Thursday, November 22, 2001

Ruling deletes
sex crime Web list

The state Supreme Court decision
means communities will no longer
be able to know whether a
sex offender is moving in nearby

By Rosemarie Bernardo

Information on convicted sex offenders will no longer be available to the public after the state Supreme Court struck down Hawaii's registration law yesterday as unconstitutional.

"These are people who already paid a debt to society," said Brent White, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union.

When the information is posted on the state Web site, sex offenders are branded with "the scarlet letter," White said.

Anyone who wanted to check on whether a sex offender lived or worked near their neighborhood were able to find the information on the Hawaii Sex Offender Registry Web site or in listings at police stations.

About 4:45 p.m. yesterday the Web site was shut down.

"I'm glad the state acted quickly to take it down," White said.

Eto Bani, who pleaded no contest to sexual assault in the fourth degree in grabbing the buttocks of a 17-year-old girl in Waikiki, contended the statute violated his constitutional right to procedural due process, his constitutional right to privacy, prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, and right to equal protection of the law.

The opinion by Associate Justice Mario Ramil issued yesterday said Bani's right to due process was violated: "The absence of any procedural safeguards in the public notification provision of (the law) renders the statute unconstitutional, void and unenforceable."

City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle said: "The Legislature in this state and in many other states weighed in favor of public safety.

"That safety was essentially given to the public on who was a sex offender and where they live. That safety is now no longer existent."

The Bani ruling applies to Hawaii's version of Megan's Law, which has been enacted in 50 states. The law was named after 7-year-old Megan Kanka, who was raped and murdered by a repeat sex offender who lived near her home in New Jersey.

Carlisle said, "The whole purpose of Megan's Law was the commonplace notion, To be forewarned is to be forearmed."

Based on the ruling, the state is no longer allowed to give notice to the community on whether a person is a sex offender unless the state Legislature comes up with a "procedural safety," Carlisle said.

He added such a safeguard is a hearing where defendants would be able to argue whether they pose a threat to the community.

Though the public notification of convicted sex offenders has been struck down by the court, all are still required to register with the state and law enforcement officials.

"If we're not allowed to give that information to the public, then the public no longer has that protection," Carlisle said.

White said, "People have a right to show that they don't belong on the list of sex offenders and they do not pose a danger to the community."

State legislators enacted the Sex Offender Registry in 1997. The public was able to be access a Web site of listed sex offenders in August of last year. By a ZIP code and street search, the Web site listed information on all sex offenders who lived or worked in a specific area. The person's name, photo and sex crimes were posted on a Web site.

From August 2000 to January 2001, the sex offender Web site received 2.5 million "hits."

Within that time, more than 1,500 names were listed in the registry.

Gov. Ben Cayetano said the Legislature needs to fix the law in next year's session to restore the registration and notification program.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2001 Honolulu Star-Bulletin