Mislabeling Sexual Offenders

By: Gerri L. Elder

Our government has worked to develop laws that will fairly protect us, while punishing people who commit crimes. We have laws that require people to pay fines, serve time and limit freedoms when someone is convicted of a crime to keep our streets, workplace, schools and homes safe. But is it possible that some of these laws could actually be bringing harm to people who have been mistakenly labeled in the system?

Punishing sexual offenders is one area of crime that our country feels strongly about. The government has made several laws to punish offenders after they have been convicted as well as continue to keep the communities they live in safe by publicizing who has committed sexual acts against children. States have sex offender registries to protect children who live in the same area as the person who has committed a sexual crime; however, an incident in Ohio is showing that sometimes these lists only bring harm to people whose names have wrongly been placed on the list.

Is it Possible to Move on?

Danny Seals has accidentally been labeled a sexual offender and is now facing criminal charges for failing to register his address, according to the Newark Advocate. More than 10 years ago, Seals was charged with kidnapping and abduction. He served his sentence and was released in 1999, but he was placed on the Ohio Sex Offender Registry even though he did not commit a sex crime.

During a meeting to sign divorce papers in Mount Vernon, Seals had a four-hour standoff with police after he brought out a gun in the meeting. Two employees and two children were in the office during the standoff. Seals released the children after he took out the gun and eventually let the employees go as well.

In the end, Seals pleaded guilty to and was convicted of one count of kidnapping and four counts of abduction. Although Seals did not commit a sex crime during the standoff, he was placed on the list because a person convicted of abduction that involved a victim younger than 18 was considered a sexual offender.

Seals told the Newark Advocate that he realizes he made a mistake in the past, but he has served his time and wants to move forward with his life.

Implications of being on the Sexual Offender Registry

Today Seals is in the Licking County jail, being charged with a felony for living at an unregistered address, which is a violation of the registry. If convicted, he could face up to 16 years in jail. The Ohio Sex Offender Registry is available to the public. Since being placed on the list, he has been turned down for jobs, had his car spray-painted with “molester” and “predator,” and watched his stepchildren be teased by classmates about their father.

Although Seals registration term ends in 2009, he could be classified as a Tier II Offender and have to report to officials for another 15 years. It is estimated that another 400 people are in similar situations to Seals’ as they have been put on the list even though their crime has been misconstrued.

Are we punishing the innocent?

By putting people on a sex offender registry list that haven’t committed a sex crime, are we being just? Or are we unfairly labeling people as sex offenders who have committed crimes that weren’t sexually related and mislabeled?

In a way, we are punishing people for a crime they didn’t commit. For example, it’s like forcing people who have been convicted of a traffic violation to buy an ignition interlock device because driving under the influence and traffic violations are similar but unrelated crimes.

Although the law is intended to protect children, in the end, is it actually harming innocent victims that have happened to commit a crime involving children?