termed Special Condition X as a condition of parole. The change in state policy came as a result of court battles over the constitutionality of Special Condition X and state legislators questioning the Department of Criminal Justice's use of taxpayer funds.

In the latest of a decade-long series of court battles over Special Condition X, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held in a May 2011 opinion that the state had to provide a due process hearing to all prisoners released on parole before the state could impose Special Condition X. The court used the reasoning from a Fifth Circuit court of appeals case with similar facts as the one before it and a U.S. Supreme Court opinion regarding how much due process is owed a person when a "deprivation of the liberty interest leads to stigmatizing and physically-invasive consequences" -- as is the case with the sex offender label.

Texas failed to meet the due process standards outlined in those opinions because it did not afford parolees hearings before imposing Special Condition X and the court held that it needed to do so in the future.

Rather than offer due process hearings en masse, the Department of Criminal Justice changed its policy and recommended to the Board of Pardons and Paroles that it withdraw Special Condition X on the 176 prisoners. The Board of Pardons is considering 300 more applications of parolees seeking to have Special Condition X removed.

Legislators also questioned the wisdom of using taxpayer funds to keep those who were never convicted of sex crimes on the highest level of supervision while on parole. Sex offenders are obligated to register on the Sex Offender Registry, attend therapy sessions and check in frequently with parole officers. This intense supervision eats up resources that the state could allocate to those who have been convicted of sex crimes. Lawmakers were also concerned about the money the state spent defending Special Condition X in court over the years.

Additionally, the terms of parole are often so restrictive, governing where an offender cannot live, work, or travel and what he or she cannot posses, that many offenders end up back in prison for parole violations -- costing taxpayers even more money.

By reversing state policy about which parolees the state designates as sex offenders, Texas has taken a step towards ensuring due process for its citizens. Sex offense charges are serious matters, however, that the state punishes severely. If you are facing such charges you should consult with a criminal defense attorney who can assist you in getting the best outcome in your situation. ..Source.. by Joe D. Gonzales Law Office

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