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Scarlet Pumpkins

There will be no trick-or-treating for registered sex offenders in Maryland. The AP reports:

Sex offenders in Maryland have begun receiving paper signs in the mail that read "No candy at this residence," which they must post on their front doors or possibly face a parole violation.

The signs began arriving last week in the mailboxes of the about 1,200 violent and child-sex offenders across Maryland. The signs were accompanied by a letter explaining they must stay at home, turn off outside lights and not answer the door on Halloween.

Maryland is also distributing pamphlets statewide to warn families to stay away from homes with the pumpkin signs.

According to the story, Maryland's law is modeled on similar programs in other states, and the ACLU is challenging Missouri's equivalent law in federal court.

Matt_T:
You'd think for clarity's sake they'd choose an icon other than a pumpkin. Maybe a rusty van or a bottle of chloroform.
10.16.2008 10:30am
Angus:
The signs were accompanied by a letter explaining they must stay at home, turn off outside lights and not answer the door on Halloween.
The general idea, I think, is valid: keep dangerous child predators away from children. I have some problems with this method, though.

1. Further stigmatizes those who might be making a legitimate effort to reform themselves.
2. Seems very intrusive in dictating their behavior. What if they want to avoid the trick or treaters that night by going to the movies? By visiting a family member where there won't be trick or treaters? What if they want to have family over to their home on Halloween? What if they want to run their own damn lights on their own damn homes?
10.16.2008 10:33am
Wallace:
Why make sex offenders stay at home? Wouldn't they be better off spending Halloween at a bar, where children aren't admitted and there's plenty of witnesses to vouch that they aren't messing around with kids?
10.16.2008 10:36am
cboldt (mail):
Can they step out to extinguish the flaming bags of poo?

Is there any penalty for counterfeiting the signs and putting them up at non-offenders' homes?
10.16.2008 10:37am
Nunzio:
The ACLU doesn't believe in the right to own a handgun in the home but they want sex offenders to be able to give Halloween candy to children?

This sounds like a great threat to liberty.
10.16.2008 10:38am
Oren:
Nunzio, what's wrong with just not answering the door. Do they really have to explicitly label themselves as sex offenders?
10.16.2008 10:45am
DiverDan (mail):
There are so many problems with this, it's hard to list them all, but I'll take a stab at starting:

1. Far too many State are WAY too over-inclusive in what constitute's a "registered sex offender" -- is there REALLY any danger posed by the person who's required to register because, as a 19 year old, he had sex with his 15 year old girlfriend? Or the former female high school teacher who had an affair with a 16 year old student? Or, to cite a recent post, the 15 year old girl who sent nude photos of hereself to her boyfriend on her cell phone?

2. The Supreme Court has recognized a Constitutional right to travel - I understand limits on violent offenders who are still on parole or probation, but can a State really tell someone who has served out their sentence that they "must stay at home"? What if they have travel plans? Or just need to go to the drug store to refill a prescription? Or simply do NOT want to sit listening to their doorbell ring all night?

3. They must hang out a sign? Doesn't the First Amendment guarantee not only our right to speak, but our right to refrain from expressing views with which we disagree? By god, if the State wants to use my front door to advertise a message I disagree with, it better be prepared to pay me big time for the advertising space.

4. They must not answer the front door? You've got to be kidding - so if I happen to be a sex offender who have fully served my sentence, I can't even have a non-sex offender friend over (or throw a party for all of my sex-offender friends, who might want to defy the order not to leave their homes), because I'm not allowed to let them in? Sounds like a real problem with my freedom of association.

5. What if I was a sex offender convicted several years ago, and I fully served my sentence before this silly law was passed. By imposing a new punishment on an old offense, isn't this an ex post facto law, prohibited to the States by Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution?

I'm not usually a big fan of the ACLU, but in this case I think they have a good point. The law, unless limited to violent offenders still on probation or parole, is just too much.
10.16.2008 11:16am
fortyninerdweet (mail):
The signs [with the inappropriate icons] are unnecessary, as is the "staying at home" order.

In my view 1. No outside decorations; 2. No outside lights; 3. No answering the door; and thus 4. No handing out candy would accomplish the same goals and be less deleterious to the neighborhood - and the easiest factors on which to run enforcement spot checks.

