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Stricter sex offender rules among new state laws

Posted December 1, 2008

— Sex offenders who commit certain crimes against children will face at least 25 years in prison and be required to stay registered with the state for 30 years under a new North Carolina statute that took effect Monday.

But some say part of the new rule that prohibits where convicted sex offenders can go is too vague and needs further clarification by the state Legislature.

The Jessica Lunsford Act – named for the 9-year-old former Gaston County girl who was kidnapped, raped and buried alive in 2005 by a convicted sex offender in Florida –restricts offenders from being within 300 feet of any place children gather, including playgrounds, day cares, schools and malls.

"Some of the things in there right now, I do have a concern about – the churches, the places in the malls where they may be shopping," Harrison said. "How are we going to enforce that?"

"We're getting calls from offenders who are released and want to follow the law. They don't know if they can go to a church with a day care in it," said Sarah Preston, legal counsel for the North Carolina ACLU.

The law also requires sex offenders to register with the local sheriff's office within three days of changing their address, and it also requires sex offenders who are released from prison to be monitored for life by a Global Positioning Satellite.

Other new laws require convicted sex offenders to register their e-mail addresses and other online user IDs with the state sex offender registry and make it a felony for registered sex offenders to access social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook.

Gang activity if another focus among the 25 latest statutes.

Responding to a growing gang problem in both small-town and urban areas, the Legislature agreed in July to raise penalties for what's considered gang-related crimes, such as drive-by shootings.

Anyone considered to be a gang leader – as defined by the law – or trying to threaten someone to join a gang or prevent them from leaving one, also face new felony charges, with a maximum prison term of about four years.

In the past, prosecutors and police had few enforcement options, said John Hodges, president of the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police.

"I think it gives us a little more teeth, where we can have a little more bite in prevention," said Hodges, police chief of Hope Mills, which has seen gang graffiti and interest rise among young people. "We've sought this for a long time."

Lawmakers had worked on fashioning an anti-gang bill for three years. During the same period, the Governor's Crime Commission had estimated the number of gang members in the state had risen from 8,500 to more than 14,500.

The bill with new punishments got delayed last year as some lawmakers were concerned there wasn't enough done to deal with prevention.

A companion bill approved this year and already in effect ordered local juvenile crime prevention councils and others to get more involved in youth susceptible to gang activity.

The new law also gives young people the chance to remove a first-time gang conviction from their criminal records with good behavior.

"We have a sense of balance in that we try to prevent kids from getting involved in gangs in the first place," said Sen. Malcolm Graham, D-Mecklenburg, a strong proponent of both pieces of legislation.

Responding to past and recent incidents, particularly in the South, the Legislature also agreed - starting Monday - to make it a higher grade of felony to burn a cross or hang a noose to intimidate. Cross burnings now are also illegal in any public place - before it had applied only to someone else's property or on public streets and highways.

Court clerks now also must report to a federal database the names of people who have been involuntarily committed to mental health treatment because they pose a threat to themselves or others. People identified in the database cannot purchase weapons because it's used by gun vendors when conducting background checks.

The mandatory reporting was recommended by a task force created by Attorney General Roy Cooper following the 2007 shooting rampage at Virginia Tech.

Other new laws approved by the Legislature include:

  • Expanding the state's video poker game ban to include a new form created as part of a retail promotion that allow people to play games resembling slot machines.
  • Making it a felony to stalk someone when the defendant is under a court order barred from such activity.
  • Raising the penalty for misdemeanor child abuse.
  • Stiffening the penalty for hit-and-runs in which a person suffers seriously bodily injuries.
  • Making vandalism resulting in more than $5,000 in damages a felony.
  • Strengthening the penalties for violating domestic violence protective orders.
50 Comments

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  • dirtDoktor Dec 2, 6:47 p.m.

    I guess the question is should these men be supervised and restricted based on the level of how detestable their particular sex crime was, or on the basis of their likelihood of reoffending? Peepers and flashers, though we tend to think of their crimes as less severe, have the highest rate of reoffending. While the real face of child molestation; dad, brother, live in uncle, teachers and scout leaders..., all these with stories that wrench your gut and cause the most emotional damage, have the lowest rate of reoffending. I would rather focus my resources, protecting my family, on the ones more likely to reoffend and escalate. The men and women who committed sex crimes within the family, who have admitted their fault, paid a price, gotten treatment, followed every rule for several years... I'm certainly more willing to leave them alone and let them try to make the most out of their situation. They have a heavy cross to carry.

  • ncmama82 Dec 2, 1:15 p.m.

