A Sobering “Success” Story

Sign, Wapello, Iowa. This was put up in reacti...

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Last night, I read a post on the blog “Simple Justice” which is owned and operated by Scott H. Greenfield, an attorney in New York City. It is a disturbing post. With both sarcasm and irony, he titles it “A Success Story.” I encourage you to read it before proceeding further.

Essentially, it highlights a suicide note he received from a man who was convicted of internet solicitation (in a gay chatroom). Over 8 years ago, the man accepted a deal as recommended by his attorney (not Scott Greenfield) with the understanding that his record would be expunged following 3 years of probation. Now 8.5 years later, he continues to be registered as a sex offender. He lives in his own personal hell. No public defender exists to help him to correct his situation, and he lacks the money to retain assistance.

Many argue that sex offender registration is not a punishment. You could have fooled me. For these individuals, it is a perpetual purgatory preventing them from obtaining meaningful employment and moving forward socially. Is it necessary for some? Perhaps. Have we taken it too far? Absolutely.

When I lived in Kansas, a young man in my neighborhood appeared on the offender rolls. After researching the reasons for his registration, I discovered he was prosecuted as an 18 year old high school senior who had sexual intercourse with his 15 year old freshman girlfriend. He took responsibility, admitted what he did, and now he pays for it with a scarlet letter.

Scott highlights some outstanding points in his analysis of the letter he received. I will not repeat his analysis, but I do want to highlight something else.

Meaningful and informed representation would likely prevent this tragedy. In my first post asserting that “We need more lawyers,” I note how important it is for an advocate to learn about their client in order to tell their story–their whole story. Does it appear that someone told his whole story? Were his interests fully defended? Or, did someone likely find an easy way to dispose of an otherwise annoying case? I often criticize assembly line justice, and this appears to be a prime example.

A disclaimer: I only know what I read in Scott’s post, and that was based upon the client’s decade-old memories of his legal proceeding. However, that does not change the fact that the story, as we know it, allows for a great deal of analysis and learning.