There are times in this country where well-meaning laws go way, way too far.
Where a good idea ends up doing nearly as much harm as good.
Today I’m all ticked off because of a series of stories I’ve read about how teenagers who had consensual sex with other teenagers are often treated like pedophiles and rapists.
I’m talking about the sex offender laws that punish some truly innocent people. In our efforts to keep creepy men away from touching small boys and girls, we’ve swept up into a net people who are far, far from a danger to kids.
Let’s take this case from Ann Arbor, Mich. that was reported on www.annarbor.com this week. Twenty-three-year-old Matthew Freeman is now facing one year in jail. Why? He played basketball within 400 feet of a school. In his own driveway.
This is a crime in Freeman’s case because in 2003, at age 17, he was convicted of fourth-degree sexual assault for having consensual sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend. That conviction required him to spend 10 years on the state’s sex offender list.
Or how about, in another extreme case, authorities in Georgia trying to evict a man with Alzheimer’s from a hospice, because he’s a sex offender and the hospice is within 1,000 feet of a church?
Or better still, how about the case of Fitzroy Barnaby, a 28-year-old man from Evanston, Ill. who’s on the sex offender list after while driving his car, he nearly hit a teen pedestrian. Barnaby got out of the car and grabbed the girl’s arm to talk to her, she called the police, and suddenly a jury finds him guilty of unlawful restraint of a minor, which puts him on the sex offender list.
This is insanity, people. There are absolutely good reasons to have these laws on the books, since there are so many perverts, pedophiles and sex criminals out there. But there has to be wiggle room and extenuating circumstances, and flexibility, in these laws. Branding someone a sex offender is worse, in many ways, than calling him or her a murderer.
They can be ostracized from their friends, their community, and their life can be made a living hell. To simply lump a teenager who had sex with his girlfriend in with pedophiles is wildly wrong.
Laws must be changed to allow for the discretion of judges, juries and state officials who maintain “sex offender lists.”
The culture of fear has overtaken common sense far too often in these cases, with innocent people doing time they don’t deserve.