Controversy has always surrounded the disclosure aspects of the sex offender registration program in Chicago. To some this is nothing more than a charter for vigilantes to attack those who have already served their time. To others 730 ILCS 152/115 represents a much needed public protection mechanism in an age in which sex offenders are getting more and more egregious in their crimes. In any case the law mandates that the State Police Department maintains a sex offender database which is readily accessible on the internet. Placement on the list is restricted to certain types of offenses. Crimes against children are high up on the agenda when it comes to the registration and disclosure process.
Confronting the Constitutional Implications of the Unpalatable
From one perspective, both 730 ILCS 150/2(B) and 730 ILCS 150/2(C) are tantamount to giving vigilantes a heads-up on which people and homes to attack. Sex offenders are already a vulnerable segment of convicted felons since they face being ostracized within and outside of prison. On the other hand, the public feels that they have a right to know about a category of offending that is highly susceptible to recidivism. The criteria for addition to the list is rather harsh on offenders and includes anyone who has been convicted of commission or attempted commission of a sex offense. Even those that are not guilty by reason of insanity are included. More controversially, the provisions for inclusion cover those who are subject to a finding that is not an acquittal at a hearing for an alleged commission or attempted commission of the offense.
It is not hard to understand why civil liberties campaigners feel that the last proviso opens the way to stigmatize people who may well be innocent of the crimes of which they are accused. As an illustrative case in point, it is not uncommon for people to face historical accusations that are later found to be unsubstantiated after a long period of harassment for the victim. In any case, the registry was created as a consequence of political pressure from the legislature as opposed to any significant empirical evidence that it would reduce sex offenses in Chicago. The law enforcement agencies are not under any obligation to ascertain whether the person on the list is a current or future risk (see People vs. Minnis). All they have to do is to check whether they fall within the ambit of the list of registrable offenses. Often the conviction record is lifted wholesale without any real knowledge about the registrant.
One Purpose and Another Effect
When inquiries arise about the legal status of the register and its implication for civil liberties, the state authorities counter that the intention is merely to warn the public about general threats so that they can take precautions. Furthermore, the list is not designed to single out offenders for vigilante action. To that effect, the law has been amended to allow for the prosecution for those that use the information on the registry to commit an offense such as harassment and violence. Although the agencies make their best efforts to keep the information on the registry up to date, the website includes a specific disclaimer that they cannot vouch for the accuracy of the details. This has led some to question the wisdom of setting up such a sensitive list and then leaving things to fate as to whether the information therein is accurate. There is the unedifying spectacle of sex offenders being turned away by the police when they want to register because the official machinery is not yet prepared to take on the duties that the legislators in their wisdom have imposed on it. This is one of those laws that requires urgent review. If you need a successful attorney to represent you, contact David Freidberg Attorney at Law today at 312-560-7100.
(image courtesy of Joel Herzog)