The "staying at home" is probably designed to keep members of that class from "surfing" the neighborhood at the same time children are making their rounds. I would think general policies issued on release would cover that situation rather than making a spot rule, but what do I know?
10.16.2008 11:20am
Jerome Cole (mail) (www):
What is amazing is that the courts seem willing to tolerate almost limitless sanctions on criminals even after they have completed their sentences. I don't know if we are there yet, but eventually I think we will reach a point where directives like this will go too far and judges will finally remember the parts of the constitution about due process and ex post facto laws. If these were merely conditions of parole or probation I would not be complaining, but the lifelong disabilities faced by convicts are just insane.
10.16.2008 11:22am
Dan Weber (www):
How many kids are actually molested on Halloween? I know that this makes a great boogeyman, like wife-beaters on Superbowl Sunday, but that doesn't make it true.


and not answer the door on Halloween

What if it's the cops?
10.16.2008 11:26am
Justin (mail):
Is this their yellow ticket of leave?
10.16.2008 11:28am
Q:
DiverDan - re: 2-5, the offenders have to comply with the law or "possibly face a parole violation". You get parole only if you've not completed your sentence. As I understand it, you have very, very limited rights as a parolee (or a probationer) because, so the theory goes, the state didn't have to let you out of jail in the first place and in jail you would have practically no rights.
10.16.2008 11:42am
Jerome Cole (mail) (www):
I believe Dan is trying to make a broader point about the disabilities imposed on sex offenders and other convicts after they have completed their prison sentences and probation.
10.16.2008 11:47am
pete (mail) (www):

The signs began arriving last week in the mailboxes of the about 1,200 violent and child-sex offenders across Maryland.


If they are only mailing out 1,200 letters than that is probably a small portion of the total number of sex offenders in Maryland. So either they are probably limitiing it to the really bad ones or the ones only on parole or some combination.

That does not make it a good idea, but it makes me suspect that it is not that over inclusive of who is on the list.
10.16.2008 11:52am
trad and anon (mail):
It's blindingly obvious that the real purpose of this policy is to further stigmatize "sex offenders." The government could just require them not to answer the door for trick-or-treaters. But no, they can't stick a bowl of candy outside the door with some pumpkins and a sign that says "take one," they have to publicize their status with a government sign.

And of course this policy is being imposed without any evidence that "sex offenders" are especially dangerous on Halloween. Probably it's just another version of paranoia about the imaginary people who hand out poisoned candy to children.
10.16.2008 11:54am
Bob from Ohio (mail):

The general idea, I think, is valid: keep dangerous child predators away from children.


Is there any evidence that any of this registration/Scarlet Letter stuff has prevented a single sex crime?

Are sex crimes going down more than the overall crime rate?

It's just feel good nonsense in my view. No one will care of course because the targets are scum but it is just a waste of resources and effort. Makes good budget hearing fodder though.

BTW, how many children go Trick or Treating alone? Or without a parent?

This program is not worth even the postage costs.
10.16.2008 11:55am
A Law Dawg:

This program is not worth even the postage costs.


Don't be absurd. The program is worth its weight in political gold, especially when the taxpayer is paying the postage.
10.16.2008 12:02pm
Bruce:
Is there a big problem with kids knocking on someone's door on Halloween and being assaulted? Is it a problem that extends to non-pedophile sex offenders? This law just seems like overkill.
10.16.2008 12:17pm
FantasiaWHT:
So, is this rule in effect on Halloween, or whatever random day the local municipality happens to assign for trick-or-treating?
10.16.2008 12:30pm
Malthus:
In a Western town some decades ago, when Jews were the "witches" du jour, someone threw a brick through the only picture window in town that had a menorah on display instead of a Christmas tree. All the neighbors responded by putting menorahs in their windows.

We all need to order some of those pumpkin signs. Real Estate brokers should order hundreds and start doing a little "block busting" to make the bigots pay for their sins!
10.16.2008 12:49pm
gasman (mail):

In a Western town some decades ago, when Jews were the "witches" du jour, someone threw a brick through the only picture window in town that had a menorah on display instead of a Christmas tree. All the neighbors responded by putting menorahs in their windows.

