Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hysteria 101

"When planning a purchase to buy or build a new home, the first place a parent needs to research is the registered sex offender registry site provided by the government. It is free. The following link will show you detailed information on sex offenders who reside in your neighborhood. Be sure to check this site monthly. See"

Wow. When my kids were young and we were on the market for a home, the first thing we researched was the school system. But we hadn't made a vocation of hysteria. Times have changed. Read more here:

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"Fiddle About" at the Super Bowl?

If there is a God, and if that God has a wicked sense of humor, the following lyrics will be sung at this year's half-time performance at the Super Bowl.

"I'm your wicked Uncle Ernie
I'm glad you won't see or hear me
As I fiddle about ....

"Your mother left me here to mind you
Now I'm doing what I want to
As I fiddle about ....

"Down with the bedclothes
Up with the nightshirt....

"You won't shout as I fiddle about."

The lyrics come from a song named, appropriately enough, "Fiddle About." The song is part of a rock opera called Tommy, performed by The Who, who have, as you have no doubt heard by now, been invited to perform at the half-time show in this year's Super Bowl.

Only there is a hitch. Pete Townsend, guitarist and chief song writer for the Who, was required for a time to register as a sex offender in Great Britain. It turns out that he once accessed child pornography. And although he is now off the the British sex offender registry, Florida law -- the Super Bowl will be played in Miami this year -- requires that he present himself to law enforcement to register upon arrival in the Sunshine State.

Townsend was convicted of accessing a child porn site in 2003. He claims he was viewing material for research. From 2003 to 2008 he was registered as a sex offender in Britain. In Florida, he is still regarded as such.

Child Abuse Watch and Protect Our Children are raising Hell with the NFL, the state of Florida and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and anyone else who will listen. How was a pervert permitted entry to the US? Shouldn't Florida take Townsend into custody immediately upon his entry into the state? How could the NFL so undermine family values?

This is all hysterical gibberish. Even if Townsend looked at some pictures, it does not make him a danger. The law prohibits viewing these pictures for two reasons: first, the fear that viewing them encourages a market for new images, thereby placing children at risk; and, second, the fear, unproven, that looking at pictures is but a prelude to greater harm. I suppose there will soon come a day in which acts of violence cannot be shown on the silver screen, either, for fear that will inspire others to copy the violence, therefore causing harm to others.

Pete Townsend viewed prohibited images. He was convicted of a crime. Deterrence was served. But he is not a moral leper, any more than are the thousands of other folks who now bear a scarlet SO on their foreheads. The NFL had the good sense to see through the hysteria. It invited a talented musician to play at the Super Bowl.

Tommy has sold millions of records and CDS. Fiddle About is known to most Americans over the age of 50. I'd love to see The Who perform that piece at the Super Bowl. It might just help pop the bubble of hysteria that suffocates each person convicted of a so-called sex crime in the United States. Performing the piece would certainly go a long way toward demonstrating our sexophrenia: when it comes to sex, we just can't decide whether to love it or hate it.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Night of the Living Dead, Maryland Style ...

The murder of 11-year-old Sarah Haley Foxwell in Maryland is already the stuff of legend. Two days before Christmas, the child turned up missing. Her aunt, with whom she lived, had briefly dated a sex offender. As the frantic residents of Salisbury searched for her, panic spread: 3,000 people combed through neighboring fields and forests. She was found dead on Christmas day.

A report in the Baltimore Sun two days after the murder was almost as disturbing as the murder itself. Outraged citizens demand immediate action; exhausted law men forego sleep as they stalk every lead. Lawmakers are quick to demand new laws. No one seems willing to stop to think about the obvious: rage, grief and fear are not the stuff of sound public policy.

Ms. Foxwell is believed to have been murdered by Thomas James Leggs Jr. But as of the day the Sun wrote, Leggs had not been charged with the killing. He was being held without bail. Leggs was convicted of third degree sexual assault in 1998 and, according to the Sun, was designated a "high risk" sex offender for the "rape of a minor" in 2001.

His record is troubling, but it is hard to know just how bad it is. Legg is now 30; in 2001, he would have been 21. The "rape" of a minor may well have been sexual contact with a child too young as a matter of law to give consent. The Sun simply doesn't give any report about the man's sexual history beyond mere incantation.

Legg's reord is enough to for the likes of Jerry Norton, who heads Citizens for Jessica's Law in Maryland. Norton was pestering lawmakers by telephone on Saturday.

"My heart goes out to the friends and family of this 11-year-old child," he said. "We need to make it clear to citizens of Maryland that we are not going to let these pedophiles molest our children with just a slap on wrist. We're tired of these watered-down sentences -- they come out and do it again."

"What . . . is he doing back out on the street, and what is he doing having contact with this child?" he said. "I think the problem is with these guys going through a revolving door."