    This topic really hits a nerve with me, my husband made the mistake when he was in his early 20's of having sex with a younger girl who said she was 18, when she revealed her age he ended it and she wanted revenge so she told her parents. He served over a year in prison and 2 yrs probation. We were married & had a son together. He is a loving devoted father (which is something he never had) and due to one phone call made by his ex gf he had to move out of our home away from my son & I for almost a year while he was dragged through the mud and went through embarrasing sex offender treatment classes and it was determined he was at no risk of re-offending. But it still doesnt change the fact the he had to live outside our home and missed so much of his sons life in just 11 months. Thats how slow the system is for offenders. There should definately be different rules on a case by case basis.

  • elatsmith Dec 2, 11:27 a.m.

    to those who feel the laws are too tough, I can see that they do hamper an indivituals life, but if they were /are sex offenders I dont really care, but I see the point. Heres one 4 u, while some of theses guys may have good points and be getting treated too harshly other known convicted admitted felon little girl molesters are living large with high ranking state jobs paid by all of us working stiffs Dr Robert C Owens makes 188,000 annually of your tax dollars and is a convicted molester, not on registry cause his crime predates the registry and since hes a rich well contacted guy his friends in state government hooked him up whereas many cant get work with relatively " minor" convictions ( not that I feel there are minor molestations, but certainly many who did less than him are fairing much worse caauise they dont have rich friends)all the info on nc medical board website. If you feel as many do that the state should not hire sex offenders please call your representative now

  • killerkestrel Dec 2, 8:48 a.m.

    http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/crimoff.htm#recidivism

    Sex offenders were about four times more likely than non-sex offenders to be arrested for another sex crime, but sex offenders were less likely than non-sex offenders to be rearrested for any offense, 43 percent of sex offenders versus 68 percent of non-sex offenders.

    And only 5.3% of sex offenders were rearrested for a new sex crime within 3 years of release, while in general 67.5% of people released from prison were rearrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within 3 years.

    This new law pushes it too far. How can ex-sex offenders be part of society if they can't be near where kids go? What if they have a kid? Never go to a museum, park, shopping mall, restaurant, etc? Do we want them on welfare or have a job?

    I know a guy who was convicted almost 10 years ago for a he said/she said with a 16 or 17 year old. He did his time, and has good ever since. We don't tell ex-drunk drivers to keep 300' away from cars or beer!

  • Eduardo1 Dec 1, 9:52 p.m.

    mf........I have to agree with you. There should be various classification for these offenders. The examples you give, should not be in the same classification as a pedophile. a) at a college frat party, The boy 19 meets a girl (is 15) looks and says she is 18 maybe even has phony ID. They have sex and get caught. He is branded for life as a sex offender. This situation is not unusual b) boy & girl same age get permission from parents to date, they have sex, same charge, same lifetime sentence. I just can not compare that to someone, who is taking pictures of my 8 year old grandson in the Men's room at Wal-Mart at the urinal or of course something more graphic, or an actual physical assault with a youth. By LAW, the examples of a and b are criminal acts, but should not carry the same lifetime shame and special laws following prison. criminals such as: robbers, muggers, rapists,car-jackers, drugs, extortionists, and so on, have freedom to assemble anywhere they choose after serving

  • MarcoPolo Dec 1, 8:57 p.m.

    I could see the advantage of new rules of the old rules were enforced. Dems like to pass useless laws.

  • bill0 Dec 1, 6:02 p.m.

    beachboater - well then, you would be wrong. According to the US department of Justice, the recidivism rate for sex offenders is 5.3%. That is in stark contrast to the average prisoner where almost 50% return to prison within 3 years on some charge.

    The reason??? almost all sex abuse is at the hands of a relative or family friend. Once your family and friends know, they are unlikely to leave you alone with kids. On the other hand, people who go to jail for drugs or violence generally come out and go right back to hanging out with the same people who were into drugs or violence. That doesn't mean that most sex offenders are "cured" in prison, but it does highlight the fact that in general, you don't need to be worried about "sexual predators" running around snatching kids and raping women. It doesn't matter if a sex offender lives on the next block as long as you aren't inviting him into your house and leaving him alone with your kids.

  • beachboater Dec 1, 5:33 p.m.

    Oh, and GoGreen, I would be more inclined to believe 100% recidivism than 0%. What do you think these guys (or gals) are thinking about while they are in prison.

  • beachboater Dec 1, 5:32 p.m.

    I think the sexual predator laws leave a lot to be desired. There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed.

    I can say with certaintly, that anyone guilty of molesting either of my daughters, or granddaughters, would have things far more important to worry about than being on the sex offender registry.

  • Dr. Dataclerk Dec 1, 4:41 p.m.

    After getting caught molesting a underage child the second time not learning nothing the first time; then the molester should be sent to prison for life with no parole. Then you can tell the child exactly where he is at behind bars.

    Parents start teaching your child right now 2 on up about the child molesters. Problem is you the parent don't want to do it or allow someone else to do it. Meanwhile, danger of molester is all around your child. Wake up parents before it is too late. Child molesters are always watching children. It could be yours.

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