by John E. Dannenberg
In Connecticut, some convicted sex offenders' names will not show up on the state's public online registry. Under penal statute Section 54-255, courts may place certain sex offenders instead on a secret registry available only to law enforcement officials.
The name of James Baily Jones, 27, convicted in March 2007 of molesting a preschool girl, is not available to the public when inquiring online of sex offenders who might be living in their neighborhoods. Jones took a plea for a five-year suspended sentence plus five years probation for touching a girl inappropriately. His entered an "Alford Plea," meaning he maintained his innocence while admitting the state might succeed if they took the case to trial. His sentence further banned him from unsupervised contact with any child under 17, ordered him to take counseling, and required him to register as a sex offender for ten years. However, Jones was shielded from public registry by a rare Section 54-255 court order, the purpose of which is supposedly to protect the identity of the victim. (Additionally, in any such case, the court must find that public dissemination is not necessary for public safety.)
Bolton, Connecticut state Representative Pamela Sawyer confessed she was unaware of and shocked by this statute, calling it "chilling." Bolton's prosecutor Elizabeth Learning defended the statute as providing for plea-based convictions where, as here, the victim wanted nothing to do with a public trial. Thus, without Section 54-255, some sex offenders might get off scott-free when the prosecution's case could not proceed without painful victim testimony and cross-examination. In another case, Leaming noted, a daughter raped by her father did not want to hurt him further, and the combination of an Alford Plea plus non-public registry was the best the state could do.
Section 54-255 was adopted by the Connecticut Legislature in 1999 to protect victims' constitutional privacy rights. It has only been applied in 30 of sex offender cases since. Yet, public outcry is now changing things.
Connecticut's Judicial Department will soon put all criminal conviction records on line. The posted dispositions and narratives there will give the public insight into virtually all crimes. However, courts sometimes "seal" case records. Sawyer opined that the hidden registry "pales in comparison to that." Ultimately, hiding the identity of a sex offender might well relate to how good a lawyer one can afford.
Source: Connecticut Journal Inquirer.
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