A bill signed by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn on July 21, 2011 has established the state’s first registry for convicted murderers. Also known as “Andrea’s Law,” the legislation requires offenders convicted of the first-degree murder of an adult to have their personal information posted in an online database for 10 years after their release from prison. The law went into effect on January 1, 2012 and will be applied retroactively to offenders released since 2002.
Andrea’s Law was spearheaded by Illinois State Rep. Dennis Reboletti on behalf of the family of 18-year-old murder victim Andrea Will.
Justin Boulay, who was then 20 years old, strangled Will with a telephone cord in 1998 when they were both students at Eastern Illinois University. Boulay was sentenced to 24 years, but was released in November 2010 because state law granted him one day of earned credit for each day he served without disciplinary problems.
For Will’s mother, Patricia Rosenberg, the legislation that created a registry of first-degree murderers allowed her to exact a measure of revenge. “This is my way of fighting back,” she told the Chicago Tribune. “If you know who is living next door to you, you have more power – power to protect your family.”
Opponents of the law, however, were disturbed by what appears to be a nationwide trend to brand all sorts of ex-prisoners in online databases, dismissing any privacy rights they might have after they’ve served their sentences.
“You’ve sacrificed your right of privacy once you’ve committed an offense in this community,” argued Illinois State Senator Dave Syverson.
Sex offender registries are ubiquitous. Illinois’ new registry for murderers joins one the state already maintains for arsonists. Convicted meth users are listed on registries in Tennessee, Georgia, Oklahoma, Washington, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon and West Virginia. A registry for DUI offenders was recently considered in Maine.
Several other states require the registration of violent offenders, including Indiana, Oklahoma, Montana and Kansas. The Kansas registry also lists certain drug offenders.
“These [registries] catch on like wildfire,” said Wayne Logan, a Florida State University law professor and author of a book on notification and registration laws. “Politicians don’t want to look like they are soft on crime or disparaging the legacy of the victims.” He compared the political attraction of offender registries to “legislative catnip.”
Since the U.S. Supreme Court has given states the green light to enact sex offender registries, similar registries for other crimes likely would be upheld if challenged.
“We want to arm citizens with information, so they can protect themselves and their communities,” said Brian McClung, a spokesman for Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.
Rather than keeping members of the public safe, though, online registries mainly serve to brand certain ex-offenders with the equivalent of a modern-day scarlet letter, making it difficult for them to obtain housing and employment.
Ironically, Illinois’ new murderer registry will not inconvenience Boulay, whose crime served as the impetus for the legislation. Following his release from prison, he promptly moved to another state.
Sources: Chicago Tribune, USA Today, www.accesskansas.org, www.in.gov, www.cga.ct.gov
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