When 17-year-old Justin Fawcett admitted to having consensual sex with a 14-year-old student at the same West Bloomfield, Michigan high school he attended he probably never thought that he would die for his crime, but he did. Hounded by the public shaming of his being listed on the Web site for the state's sex offender registry, Justin despaired of ever having a normal life. Who would hire, or date, a registered sex offender? Despite his father's assurances that the registration law would eventually be changed, Justin saw no future...no life for himself. That's why he ended his life with an overdose when he was 20.
Seven years after Justin's parents found his lifeless body in his bedroom, they received a letter addressed to Justin from Karen Johnson, manager of the Sex Offender and Registry Enforcement Unit, saying that Justin would be removed from the public part of the registry and he might be eligible to have it removed from the registry altogether.
One might view this as a typical bureaucratic error except for the fact that Justin's parents, David and Gayle Fawcett, had become activists for reform of the sex offender registration laws following Justin's death, which became a focal point of the successful effort to reform the law. David Fawcett even testified before the state Legislature while his family's tragedy became the force that pushed through long overdue reforms.
When asked about Justin's name remaining on the registry seven years after his death, state police spokeswoman Shanon Banner said that names are not removed from the registry unless a family member sends the registry enforcement unit a death certificate. She speculated that the Fawcetts had not done so. However, this puts the responsibility for keeping the registry current in the hands of citizens who are not required by law to do so and have committed no offense. That seems is a questionable proposition since it is the state police who are required to maintain the accuracy of their registry.
Having deceased people on the registry is not the only problem with the Michigan sex offender registry. The amendments to the sex offender registration laws, which were enacted on July 1, 2011, would have taken Justin's name off the Web site, but also required each registered sex offender (RSO) to provide additional information for the registry. The newly-required information included the phone numbers of any phone regularly used by the RSO, the RSO's passport or immigration document numbers and a copy of any business or professional license in the RSO's name. The law also required RSOs to notify police within three days of any change of name, address or employment; change in vehicle ownership or long-term use, change in school enrollment status, change in email addresses and online identity and intent to reside outside their homes for more than seven days.
Each RSO in the registry, living and dead, was mailed a letter explaining the new requirements and telling them they had until July 1, 2011, to provide the newly-required information. The overwhelming majority of RSOs complied. However, the police departments were not prepared for the flood of RSOs seeking to update their registry entries.
Meanwhile, the enforcement unit decided to flag every RSO in the state as "non-compliant" on the registry until their information was updated. This led to a tsunami of complaints from RSOs who had submitted their updated information in a timely fashion, yet were nonetheless flagged as being "non-co
"What's an employer supposed to think when he finds that the State Police have publicly identified one of his workers as a non-compliant sex offender?" asked Oakland County attorney Cheryl Carpenter, after having received phone calls from over a dozen RSOs who were concerned about the erroneous registry entries.
"We did underestimate the volume of information we had to process," Banner conceded. "We underestimated how well [RSOs] were going to carry out their new duties."
Let's see, you send RSOs a letter threatening to put them in prison if they don't send in updated information, then are surprised when they comply with the demand? That's close to blaming the RSOs for the registry's problems.
Still, Banner thinks it is good that errors, including entries of dead people in the registry, are coming to light as a result of the new law.
"Obviously, the registry is only useful if the information listed there is accurate," she said. "If anything positive comes of this, it is that this process is cleaning up a number of problems."
That may be so, but the clean-up is temporary and comes at the price of traumatizing families like the Fawcetts. Perhaps the police should re-examine their role and methods in ensuring accuracy in the registry which is, after all, their responsibility.
Source: Detroit Free Press
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