Not all sex offenders created equal

Perhaps second only to mass murderers, the most repugnant criminals in our society are offenders who have victimized children. All too often, we must read in the paper about a small child being kidnaped, abused and even murdered by a person with a long history of pedophilia. This type criminal is not only abhorred by people in polite society, but is even shunned and isolated by his fellow inmates — murderers, robbers, con-artists and just thieves. Sexual offenders should, and are generally, severely punished. Unfortunately, in our lawmakers’ zeal to be the toughest on crime and to assure that our youngsters in Texas are not victimized by sexual predators, we have taken a wrongheaded approach to dealing with sexual offenders.

The Texas Department of Public Safety maintains a Web site that allows public access to the DPS sex offender registration computerized central database, which is searchable by name or location.

I, and those dear to me, certainly care and take the trouble to review the sexual offender registry. While keeping track of sexual offenders in most respects is a good idea, the problem with the registry in Texas is that it contains 70,000 registrants. The Texas definition of sexual offenses is so broad one cannot review the registry and determine whether or not the person so registered is a raving pedophilic maniac who is subject to attack small children found alone on the street, or whether or not the person could have been a 19 year old who had a love affair with his 16 year old girlfriend and was convicted of what most of us know as the offense of statutory rape. I submit it is important for those of us who care about protecting our children and grandchildren that we know the difference. It is also in the interest of justice that the former category described here is not lumped with the first category.

Tales of injustice of such a system, which paints all with a broad brush, effectively sentencing them to a life sentence, makes one recall ancient times when part of punishment of certain criminals was to be branded on the forehead, sometimes for minor violations.

A recent edition of The Texas Observer chronicled the plight of a young man sentenced as a sexual offender at the age of 12, basically for engaging in curiosity, acting out with a sibling. The article pointed out there are hundreds, if not thousands, of so-called sexual offenders on the registry who were basically sentenced as children. There are hundreds of other registrants branded as lifetime sexual offenders who are now married to the alleged victim. The 19-year-old who had the love affair with his 16-year-old girlfriend and who is now married to his longtime sweetheart and raising a family has no business on the sexual registry.

Sociological studies have clearly established the vast majority of children branded as sexual offenders and those described herein as those slightly over the edge, having had affairs with their teenage sweethearts, are not likely to be repeat offenders. Some system should be devised to either remove this type offender from the registry or create a categorized system of registration so that those concerned about protection of our loved ones could review the registry and determine the type of person who might be residing within the geographical area of our concern.

I would suggest two possible solutions to the overuse of sexual offense registration. The preferable method would be for the Legislature to simply comb through the categories currently designated as sexual offenses and provide that, if convicted of the lesser type offenses, the registration be shortened to a reasonable term of years after whatever sentence they receive for the offense. This would allow parole officers or probation officers to make the determination of whether or not the person has exhibited any propensity to continue or repeat as sex offenders. The other solution would be to create a subsection of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles staffed by professionals such as counselors, psychologist and psychiatrists and allow persons required to register to apply to be freed from the onus of registration and be evaluated by a team of experts to determine the likelihood of them being repeat offenders and the degree of risk that each person might be to his or her community.

Until such reforms are adopted by the Legislature, those of use who care will continue to be unable to tell the bad guys from the really bad guys.

Carl Parker has practiced law in Port Arthur since 1958. He is a 1958 graduate of the University of Texas School of Law. Elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1962 and the Senate in 1976, Parker continued to practice law while writing and sponsoring hundreds of bills that became laws relating to every aspect of life in Texas, including many regarding consumer safety. His e-mail is cap1934 [at] aol [dot] com.