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Punishments for sex crimes a hotly debated issue

The fight against sex offenders has never been waged more fiercely. From the recent focus on military sexual assault to sex crimes on college campuses, politicians and law enforcement are cracking down on sex offenders. Stringent laws for sex crimes have put many people behind bars, made sex offender names publicly available, and prevented many offenders from living or working in many areas.

Certainly public safety is a priority and no one argues that reducing sex crimes is not a priority. However, many people have begun to question whether sex offender registries are really being promoted for public safety purposes. There is perhaps no easier stance for a politician to take than being “tough on crime.” But constitutional rights exist. And for people accused of a sex crime, the punishment often begins before any verdict is rendered in the case.

Sex offender registries place offenders' personal information online. Such offenders may be subject to harassment, violence and humiliation. The following real-life example published in Human Rights Watch is illustrative of the issues facing some sex offenders:

Jacob was an 11 year-old living in Michigan when he was convicted of criminal sexual conduct in juvenile court for touching, but not penetrating, his sister's genitals. He was then unable to live with his sister or any other child and placed in a foster home. When he turned 18, he had to register as a sex offender publicly. As a senior in high school, some of his classmates and their parents tried to get him expelled. In college at Michigan, he dropped out, saying he was harassed for being on the registry and that campus police followed him everywhere.

He subsequently moved to Florida. Eventually he married and had a daughter. He had to check in with police daily and had to move several times for being too close to a school. He failed to register a new address after becoming homeless and was convicted of a felony. He and his wife divorced, and he can no longer see his daughter. In 2013 he remained on Florida's sex offender registry as a 26 year-old for a crime he committed when he was 11.

This example is not unique. One article by NBC News has called sex offender punishments “medieval.” Possible punishments for sex offenders include castration, indefinite civil commitment, and if on the sex offender registry, a lifetime of police oversight, frequent moves and limited employment opportunities.

A good criminal defense is paramount

Because of the sensational nature of sex crimes, people accused often receive public attention and media scrutiny. This is true whether the accused is guilty of the crime or not; just being charged with a sex crime may lead to a guilty verdict in the court of public opinion.

People accused of a sex crime do have constitutional rights. Nowhere is this more important than when confronted with a serious, life-altering charge of a sex crime. People accused of a sex crime should speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss their rights and legal options.

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