Sex Offenders Law, Supreme Court Rules On A Myth?

By Nethani Palmani | Mar 07, 2017 08:52 AM EST

A lawyer pointed out that the American jurisprudence concerning sex offenders law come from an offhand, fallible statement of a mass-market magazine for the general public. Lawyer Robert C. Montgomery was defending a North Carolina statute that bars sex offenders from using Facebook, Twitter and other social media services.

The Supreme Court noted the risk that sex offenders will commit new crimes is "frightening and high." According to the Legal Information Institute, the phrase has been exceptionally influential in more than 100 lower-court opinions and has helped justify sex offender registration laws that effectively banish registered sex offenders from many activities of every day life.

However, there is little evidence to the Supreme Court's claim that convicted sex offenders commit new offenses at very high rates. The claim behind the notion comes from a 1986 article in Psychology Today, a magazine written for the general audience.

The authors of a counseling program made the said statement, hoping it would be good for business. "Most untreated sex offenders released from prison go on to commit more offenses - indeed, as many as 80 percents do," the article said, without proper evidence or elaboration.

In reality, 1.3 percent of people convicted of other kinds of crimes were arrested for sex offenses three years after release from prison, compared to 5.3 percent of sex offenders. Those findings are consistent with seven reports obtained from various states, according to Scotus Blog, which indicated people convicted of sex crimes committed new sex offenses at rates of 1.7 percent to 5.7 percent in time periods between 3 to 10 years.

The number the Justice Department reported pertaining the rise of new sex offenses by convicted sex offenders is 27 percent over 20 years. Although the number is significant, it is nothing like 80 percent as what the article describes.

While the constitutional question in the case is interesting and substantial, judges and lawmakers would have been better served by basing their judgments on the most reliable data. Looking at the data at this point of time, would now allow the court to consider more carefully its casual assertion that sex offenders are especially dangerous.

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