We all need to order some of those pumpkin signs. Real Estate brokers should order hundreds and start doing a little "block busting" to make the bigots pay for their sins!


Except mistakenly being labeled a Jew right now isn't so bad. And standing up for Jews when it was dangerous at least had a greater virtue because the Jews were innocent victims. I'll stand up for an unpopular group to protect all of our rights when necessary. But there are so many rights being potentially trampled that we have to be selective in how we spend our efforts; RSOs currently suffer a severe public image problem that is quite fairly earned by them. Discrimination for character flaws and past behaviors is one of the principles of a well ordered society. (i.e. shunning has been used since the dawn of mankind to straighten out social outliers who would act to harm the social group)

For at least some and perhaps many RSOs there is no virtue in sticking one's neck out. Wear jeans if your gay day - fine; wear jeans if you're a sex offender day - I'll be in corduroy. They all are guilty of something, and it is only by degree that the action in question (label on the door) is disproportionate, though not wholly unjust.
10.16.2008 2:34pm
Xanthippas (mail) (www):
Nunzio,

I'd like to see where you get the ridiculous idea that the ACLU "doesn't believe in the right to own a handgun in the home", given this.
10.16.2008 3:32pm
Xanthippas (mail) (www):
Also, we should be honest about why sex offender laws like this get passed; sex offenders (of all stripes, and not just pedophiles) are an easy target for politicians who want to appear tough on crime. And people like Nunzio are exactly who they have in mind.
10.16.2008 3:33pm
cls (mail):
Anyone who assumes that RSOs have earned their status is not paying attention. The laws today are so broad that what was considered relatively normal behaviour now classifies one as a sex offender. Teens having consenting sex with one another are sex offenders. A teen who streaks a school event "subjected children to nudity" and can be forced to be RSO. Taking a leak in an alley has people listed. Having had gay sex when it was illegal had people listed as RSOs. The girl who took the nude photo of herself could be foreced to register. Proscutors subjected two young kids to the threat of registration for having sex claiming they engaged in mutual molestation.

Some state, such as California, now define non-violent molestation as violent based, not on any level of violence, but on the age of the child. A completely non-violent individual can thus be listed as a violent sex offender for government purposes.

Most therapists say that increased levels of stress for true offenders, as opposed to those merely labeled as such by government editc, make it more likely that they will reoffend. The politicians are pushing through measures which are meant to increase the stress offenders feel. They make it harder for them to find employment, harder to find a home, harder to remain with their family. Many have been made legally homeless and we have a whole camp of them underneath a bridge as it was the only place in the area where they could legally live. Officials put a generator there so they can recharge their ankle bracelets. Over and over the State increases the level of stress on offenders. The net result is an increased likelihood of reoffending.

In addition large numbers now just vanish and assume new identities since it is the only way to survive. The result is that more and more RSOs are disappearing leading to less tracking of offenders not more.

i knew a RSO who had consenting sex with a teen -- it would be legal in most of the US but not in California. I read his probation requirements. It restricted him to one small town and stipulated he couldn't live in any neighborhood with children -- even though his "victim" wasn't a child. It was impossible. He decided he'd go back to jail, skipped out on his registration and went to see a dying grandmother (which he was forbidden to do). He was arrested there, tried to kill himself before they nabbed him as well but failed. The grandmother died shortly after. He's back in prison and I doubt he'll survive or ever be free. Had he lived in another state it wouldn't have been a legal matter at all. I believe California spends about $3,000 per month to incarcerate him. And based on the numbers of police that were dispatched when he disappeared they probably blew a year's worth of prisons costs just to nab him. Yet he has to be the most harmless person you could meet and his "victim" could have beat the crap out of him had they wished to do so -- but they didn't want to do so and didn't see themselves as a victim.

The yellow star, I mean pumpkin on the door, is just another measure to increase stress and encourage harassment of these people. In addition it makes it easier for vigilantes to hunt them down and kill them (as has happened in several states). Worse it inflicts a huge amount of harm on innocent people -- such as family members who live in the home, or people who move into the house unaware that the address is listed on sex offender data lists on the internet. And since the government is very slow in updating that list people who have moved into such homes unaware have also been vandalized, harassed and attacked.

