July 18, 2013

Louisiana removes sex-offender label from those who shouldn't have had it

7-18-2013 Louisiana:

Michael A. Dodele, whose crimes had earned him a place on California's sex-offenders registry, was murdered by neighbor Ivan Garcia Oliver in November 2007, 35 days after Dodele moved into a mobile home in California's Lake County. Oliver, who was convicted of first-degree murder in 2012, never denied killing the man.

Instead, in a jailhouse interview with the Los Angeles Times, Oliver gave what amounted to a manifesto. His son had already been molested, Oliver explained. Then Dodele, whose name was on the registry, moved into the neighborhood. "Society may see the action I took as unacceptable in the eyes of 'normal' people. I felt that by not taking evasive action as a father in the right direction, I might as well have taken my child to some swamp filled with alligators and had them tear him to pieces. It's no different."

California listed Dodele's crimes as "rape by force" and "oral copulation with a person under 14 or by force." As for the oral copulation, it was the "by force" part that applied to Dodele.

"He was convicted of other bad things," a Lake County prosecutor told the Los Angeles Times, "but nothing involving a minor." Oliver leaped to the wrong conclusion. He isn't much different in that regard from most of us. We tend to assume that people on a sex-offenders list have hurt children.

I imagine that's why "Louise" was so quick to tell me what she hadn't done when we spoke in October 2011. "I've never molested a child," she said. Even so, "I can't even celebrate Halloween or go trick-or-treating with my kids." Louisiana's registration laws didn't distinguish between predators who had raped or otherwise exploited minors and desperate drug addicts who, like Louise had, peddled oral sex on the streets.

Nope. In Louisiana a sex offender was a sex offender was a sex offender. And all of them with the label were instructed to register their addresses and keep their distance from children.

That's why it was such a big deal last week when U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman approved a settlement that removes hundreds of names from the state's sex-offender registry. It was wrong in and of itself for the law to label prostitutes as if they were predators. But not everybody selling sexual gratification got the label. Only those who sold oral or anal sex. Those selling intercourse could get convicted repeatedly and never be labeled a sex offender.

In 2011, the Louisiana Legislature changed the law so that those convicted of soliciting oral and anal sex wouldn't have to register, but that didn't help people whose names were already on the list. Thanks to a settlement between the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Louisiana attorney general's office, those names will be removed.

Attorney General James "Buddy" Caldwell should have removed the names sooner, but as the Legislature was debating changing the law, an attorney from Caldwell's office said the state couldn't afford the $37,000 a year it might take to go back and remove the names of people like Louise, people who hadn't ever preyed on anybody. Caldwell continued his foot-dragging even after Feldman ruled last year that the state had no "rational basis" for putting people like Louise on its registry. In a December hearing, Feldman said, "I am incredulous and very concerned about why this process has been dragged out against the backdrop of politics for so long."

Louise had cleaned herself up from drugs and was a full-time college student when we spoke. But she was weary of all the obstacles she routinely encountered as a labeled sex offender. She had an upcoming court date after being charged with not registering as she should have. She later pleaded guilty to avoid going to jail.

But the label itself was its own kind of prison, not to mention an invitation for scorn and ridicule. Some people think they can do anything to convicted sex offenders, that people with that label can't be mistreated. They're wrong, of course. And Louisiana itself was wrong for ever burdening non-predators with that label. ..Source.. by Jarvis DeBerry

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