A Drake University law professor questions the stringent punishment of being listed on the sex offender registry in the case of a 24-year-old non-licensed youth counselor convicted Wednesday for kissing a 16-year-old.
“Her chances for employment just dropped to zero,” Robert Rigg, also director of Drake’s Criminal Defense Program, said after the verdict came in. “Everybody in the world will know. It’s the kiss of death.”
Two legislators defend the sex offender laws they helped revise, saying they’re not harsh because they protect children.
“Those laws prevent harm to a child who already is a victim,” Sen. Keith Kreiman, D-Bloomfield, and chairman of Judiciary Committee, said Thursday regarding counselors, therapist or social workers who have inappropriate contact with clients.
Amanda Jones, a former Four Oaks youth counselor, was convicted by a jury in Linn County Associate Court Wednesday for sexual exploitation by a counselor or therapist for kissing a 16-year-old client who was in residential treatment for behavioral issues in June 2008.
The teen testified he initiated the kiss that happened at Four Oaks, but after the incident, he never replied to e-mails sent by Jones, who wanted to pursue a romantic relationship.
Jones faces up to a year in prison. She also will be listed on the sex offender registry for 10 years and be ordered to the 10-year special parole after serving her sentence. She will be added to the list of about 110 women out of 5,164 sex offenders on the registry.
Mark Brown, Jones’ attorney, said Wednesday he believes the registry laws are too harsh for the lesser sex-related offenses and he will ask the court for a deferred judgment, which would eliminate the mandated 10-year special parole.
“I think the legislators should have trust in the judges to decide who should be placed on the registry in cases like this,” Brown said.
Rigg said the legislators decided they wanted to be the “super judge.”
“This is a common criticism of mandatory sentences – it doesn’t take into account the facts and circumstances of individual cases,” he said. “The mandatory sentencing is addictive – once you have it, you get hooked. No politician is going to change it because they would lose the next election. They would be a friend of pedophiles. They get politically stuck in it.”
Rigg said the judges in these cases are concerned about the lack of flexibility in the law, so the only one left with any power or control in a situation like this is the county attorney or prosecutor.
“If you think about it, there’s no downside for them,” Rigg said. “If they win, great. If they lose, they can say they did their best and they don’t look soft on sex offenders.”
Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield, who worked on the bipartisan revision of sex offender laws, said Jones “got a bargain.”
“She was undoubtedly pursuing this juvenile,” Baudler said. “I was for tougher laws as in the federal guidelines (based on risk factor) 15 years, 25 years and life.”
The lawmakers made the decision to stay with 10 years of less serious and life for more serious and violent offenders, he said.
Baudler, a former state patrol officer, said there was some discussion about giving judges the discretion regarding the registry requirement, but that idea was shot down because after considering how crimes are charged and then how they are pleaded down, the legislators opted against it.
Kreiman, also a practicing attorney, said Jones’ actions were wrong and the laws aren’t too harsh for someone like her to be on the registry for 10 years.
“These (offenders) need to be monitored. If she has a proclivity for this, she could go to the next place to work with kids,” Kreiman said.
The registry may seem unfair for someone who is convicted for a minor sexual offense if it’s a one time incident, but “the problem is we don’t now who’s going to re-offend,” Kreiman said.
There is a provision in the law which would give someone who may not have that tendency to re-offend a “slim chance” to shorten their time on the registry, Kreiman said.
Ross Loder, legislative liaison for the Iowa Department of Public Safety, said the modification provision in the law enacted in 2009 allows an offender to ask a district court judge to modify or shorten their time on the registry, but there is stiff criteria that must be met.
Loder said the offender must have: a recommendation from a probation or parole officer; be released from jail or prison; have approval from assigned community based corrections; must be on the register so many years based on level of offense; and must complete sex offender treatment and risk assessment, ranking as low risk to re-offend.
“There have been no successful modifications since (the law) went into effect,” Loder said. “There may be some in the works now…. those are ones with minor offenses committed as juveniles.”
Loder said the number of women on the registry has remained about 3 percent of the total for the last decade or so.
The Iowa registry started in 1995, and major revisions were made in 2002, 2005, 2009 and this year.