Maryland lawmakers are already behaving as though they have won a libidinal lottery ticket. State Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R-Harford) is screaming for blood. She intends to "go ... as far we can" in tough new laws to crack down on sex offenders. Jacobs co-sponsored Maryland's version of Jessica's Law, a bill passed in 2006 that set sentencing guidelines for child sex offenders. The legistation was named for another child martyr, a 9-year-old Florida girl who was kidnapped, sexually abused and killed by a convicted child sex offender. On the legislative docket: abandoning parole of sex offenders, limitations on plea bargaining and permitting wiretapping of suspected sex offenders.

This is not responsible lawmaking. It is pandering to the lowest common denominator in a community torn asunder by grief. In the wake of the great pain and grief caused by the murder of young Miss Foxwell, it is understandable that folks want to rush to do something, anything, to make sure such a crime never happens again. But mass hysteria isn't a reasoned response to evil. Maryland lawmakers resemble nothing so much today as cast members of the old horror film, "Night of the Living Dead." They stumbled along in a twilight of grief, blindly lashing out at phantoms.

Every time the murder of a child becomes national news, we get harsh new laws. There's Megan's Law, Jessica's Law, the Adam Walsh Act, and still Sarah Haley Foxwell was murdered. When will lawmakers learn that throwing printer's ink in the form of new laws at recent grief merely yields a different sort of grief, one visited upon countless others dragged within in the hideous net of overbroad laws passed by folks behaving as though they were at a wake, and not attending to the serious business of passing law.

More and tougher laws about sex offenders will not prevent the abuse of children. Another tragic death is always a heart beat away. The grim logic of those who think we can legislate our way to safety forget the obvious truth that laws are only as good as the people who make them. When hysterics make the rules, everyone gets hurt.

Mourn Sarah Haley Foxwell. Weep over the loss of her life and our lost innocence. But before we pass another law on sex offenders won't someone please stop to think about whether the laws already on the books are doing more harm than good.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

When Even Your Adversaries Agree ...

A week or so ago, I wrote about a child sex case I had recently tried and lost. The case was terrifying. A girl claimed her uncle had fondled her when she was between the ages of 7 and 10. She first made these allegations when she was a teenager. She testified against my client when she was seventeen.

My client denied the conduct, and there was no corroboration of the girl's claims. Indeed, by the time the case went to trial, my client was unable even to recall many of the events surrounding the allegations. Small wonder. Who among us recalls all our contacts with nieces and nephews? Is it time to carry a webcam to record each and every moment we spend with a young person so as to have proof later in life that we never erred?

At trial, the state spent hours corroborating the inessential. Yes, Virginia, there was a living room, and a bed room, and a house with doors and windows, and family gatherings. The state did a masterful job of setting the scene for the allegations.

But bringing such claims a decade after the fact is simply wrong. And so is relying upon such evidentiary swill as "expert" testimony on so-called delayed disclosure and incremental disclosure of childhood memories. There is something wishy-washy about the testimony of an expert that explains away all inconsistencies. Indeed, a theory capable of explaining everything typically explains nothing much at all.

I wrote about that here and then moved on to another case.

Last week I was in several courthouses around the state meeting with prosecutors to discuss pending criminal cases. Two of them mentioned they had read my recent column, and, making sure that no one was looking, they told me they agreed. They are reluctant to use the so-called experts in these cases and they find fundamentally odd and unfair treating child sex cases as some sort of special phenomenon requiring new and relaxed rules of proof.

Neither prosecutor worked with the other. Both were in separate cities. And in neither instance did I bring up the topic, the loss and its consequences for my client are painful.

I find it hopeful that prosecutors harbor doubts about the virtual suspension of statutes of limitations in allegations of child sex. Hopeful, too, is the recognition that the recent tendency to credit virtually any such claim works a disservice to defendants, many of whom are literally blindsided a decade or so after an alleged event and have no idea what the complaining witness is talking about.

Child sex abuse is a serious issue, to be sure. No one denies that it occurs. But the latest bandwagon resembles the hysteria in Salem in the 1600s when it took but little to be accused, convicted and killed for being a witch. Too often, I suspect, child sex abuse claims are the tip of a larger iceberg. Submerged just beneath the surface are chaotic familial structures begging for release. That these forces erupt at the expense of often innocence defendants is a national tragedy we will be talking about in decades to come.

There is not a remedy for every wrong. Equity teaches that. Somehow trying to make the world safe for the fantasies of children has become a waking nightmare for many adults. I am glad that even adversaries in the courts are beginning to see this.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Oh, What A Difference A Continent Makes

Patrons at Berlin's Maison d'Envie (House of Desire) can take advantage of a unique discount when engaging the services of a prostitute. Present a bicycle helmet, padlock or bus ticket to the cashier, and get a near 15 percent discount off the full price of, et, um, well, you know.

Like most businesses in tough times, Germany's near 400,000 sex workers have been hit hard by the recession. Harried business owners are trying to find a way to keep business booming. This eco discount seems just the trick.

"The environment is on everyone's lips around here and it's pretty hard to find a parking space, so we came with the idea of an eco-discount," recports Regina Goetz, the matron in charge of the Maison d'Envie. She reports that the discount is so popular with clients that business is holding even despite the recession.

What a different a continent makes. In the United States all these folks would probably be rounded up and labelled sex offenders.
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