This whole sex offender business is a politically created disaster and a perfect example of how self-servicing politicians can create populat programs that are harmful.
10.16.2008 4:32pm
pete (mail) (www):

Anyone who assumes that RSOs have earned their status is not paying attention. The laws today are so broad that what was considered relatively normal behaviour now classifies one as a sex offender.


The Maryland RSO site seems to distinguish between the different types of offenders.

They have "child sex offenders", "offenders", "sexually violent offenders", and "sexually violent predators". This website and the other sex registration sites I have looked at generally state what they were convicted of.
10.16.2008 4:47pm
Joe Hiegel:
I suspect cheap guys (or ladies, but I imagine that it's usually single guys who are disinclined to partake of candy-giving) everywhere are considering putting up the sign and accepting the stigma associated, rightly or wrongly, with one's being a registered sex offender in order to avoid having to shell out ten dollars for some un-fun size Kit Kats.
10.16.2008 4:47pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
In a Western town some decades ago, when Jews were the "witches" du jour, someone threw a brick through the only picture window in town that had a menorah on display instead of a Christmas tree. All the neighbors responded by putting menorahs in their windows.
Well, not so much "decades ago" as 1993.
10.16.2008 5:42pm
Jonathan Abolins (mail) (www):
The linked news story included a graphic of the "no candy" sign. Now that the story's readers know what the official sign looks like, it's easy to do some mischief.

The trickster makes copies of the sign, using the graphic from the news story. Sticks the printouts on doors of non-RSOs. For folks who read the story about the "no candy" signs requirement for RSOs, it will look like the resident is an RSO and, if answering the door, appear as a non-compliant RSO. Nasty.

Variant: Remove the real "no candy" sign from a real RSOs door and see if the RSO gets in trouble for not having the sign up. How does the RSO prove he did put up the sign?

These examples are NOT to encourage mischief but to show why it would have been simpler and less trouble prone to require the RSOs not to answer the door, not to put up decorations, etc. This keeps the kids away from the RSO but not as likely to get non-RSOs pegged as RSOs.
10.16.2008 5:46pm
Sarah (mail) (www):
You'd think there'd be at least ten to twenty better ideas than this one.

I also think it's worth pointing out that the program outlined in the article doesn't have anything to do with the only quote from an official connected to said program, as far as I can tell:

"Our goal is public safety, and in keeping with that we need to make sure that the individuals under our supervision are provided with the enhanced supervision that we're committed to."

Because ordering my neighbor to put up a sign that effectively says "please harass me" and further ordering him to stay put is going to increase public safety and improve the supervision by parole authorities?

I also like the "concern about sex offenders" line from the letter -- because nothing reduces parental concerns than big honking "A SEX OFFENDER LIVES HERE, RUN AWAY!" notice from the government on a door they walk by on Halloween.
10.16.2008 6:56pm
TomHynes (mail):
"No Candy at This Residence" T-shirts are now available at cafepress.com

www.cafepress.com/TomHynes

Do you think Maryland sales will be huge?
10.16.2008 7:26pm
LarryA (mail) (www):
What if I was a sex offender convicted several years ago, and I fully served my sentence before this silly law was passed. By imposing a new punishment on an old offense, isn't this an ex post facto law, prohibited to the States by Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution?
See: Lautenberg Amendment, the 1996 law which prohibited anyone with any misdemeanor family violence conviction, including those convicted decades before the law passed, from possessing a firearm. A lot of cops and soldiers lost their careers over that one.
and not answer the door on Halloween What if it's the cops?
You don't have to answer a battering ram.
10.16.2008 8:25pm
Bleepless:
Are they sex offenders or "sex offenders"? trad and anon choose the latter, indicating linguistically that they do not believe it. I am curious to know why.
10.16.2008 10:01pm
PDXLawyer (mail):
Bleepless: I'll give you my take on "sex offenders." Sure, a few Registered Sex Offenders are pedophiles or violent rapists. Many, however, are not.

