Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Convicts (Even Sex Offenders) Are Entitled to Basic Civil Rights Upon Release

A recent murder of a registered sex offender in California demonstrates that some people just don't get it. Like it or not, once a person is released from jail, they basically are entitled to (or should be) to the same rights as everyone else.

By his own admission, 29-year-old construction worker Ivan Garcia Oliver killed 67-year-old convicted rapist Michael A. Dodele in Lakeport, California, just 35 days after Dodele's release from prison.

A December 10, 2007, article in the Los Angeles Times ("Megan's Law listing may have lead to slaying"), discusses the fact that the killing may have stemmed from a listing in a California Internet database that lists information about registered sex offenders.

I believe the basic concept of Megan's Law is that people be notified and have access to information about registered sex offenders so they can prevent themselves (or children) from being victimized by the offender. Unfortunately, the law has clearly been responsible for the violation of the civil rights of thousands of released offenders.

Not only has the law lead to witch hunts of registered sex offenders throughout the nation, but the information supplied on California's database is very vague and confusing. At quick glance, nearly everyone on the database appears to be a child molester because of the very brief description of the offender's crime(s), which is based on how the penal code is vaguely worded.

I even thought an acquaintance of mine in Palm Springs is a child molester because of how the penal code violation is worded next to his name on the State of California Meagan's Law webiste. Even after reading the penal code in detail, I'm still not sure what's what, and I'm a seasoned paralegal. If I can't figure it out, How on earth do we expect the "average Joe" to interpret the crime descriptions on these public databases?

The killer made the same mistake I did about my acquaintance, and thought Dodele was a child molester. According to the Los Angeles Times article about the killing in Lakeport, Dodele was convicted of violating adults, not children. Unwanted acts against adults and children are both bad, however Michael A. Dodele may still be alive today if it weren't for the sloppiness of California's database. His killer made it clear he went after Dodele because he thought he was a child molester.

I realize that I am in the minority, but whether someone molested, raped, sodomized, killed, stole, whatever; once they are released, they should be treated humanely so long as they are abiding by the rules.

A convict should be permitted to have a place to live, shop, eat, work, etc. without threat of eviction or disruptions from protesters who feel the convict should receive more punishment after their release.

On the flip side, it goes without saying that a child molester should not be permitted to work in a school (or live near one); an embezzler shouldn't be permitted to work in a bank; terrorists shouldn't be permitted to work in airports or for public transit entities.

More food for thought on this very topic is provided by veteran journalist Patt Morrison in her excellent December 13, 2007, commentary published in the Los Angeles Times ("Megan's law of unintended consequences").