Saturday, January 22, 2005

'It's a nitpicky case'

Thanks to Kuff for sharing this Houston Press article by Scott Nowell on the arrest of Houston prison rights activist Frank Dewey. His case highlights the absurd dilemmas facing homeless people obligated to comply with Texas' sex offender registration laws. In a lot of cases, the laws are so onerous that full-blown compliance isn't a real option. Nobody thinks Dewey was any risk to the public whatsoever:
"He wasn't trying to hide -- we knew where to find him," says [Precinct 6 Constable] Trevino. "It's a nitpicky case, but we don't have a choice. It's not up to us to make a judgment call."
Is it okay to make completely unworkable laws, then penalize offenders for not properly complying? Is it more okay if the offenders in question are folks we're not supposed to like very much? Or has the web of restrictions on sex offenders now reached the point of absurdity?
"It's the very essence of overbroad legislation," says prosecutor Charles Thompson. "There are a bunch of different ways in that code you can fail to register as a sex offender. It's a very technical set of regulations."
At a minimum, surely, the law should change to acknowledge special circumstances of the indigent, especially since the law supplies a long list of various jobs in which registered sex offenders cannot work. As Dewey's lawyer, Sean Buckley, pointed out:
"The problem is that he remains a homeless person without any resources," says Buckley. "You can't just tell a guy not to be homeless."