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A call to reform Florida's sex offender registry

Virtually everyone is agreed that Florida has some of the toughest sex offender laws in the nation. While many people might take pride in that distinction, there are others who argue that Florida has gone too far, making sex-offense-related statutes so inflexible and harsh that the laws have become counterproductive.

In Florida, someone who has been convicted of viewing child pornography on their home computer is required to register as a sex offender. Registration is required even though the person never sexually abused a minor, never took a sexually explicit picture of a minor and never paid for obtaining child pornography. The nonpartisan Council of State Governments said in a report that "there is little empirical proof that sex offender registries and notification make communities safer."

Earlier this year, California's Sex Offender Management Board said these mandated registries are "in some ways...counterproductive to improving public safety."

Critics of the registries note that laws often require that every offender be treated as if they are high-risk, making it difficult -- and in some cases impossible -- for law enforcement and members of the community to determine which offenders are truly at high-risk of reoffending and which ones are not.

Yet we see our state legislature and others around the nation marching in the same direction: making penalties harsher, allowing judges less discretion and treating each and every offender as if they are a significant risk to the community.

At the present, efforts to restore sanity to the system receive scant attention from a media focused on sensationalism. In some ways, that requires each person charged with child porn violations or other sex offenses to challenge the system individually, aided by an attorney familiar with not only prosecutors, judges and the law, but also with defense and negotiation strategies that protect the rights and interests of clients.

Source: Slate, "Reforming the Registry," Chanakya Sethi, August 15, 2014

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