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  • Registered sex offenders free to relocate

    The News Enterprise

    HARDIN COUNTY – Thanks to Kentucky’s high court, most of Hardin County’s 148 registered sex offenders can now reside wherever they choose, regardless of their home’s proximity to schools, daycares and playgrounds.

    That is, for now, anyway.

    Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway vows to challenge Kentucky Supreme Court’s Oct. 1 ruling that says Kentucky’s sex offender residency restrictions cannot apply to persons convicted prior to July 2006, when the law was enacted.

    The law under question kept all registered sex offenders, from those guilty of statutory rape to those convicted of child molestation, from living within 1,000 feet of places where children congregate, such as playgrounds, schools and daycares.

    The Court, in a 5-2 vote, declared that law unconstitutional and punitive, finding retroactive residence restrictions a form of “ex post facto punishment,” violating Article I, Section 10, of the U.S. Constitution.

    “The flaw is that residence restrictions are even less like civil commitment than they are like banishment,” the Court’s opinion states. “The majority also finds (the law) excessive because the restricted areas can change as protected sites come and go.”

    This month’s decision was made after Kenton County prosecutors appealed a judge’s decision to dismiss charges against a man’s appeal for allegedly violating the residency rules.

    Michael Baker was arrested in February 2007 after probation and parole officers found he lived too close to a public park. The alleged offense occurred 12 years after Baker pleaded guilty to a third-degree rape.

    Kenton District Judge Martin Sheehan dismissed the charges and gave strong arguments to support his decision.

    Sheehan opined the restrictions were ineffective at doing what they were intended to do: protect children.

    He pointed out that most sex offenses against children are committed by family members or trusted friends of the family. The residency restrictions, he said, do not address that problem.

    The restrictions keep registered sex offenders from residing near schools and parks, but fail to keep pedophiles, or any other offender, from stalking a school or ambushing a child in a park.

    Despite Sheehan’s reasoning behind the decision, prosecutors appealed the dismissal and the case fell on the laps of Kentucky’s Supreme Court.

    After review, five Justices agreed with Sheehan, but Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. and Justice Lisabeth Hughes Abramson did not.

    With the majority winning, Sheehan’s opinion was supported.

    What does it all mean?

    As a result of the ruling, residency restrictions forbidding registered offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a place where children congregate can not be enforced on those convicted before July 2006.

    Generations from now the law will apply to all, but for now, it applies to a small percentage of all registered offenders.

    A variety of criminal charges are reflected by Kentucky’s Sex Offender Registry. Not all persons on the list are pedophiles or violent rapists. Many on the list, including most female offenders, have been ordered to register as a result of having consensual sex with a teenager.

    Because of that, the change in residency restrictions will affect thousands statewide – allowing them to move into close proximities of schools, daycares and parks.

    About 1,000 registered sex offenders living in Hardin and the seven surrounding counties will be able to do the same, if they someday decide to relocate.

    The law will no longer apply to about 120 of Hardin County’s 148 registered sex offenders, since only a few dozen were convicted after July 2006.

    Is that it? Is it final?

    The decision could be overturned by a higher court, or after another review by the same panel.

    “The Attorney General is very concerned about impact on public safety as a result of this ruling,” Conway spokeswoman Allison Martin said.

    Martin said Conway has a couple more weeks to answer with a request for a rehearing or for a review of the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

    “We may do both,” Martin said.

    Does anyone else care? Who does this affect?

    No state or county prosecutors in Hardin County would comment on the change to residency restrictions. Representatives of the local rape crisis center did not return phone calls.

    There hasn’t been a loud public outcry against the loss of residency restrictions, either.

    And no offenders are openly applauding the change.

    It seems few people in Hardin County, on either side of the issue, have been impacted by, or care much about, the residency restrictions.

    Since 2006, when tighter residency restrictions became law, only three registered sex offenders living in Hardin County have been charged with violating the rules.

    Such an offense is a Class A misdemeanor for the first offense and punishable by a maximum of 12 months in jail. A second offense is a Class D felony, enabling sentences of up to five years.

    No person in Hardin County has been charged with a felony violation of residency restrictions, but two men have done time for the misdemeanor, first-time offense.

    According to court and jail records, James Howard Larson was indicted in 2007 for violating residency restrictions. He stayed in jail until April this year, having served time for that, and other charges, according to the Hardin County Detention Center,

    In 2008, a grand jury failed to indict Edward Lee Haskins for the offense. He was accused of the crime in Hardin District Court, but grand jurors reviewing the case returned a no true bill and the charges were later dismissed.

    A third man, James T. Williams, was charged in January this year with violating the residency restrictions and for failing to provide the Kentucky Sex Offender Registry his address.

    Indicted on the charges, Williams remains behind bars. Jail staffers say the registry charge is holding him there.

    A dozen or more people are charged each year in Hardin County with failing to register addresses, far times more than those few charged with residency restriction violations.

    Enforcement

    Kentucky State Police Post 4 spokesman Trooper Bruce Reeves confirmed there have been no new directives from Frankfort on how to enforce the revised residency restrictions.

    Until now, residency restrictions haven’t been much of problem for police to enforce, according to Reeves.

    KSP is the agency responsible for maintaining the sex offender registry and, ultimately, for keeping registered sex offenders in check. Probation and parole and local police can also check on registered offenders to determine if they’re following all guidelines.

    Several years ago, Post 4 conducted a sweep to verify the addresses of registered offenders.

    Of the 1,156 offenders visited throughout Post 4’s eight-county region, only a dozen were arrested for non-compliance. Most had failed to register new addresses.

    In recent years, Reeves said residency checks are usually only done on request.

    “After taking a complaint, the state will forward to us compliance checks and we’ll go check to see if they’re actually living there,” Reeves said. “Back a couple years ago, I had a list of about 15 to check on. Out of that bunch, I only found one who was non-compliant.”

    As Sheehan mentioned in his opinion, Reeves said residency restrictions can make permanency difficult for a registered sex offender.

    “It’s kind of a tough thing,” he said. “You could have a guy establish a residence, then later on someone decides to set up a daycare or playground down the road. Where does he go?”

    Reeves emphasized that he was not defending sex offenders, only pointing out a flaw with the law.

    What's in the backyard, around the corner?

    As of Friday, 60 of Hardin County’s 148 registered sex offenders listed the Radcliff area as their home. About, 48 registered sex offenders reside within five miles of downtown Elizabethtown, according to KSP’s Sex Offender Registry Web site.

    Persons accused but not convicted, and those serving sentences for criminal sex offenses are rarely listed on the registry. Most often, persons register upon being released from jail or prison. Many registered are on supervised release.

    Offenders can be required to register with KSP’s Sex Offender Registry for 10 or 20 years, or even life. The duration depends on the offense.

    Due to that, offenders are falling off, and being added to the registry on a regular basis.

    According to Kentucky State Police records, there are 28 more registered sex offenders living in Hardin County in October 2009, than there were in September 2007.

    How to learn more about the registry

    Kentucky’s Sex Offender Registry has been accessible via the Internet since 2004.

    Since, the site has had more than 2 million visitors.

    A link to the registry is available at www.kentuckystatepolice.org.

    The information on the site is not guaranteed accurate and police warn visitors that using the information to harass or harm a registered sex offender is a crime.

    The site enables visitors to search for registered offenders within specific distances of an address, by county, by city or by Zip Code.

    An option on the site allows the visitor to print out posters of each offender. Links are also provided to enable the visitor to learn more about the crime the registered offended was convicted of. Specific case information is not available via the site.
    It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.

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