Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Online list of
sex offenders

Lingle signs a law establishing
a larger registry of ex-convicts

With three children already and a fourth due in July, Honolulu resident Gaylene Chun thanked Gov. Linda Lingle yesterday for signing into law a bill that dramatically increases the number of convicted sex offenders listed on the state's online Megan's Law registry.

1,417 names listed

More about the State Sex Offender Registry:


Chun, a sex abuse survivor, was among those who testified in support of the proposal as it advanced through the Legislature.

"I feel safer," said Chun, 36. "It is something we plan to use in the future."

After the governor signed the bill yesterday, the number of convicted sex offenders listed online jumped to 1,417 from 74.

There are about 2,100 registered sex offenders in the state, according to Attorney General Mark Bennett. Those not listed online include:

» About 300 whose offenses are less serious and whose information is available at the attorney general's Criminal Justice Data Center and police stations.
» About 300 others whose cases are being worked on to determine if they meet the new standards for having their information posted. These cases include mostly people who moved to Hawaii, Bennett said.
» About 100 who have committed only single misdemeanor offenses and are not required to have their information made public.

The new law is the result of a constitutional amendment approved by voters last year that allowed the Legislature to determine which convicted offenders can be listed on the Internet registry without a public hearing.

Previously, the state Supreme Court had ruled that all sex offenders must be given a hearing to present their case as to why they should not be listed in the online registry.

Under the new law, the most violent sex offenders are to be listed in the online database for life. For lesser offenses, depending on the severity, an offender would have to wait from 10 to 40 years for removal from the list.

"Something that we felt was very important was that public access terminates for no one without a court finding that it ought to happen," Bennett said. "The interest of the public will always be represented before public access can terminate for anyone."

Information available online includes an offender's photograph, home and work addresses, conviction and status of appeal.

Opponents of the law include the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and the Office of the Public Defender, which say more treatment programs are needed for sex offenders.

The ACLU submitted testimony to lawmakers citing studies in Washington and Iowa that showed notification laws had little impact on preventing sex offenders from committing new crimes.

Deputy Public Defender Susan Arnett said yesterday that registry laws such as Hawaii's with strict, "Draconian" monitoring provisions can also have the effect of driving some offenders underground.

"There are real concerns that because they do things like publicize someone's address ... that people cannot rent apartments, or their ability to buy homes -- assuming they have the means to do so -- may be affected," Arnett said. "If we create a situation where these people can't get jobs or can't get homes, they are going to stop reporting.

"I hope that what doesn't happen is that we have offenders who drop off the radar screen."

The law requires offenders to verify their registry information every three months and report to the police every five years to get a new photograph taken. Offenders who do not "substantially" comply with reporting requirements could forfeit their right to eventually be removed from the registry.

Despite the lack of statistics showing whether reporting laws are effective, the Lingle administration firmly believes that the new law will better protect Hawaii residents, Bennett said.

"How do you demonstrate that a parent who learns that a sex offender is living across the street and tells their child, 'Don't talk to that man, don't go by that house' -- how can you demonstrate that because of that, that child avoided getting raped or murdered?" Bennett said. "That statistic doesn't show up anywhere."

With the governor's signature, Senate Bill 708, Conference Draft 1, becomes Act 45 of 2005.

E-mail to City Desk


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- http://archives.starbulletin.com