GLAA Action Alert on Megan's Law 11/30/99
Talking Points on Megan's Law Bill 11/30/99
PDF version of the above document 01/05/99
GLAA Writes Blade on Megan's Law
[Note: This letter appeared in the Readers Forum of The Washington Blade on Friday, December 3, 1999.]
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington
P. O. Box 75265
Washington, D.C. 20013
November 30, 1999
The Washington Blade
After working with great success over the last 20 years to help make the District of Columbia one of the most pro-gay cities in the country, we in the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA) did not expect to be confronted now with legislation that exposes some members of our community to needless danger.
Regrettably, that is the situation we find ourselves thrown into by At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil’s “Sex Offender Registration Act of 1999” (Bill 13-350), scheduled to come before the D.C. Council for action next Tuesday, December 7.
The original intent for the so-called “Megan’s Laws” being enacted around the country was to establish a registration system for notifying communities about the presence of dangerous, convicted pedophiles or violent sex offenders in their midst. The Justice Department guidelines urge states to include only these types of offenders in their registries. But the U.S. Attorney’s Office, with the eager support of Councilmember Brazil, has spearheaded a drive to go beyond the federal mandate and to sacrifice constitutional due process in the bargain.
Specifically, Bill 13-350 would add those convicted of sexual misdemeanors to the registry. Since the U.S. Park Police are still charging the gay men they entrap in P Street Beach with sexual misdemeanors, as is often done to entrapment victims in other jurisdictions, gays convicted of such charges here or elsewhere would be subjected to the registration process
Now that GLAA, the ACLU, and others have raised this issue so forcefully, the bill has been modified so that such men could theoretically avoid registration if they can prove that their convictions were due to actions by undercover police officers. But there is less to this than meets the eye. Even if the convicted offender in an entrapment case is able to demonstrate successfully that his so-called "victim" was an undercover officer, such misdemeanor offenses not involving minors don't belong in our Megan's Law in the first place. Cluttering a registry of sexual offenders with names of those not guilty of crimes against children or violence against adults undercuts the whole purpose of such registries.
Furthermore, Bill 13-350 places the decision-making power in entrapment cases in the hands of federal bureaucrats not subject to control or effective oversight by the District’s elected officials. Just getting the necessary court documents showing that undercover police officers were involved may prove to be a Kafkaesque nightmare for gay men entrapped in other states who move to the District. There is no reason to subject gay men already victimized once by abuses of law enforcement officials to further abuse from unaccountable federal officials.
To make matters worse, Bill 13-350 short-changes the due process rights of those to be placed on a registry of sexual offenders. Courts in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and elsewhere threw out Megan’s Laws originally passed in those states because they lacked any mechanism for ensuring that only those who constitute a continuing danger to the community are placed on registries of sexual offenders. While victims of entrapment need the full protections of the Constitution, such procedures have been denounced by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Councilmember Brazil because they are allegedly costly and time-consuming. But many states have already successfully incorporated such protections into their Megan’s Laws without sacrificing efficiency or money.
Councilmembers Jim Graham and Jack Evans are prepared to offer remedial amendments from the floor at the December 7 Council session. GLAA, the ACLU, and the Public Defender Service are among those lobbying strongly for enactment of these reforms. Further information may be found on the GLAA web site, www.glaa.org. Those who share our concerns should contact their Councilmembers as well.
Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance