Wisconsin Statute Requires Non-Sex Criminals to Register with Sex Offender Registry
I've written a fair amount about the hysteria surrounding allegations of sexual offenses against children. Most of that has concerned the way in which prosecutors and mental health professionals questioned children back in the 80s and 90s. Those methods produced some of the most alarming and patently false allegations imaginable and not a few of them sent innocent adults to prison for years and even decades. So outrageous were those methods that they eventually spawned protocols and an entire area of expertise in which the proper questioning of young children is taught. But this is the United States and that means that hysteria about sex is still with us (and perhaps always will be). So we've been treated over the years to events like the Great Internet Child Sex Predation Scandal that Wasn't. That was the theory that the Internet would be used by pedophiles to lure children into sexual misadventures. The Department of Justice checked that one out and found it to be essentially a non-existent threat. That didn't stop the feds and states from passing laws punishing child porn on the Internet aimed at those same or similar pedophiles. To no one's great surprise, those laws have swept up at least as many innocent children and adults as they have guilty ones. Let a teenage girl doff her top and send her boyfriend a photo via her cellphone and presto! she's committed a felony. If he sends it along to a friend, he's in the soup too. Last year a school principal became aware that one of his students had such an image on a cell phone; as part of his investigation of the situation, he made the mistake of having a student transfer the image to him via the Internet. Sure enough, he was charged with a felony and almost lost his job due to his attempt to put a stop to exactly what the laws are concerned with. Then there are sex offender registries like the one in California that, once a person is put on it, he she can't get off even if proven to be innocent of the offense that put them on it. That particular glitch in the system has been ruled by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to be a violation of the constitutional rights of innocent people. Innocent Californians can therefore sue the state for damages which means the taxpayers of the state get to foot the bill. Still, the state hasn't changed its laws. In Kansas, a couple of years ago, a man was driving his car on a busy thoroughfare. He spotted a young girl about to step out into traffic. He stopped, jumped out of his car, pulled her back to safety and gave her a brief lecture about paying more attention to what she was doing. His reward? He was convicted of the crime of falsely imprisoning the girl, but that wasn't all. His conviction placed him on the state's sex offender registry. It seems that the legislature considers restraining the liberty of a minor (who is not the adult's son or daughter) to be not only a crime, but a sex crime. How the wise public servants in the legislature figure that, I'll never know. Perhaps they simply took a lesson from the Wisconsin legislature. That state has a remarkably similar statute, Wisconsin Statute 301.45 that states that it's a sex crime for a person who is not the child's parent to falsely imprison or kidnap that child. And the Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled the law to be constitutional here. In the case of State vs. James W. Smith, the defendant had assisted a friend in attempting to collect a drug debt from a minor. That meant taking the minor "for a ride" and threatening dire consequences for failure to pay. Nothing of a sexual nature occurred, but false imprisonment did. Therefore Smith is on the state's sex offender registry to stay and it's all OK with the Supreme Court. This case deals with two subsections of Wisconsin's criminal law as they relate to its sex offender registry. The state legislature should amend that statute so that only people who have actually committed some sort of sexual wrong can be placed on the sex offender registry. That's just common sense. The social stigma and the very real danger of vigilante violence against people whose names appear on sex offender registries are far too important for state officials to play fast and loose with who must register. Perhaps more importantly, according to the Wisconsin Supreme Court's reasoning, the legislature could deem any offense worthy of registration with the sex offender registry. Failure to leash your dog, pay your taxes or refrain from smoking in a public building and you could be constitutionally placed on a sex offender registry. Decoupling registration as a sex offender from any actual sex offense is (a) absurd, (b) dangerous to the registrant, (c) pointless and (d) detrimental to whatever legitimate function the registry serves. A tendency of governments is to increase their power over the people they govern. The Founding Fathers of this country understood that basic concept. It's being played out before our eyes every day, and the Wisconsin statute is no exception.