I had a client who was a Registered Sex Offender because she had been, 20 years ago, a prostitute/bookkeeper and was convicted of being a pimp. The actual owner of the "massage parlor" reached a deal not to contest the civil forfeiture of the building, and wasn't charged.

The definitions here are *very* broad. For example, in Oregon a person is a "sex offender" if they are found guilty of sexual misconduct, a Class C misdemeanor. ORS 181.594(4)(n). An 18 year old girl who has sex with her 17 year old boyfriend would be guilty of sexual misconduct. ORS 163.445. The statutory maximum jail term for a Class C misdemeanor is 30 days.

If the term "sex offender" were limited to the worst crimes, it would be a lot less troubling. Or, if there were some half-way reasonable classification sysem, with the highest levels of supervision focused on the worst class of offenders it would at least make sense. Right now we treat the guy who had sex with his 17 year old girlfriend 20 years ago (and got probation) the same as the guy paroled last year after serving 30 years for the violent rape of a 7 year old. Its just nuts.
10.17.2008 12:34am
TruePath (mail) (www):
This measure seems like one of the more reasonable ones in this area (not that this makes it reasonable). I mean compared to the blatant selfish stupidity in passing crazy harsh sentences for mere possesion of child porn or continually upping the penalties for molestation when there is reason to believe this may put more children at risk this isn't such a big deal.

At least when they were thinking of introducing those crazy living restrictions on sex offenders and crazily harsher punishments in california the experts were pointing out that these really harsh punishments tended to make people less likely to report their friends and family members, and they are responsible for like 99% of the molestations. We might not like it but the truth is that people are more likely to convince themselves that Uncle joe isn't doing anything if they think going to the authorities might send him to the slammer for life if they are right and ruin him even if they are wrong.

Moreover, when you deny people social support networks there is plenty of evidence they are more likely to reoffend. This is particularly relevant to the issue of child porn where you will often have people with good jobs and good support networks suddenly losing these advantages as a result of mere possesion of child porn. It seems quite probable that this sort of enforcement actually makes these individuals much more likely to graduate to molestation now that they have much less to lose.

I could go on pointing out the potential ways these harsh reactions might actually put children at greater risk but what's really disgusting about this whole thing is that most of the people demanding we implement these punitive measures apparently care more about feeling righteous than about putting in the effort to actually think through what would minimize the number of molestations.

Frankly, I couldn't say whether this measure is good or bad and many others I'm not sure about but I'm dead sure that the political support for this didn't come because people heard compelling evidence of efficacy.
10.17.2008 3:22am
Happyshooter:
Nunzio,

I'd like to see where you get the ridiculous idea that the ACLU "doesn't believe in the right to own a handgun in the home",


Nice try.
ACLU National Policy # 47 (guns) footnote:

When the Board adopted the June 1979 policy, it was
suggested that it was unclear as to whether or not the ACLU supported gun
control as a civil liberties matter, or simply did not oppose government
regulation on this issue. In order to clarify this question, the following
sentence was added to paragraph three of the policy as a footnote. "It is the
sense of this body, that the word 'justifies' in this policy means we will
affirmatively support gun control legislation."
10.17.2008 10:45am
pete (mail) (www):

At least when they were thinking of introducing those crazy living restrictions on sex offenders and crazily harsher punishments in california the experts were pointing out that these really harsh punishments tended to make people less likely to report their friends and family members, and they are responsible for like 99% of the molestations. We might not like it but the truth is that people are more likely to convince themselves that Uncle joe isn't doing anything if they think going to the authorities might send him to the slammer for life if they are right and ruin him even if they are wrong.


Its not quite 99%, but it is still a large majority. Stranger abuse makes bigger news stories, but most abusers are blood relatives, step dads, step brothers, or mom's boyfriend.

Also the reason many people are reluctant to report abuse is that the abuser is either a person they are responsible for (a child abusing a sibling/cousin) or someone who provides a large chunk of family income (mom's boyfriend). If the abuser goes to jail their goes the rent money or else you are possibly sending your own child to jail.
10.17.2008 11:28am
SC Public Defender:
Here in SC Probation is making the sex offenders come into the office on Halloween until midnight.
10.19.2008 4:20am