Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sex Offender Restrictions on Halloween

Restrictions on what registered sex offenders whose crimes were against children can or must do on Halloween are common in a number of states. The constitutionality of such restrictions has been intensely litigated and is far from a settled question.

On October 29, a federal judge in California ruled on the issue. The holding was that sex offenders are not required to post signs outside their houses that say “no candy.” But the judge ruled that a local ordinance with several similar restrictions could be upheld.

The other restrictions prohibit outdoor lighting or decorating of a sex offender’s house on Halloween, as well as answering the door to give out candy to trick-or-treaters.

CNN’s online account elicited numerous comments. The question of protecting children versus unfairly branding sex offenders living in the community prompts strong feelings on all sides

Monday, October 29, 2012

Living in Truth, on and off the Field

Thomas Mann, Vaclav Havel and other artists have agonized over the connection between art and life. Havel, the Czech dissident-turned-president, argued for the goal of living in truth.

To live in truth, one’s inner and outer worlds must be integrated. When that happens, Havel suggested, a life could become a work of art.

How, if at all, does this reasoning apply to athletes? For big-time athletes, like high-profiles, are often in the public eye, moving in worlds that can seem so different from ordinary reality.

In Moneyball, the versatile journalist Michael Lewis tells the story of Billy Beane, a peculiar case study of bringing art and life together in the sports word. Annointed by baseball scouts as a future superstar while still a teenager, Beane never fulfilled that promise on the field.

As a general manager, however, Billy Beane has been instrumental in reinventing the tradition-bound game of baseball. As Lewis shows in Moneyball, Beane has led the Oakland A’s to surprising success by his willingness to use statistical analysis to guide player acquisitions.

Lewis recounts how, in the early 1980s, Beane was overshadowed in the New York Mets minor league system by two other players, Darryl Strawberry and Lenny Dykstra. Strawberry and Beane were drafted the same year, both in the first round, and billed as future superstars. Dykstra and Beane were roommates and friends.

Dykstra, in particular, was a challenge for Beane, for Dykstra seemed to have a head for the game that maximized his minimal talent. For Beane, it was the opposite, as he continued to get minimal results from what seemed to be maximum talent.

Off the field, however, in the game of life, the tables have turned. Strawberry and Dykstra have each done prison time. Strawberry’s issue was drugs. Dykstra’s issues were many, including drugs, sex offenses, and financial crimes.

Earlier this year, when Dykstra was sentencing to three years in prison for grand theft auto, the Village Voice said it was the culmination of what was essentially a 20-year crime spree.

Meanwhile, Beane played played by Brad Pitt in a movie version of Moneyball and got his A's back in the playoffs again, despite the usual financial challenges.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Chris Brown's Sentence: Wake Up Call Needed?

Community service has become an accepted part of alternative sentencing. It’s often part of a probationary sentence that keeps someone out of prison.

When one stops to think about this, however, it’s deeply odd. Serving the community by speaking to school groups or picking up trash on public land should be considered a privilege, not a burden. Indeed, it’s a privilege millions of people embrace voluntarily, usually through the nonprofit group of their choice.

Those people are rarely written about in the media. But the media — particularly the entertainment media — makes sure we know about wayward celebrities like Chris Brown.

Brown is the young singer who physically assaulted his then-girlfriend Rihanna in 2009. After pleading guilty to a felony assault charge, he began serving a 5-year probationary sentence. The sentence included a court-ordered requirement to perform at least 1,440 hours of community service.

For the past three years, he has been doing several different jobs in the Richmond, Virginia, area. These include cleanup work in police stations and janitorial duty at a daycare.

But the judge in Los Angeles County who is responsible for signing off on Brown’s sentence completion is not so sure his records are accurate. The number of hours Brown has racked up in the last seven months is supposedly 701, according to the Richmond Police. Yet as media reports pointed out, it previously took him 28 months to reach that number.

Plus, during the seven months when Brown has purportedly been putting in all that time picking up trash, he’s also been taking ample time to sing before large audiences and (the tablids speculate) maybe even start romancing Rihanna again.

There seems to be something wrong with this picture. The judge in Los Angeles has therefore ordered a further review of Brown’s records to determine whether he has violated his probation.

Chris Brown’s most well-known song is perhaps Don’t Wake Me Up. It is quite possible, based on the record review, that someone — probably his attorney — will need to wake him from the delusion that his sentence for beating up Rihanna is over so soon.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Meeting Maximum Bob (a bit belatedly)

Elmore Leonard is widely acknowledged as a master of crime fiction. Indeed, he’s a versatile writer who’s also accomplished in other genres, including Westerns.

I’ve enjoyed his work both on the page and in film adaptations. Over twenty years ago, I was tremendously impressed by the smooth writing and daring plot twists in the 3-novel collection Gold Coast.

On film, Get Shorty, with John Travolta and Danny DeVito, was a hoot. Out of Sight, with an emerging-from-ER George Clooney and a young Jennifer Lopez, was splendidly executed as well.

There is also a film version of Leonard’s 52 Pickup, which I haven’t seen. All year, however, I’ve been intending to pick up the book. It seemed fitting to do so, because that’s my age.

So today, I tried two places to pick up 52 Pickup. First I tried Midway Book, a venerable and well-stocked used bookstore in St. Paul’s Midway area. No luck.

Next I tried the Galaxie Library in Apple Valley, a St. Paul suburb. No luck there either.

There was, however, a definite silver lining for the independent scholar who blogs about sentencing policy. One of the Elmore Leonard titles that were on the shelf was Maximum Bob — a book whose very title points to teachable moments about judicial discretion.

Turns out there was a short-lived TV series in 1998 based on the book. I missed that entirely at the time. But ’98 was the year that I began my stint with the Iowa Legislature on its special sentencing commission. Considering that judicial discretion was a key topic on the commission, I’m surprised Maximum Bob didn’t come up during our work.