Should an Eastern Washington woman get access to the state's entire database of sex offenders and then be allowed to publish it online?
The ACLU and several sex offenders say no and have sued to stop them.
At issue is the release of personal information about "level one" offenders. They are deemed the least likely to re-offend and have been determined to be of little or no risk to the community.
Currently, state law allows just limited release of their information, based on geography. In contrast, those offenders considered more likely to re-offend or pose a danger are classified as "level two" or "level three," and their information is widely available on websites run by state law enforcement agencies.
"The fact of the matter is most of these people are not anything like that. Their behavior hasn't been predatory, they were juveniles when they committed their offenses or young, they've been through treatment programs," said Seattle lawyer Brad Meryhew in an interview with KIRO Radio's Tom and Curley Show. Meryhew specializes in the defense of sex offenders.
Meryhew agrees the public should have access to information about potentially dangerous offenders, but argues research has shown low-level offenders who undergo treatment are the least likely of any felons to re-offend. And he argues the woman seeking the release of the statewide database, former Mesa, Washington mayor Donna Zink, is seeking to do nothing more than shame people who've paid their dues.
"She doesn't have any interest or need to know who the "level one" juvenile sex offenders are in Port Angeles when she lives in Eastern Washington, but that's the information she wants to put out on the Internet," he says. "What we're trying to prevent is somebody getting a wholesale disclosure of all of this information, creating their own website and then using it to humiliate and embarrass people in the community."
Currently, anyone can request a list of "level one" sex offenders in their area from the state. Meryhew says if a court agreed to release that information more broadly, it would undermine the entire purpose of the sex offender registry law, which is to protect the public rather than punish those who've already served their punishment.
"The courts have said there needs to be some geographical limitation on the release of information," he says.
Meryhew argues many of his clients are teens or young adults whose lives would be ruined if word of their offenses got out.
"If you put this information out, those kids are going to get forced out of school, their victims are often their siblings or relatives and outed in the process, their family is suddenly faced with all sorts of financial crises because their kid can't got to school anymore. It's devastating to these families."
Last week, a King County Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking the release of the database until the case can be fully heard, the Seattle PI.com reports.
An Assistant Attorney General representing the State Patrol, which maintains the database, argued unsuccessfully the complaints are mostly irrelevant because the information is already out there and has been released to a number of organizations and media outlets.
No trial date has been yet to hear arguments in the lawsuit.