[Suzanne] Kearns’ kidnap victim was her son, whom she took to Mexico in 2002, claiming she needed to protect him from an abusive ex-husband after losing custody of the boy. After three years in hiding, she was arrested and returned to New Braunfels, where she was found guilty of aggravated kidnapping and sentenced to five years in prison.This is another example of how the Texas sex-offender registry has become too sweeping and punitive, migrating away from its original intent to inform the public about violent predators. Former state Rep. Ray Allen who authored the provision in question told Lindell, “It’s my opinion now that we threw the net too wide back in the ’90s and brought too many people into the sex offender registry.”
Freed from prison in 2010, Kearns must register as a sex offender until 2020.
Since 1999, Texas has required child kidnappers to register as sex offenders for 10 years after their release from prison. At least 34 other states, however, exempt parents who take their children in custody disputes, concluding that they pose no threat to other families’ children.
Last month, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Kearns’ request to be removed from the registry because her lawsuit had been filed at the wrong time. Although the state’s highest criminal court typically denies such appeals without comment, two judges took the rare step of submitting an opinion questioning the inclusion of child-custody kidnappings in the sex offender registry.
Judge Cathy Cochran suggested that the Texas Legislature might wish to “re-examine whether the kidnapping of one’s own child” meets the central purpose of sex offender registration — improving safety by alerting the public to the risk of sex offenders in their community.
Joined by Judge Cheryl Johnson, Cochran suggested that Texas might want to follow the example of the federal government and the 34 states that have determined that parental kidnapping “is not a sex offense and does not automatically require sex-offender registration.”
See Cochran's concurring opinion (pdf) for a detailed discussion of the issues raised in the case and background on overreach in the sex-offender registry, driven in part by federal statutes that threatened to reduce grant funding to states if they didn't expand the registry's scope. Suggesting the provision "may be the result of an unintentional legislative oversight, Cochran concluded:
It is the legislature's prerogative to determine which offenders warrant the additional and more intense supervision of registered sex offenders. But the legislature may reexamine whether the kidnapping of one's own child is consistent with the legitimate and non-punitive purpose of sex offender registration: public safety that is advanced by alerting the public to the risk of sex offenders in their community. Perhaps the Texas Legislature will join the federal government's determination, and the determination of at least thirty-four other states, that kidnapping one's own child is not a sex offense and does not automatically require sex-offender registration.The Lege needs to follow Judge Cochran's advice and fix this when they re-convene in 2015.