Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Tracking this registered sex offender could have saved yet more lives.

On July 7, after a convicted and high risk sex offender named Joseph Edward Duncan III was named as a suspect in three murders in addtion to kidnapping and sexually assaulting two children (and later murdering one of them), I posted a question on why don't we monitor convicted sex offenders by the use of electronic tracking devices similar to what Martha Stewart has to wear (apparently to make darn sure that she doesn't slip off to Macy's and buy some silk patterns).

Today, I was reminded of this post by two news stories that came out. The first is that Martha and her lawyer have made an agreement to extend her time under house arrest. The second, and much less noticed, was a tragic story that came out of California that a fingerprint links Duncan to the murder of another child in 1997.

Duncan was first convicted of sexually assaulting a fourteen year old boy in Tacoma, Washington in 1980. So he has been on record as a dangerous sexual predator for twenty-five years now. So now that we have the technology available to keep track of his and other convicted sexual predators' movements, why are we still using it on Martha Stewart instead? I'm all for registries, but as we have been reminded tragically of late, the registries are only accurate as far as the sex offenders take the time to notify the state of. In fact, if a sex offender does move somewhere with the goal of committing a crime, it is unlikely they will update their information (which could lead to their becoming a suspect faster).

I have had feedback on this post and another one I made last Tuesday that argues that we shouldn't do this because 1) there are websites that tell people how to remove a tracking device without setting off the automatic alarm, and 2) It is an unconstitutional violation of privacy.

I disagree on both counts.

In the first case, yes, there will always be some techno wizard who will figure out how to beat anything (and maybe put it online) but that is not a reason to let go of the idea. First of all, sex offenders, aside from being predominantly male, pretty much mirror the population, and most people don't have either the technical skills nor the knowledge of these sites to be able to access them and use them. Second, no one is suggesting that we stand pat with the technology that we have now. The manufacturers of tracking devices (especially if financially motivated by the prospect of 'serving' tens of thousands of high risk level registered sex offenders) could easily enough access the websites in question themselves and make the necessary modifications to foil them. Yes, this cat and mouse game can continue endlessly, but I expect that it is a very small proportion of sex offenders indeed who are so internet savvy and handi-capable (they would need both) that they could get them off, and if I tell you that you can for sure track 99% of sex offenders, or even 90% of them, that is a huge reduction in the risk factor.

As to the second objection, we already acknowledge as a society that conviction of a felony results in the curtailment of certain rights. For example, a convicted felon will show up on the Justice Department's background check list if that felon tries to purchase a gun, and be denied the right to buy it. Parole is also a way we keep tabs on them, just at weekly or monthly intervals instead of continuously. The proof that it is not an unconstitutional violation of privacy is right in front of us: tracking devices exist and are in use regularly. When they were first introduced, this objection was made, but the courts held that it was really no different from parole, just on a fulltime basis (but without the requirement to show up at a parole meeting). For that matter, we agree as a society that (apparently) Martha's crimes (lying to an FTC investigator about an insider trading deal involving a relatively small amount of stock) are sufficiently serious to warrant keeping tabs on her whereabouts 24/7, so why are Mr. Duncan's crimes any less serious? By my count, if he had been wearing a tracking device while out of jail, he might have been deterred from committing (or if not deterred, then caught quickly) four kidnappings, numerous rapes and other sex acts on minors, and five murders.


dorsano said...

You've got a great site, Eli. I hope I get a chance to spend some more time here.

I'm just cruisin through tonight. I hope to spend some time here this weekend.

Anonymous said...

The courts may have held it to be constitutional, but that doesn't make it right or good.

If the government can find an excuse to track a category of people (as opposed to on a case by case basis) it may be registered sex offenders today, but maybe everyone who voted the way they don't like, tomorrow.

Those things (ankle monitors) are scary.