Ethics of Undercover Stings

Today I spoke with a neighbor about what I do as a researcher, student, and advocate for justice reform. I summed my duties by this phrase. “I learn, apply, research, and continue to learn about the cause and effects of criminal justice by applying a dialog of reason, discourse, and compromise.” My neighbor responded with, “that sounds complicated.” I replied, “it sure is because there is no easy way to explain it.” We continued to talk more openly, and she finally shared a story about someone she knows that is currently incarcerated. She began to escalate her tone because she felt the sentence her friend received was excessive and unfairly applied. I chimed in to say, “what would have been fair?” She paused but couldn’t provide an answer. Instead, she said, “all I know is his sentence was too much and not in line for the crime he committed.”

I then began sharing the stories of many people currently on the sex offender registry. I started a story about the thousands of registrants that were caught up in police sting operations of underage porn or similar circumstances. I began explaining that “police posed as an underage person, but there was no underage person harmed or physically present. Sure, the intent may have been to meet an underage person, but nobody was harmed. However, the individual is listed either for life or a period for a crime that could have happened, but in actuality didn’t because it was a crafted operation to net people.” She began to understand those sex offenses are often not offenses at all. Instead, it is a method to target a crime with deception but to charge individuals with an age bracket of a fictitious person. It is as if someone in authority creates an operative of a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” but gives that character an age with a mental underlying and false image, those netted have pedophilic tendencies. Naturally, law enforcement nor district attornies attempt to do their part to educate the public better. In fact, it could be assumed that both law enforcement and district attorneys encourage such thoughts and rhetoric? However, society only sees teenage even if the person is of legal adult age but from the viewpoint of society, not the perpretrator, the teen age is viewed as early teen ages. The net has been cast to capture as many potential people as a threat to communities because the actor is posing as a 15-year-old, but in actuality, there is no 15 year old at all. Instead, the actor is a 37-year-old police officer targeting any age possible through the internet. Eventually, something will be caught in the net, exposed, and criminally charged. While the operation intends to capture illegal underage solicitations the act alone brings ethical question if the person accused could in actuality be targeted by a guilty plea of a person that is not actually 15, but 37? Sure, it is a stretch of the imagination. But if illegal drugs test not to be unlawful or harmful, arent the charged dropped? This may be orange to apple issue, but I certainly would like to understand how we can return to ethical behaviors on both sides of the justice coin.

Law enforcement officials are expected to comply with a code of ethics outlining general guidelines to ethical behavior of police professionals. To be effective, the code of ethics should become part of each officer’s demeanor and officers should learn to live and think ethically in order to avoid conflicting behaviors. The failure by police professionals to act ethically could result in the loss of public trust, jeopardize investigations, or expose agencies or departments to liability issues.

Naturally, I am not attempting to justify that underage solicitation is not severe. I am only raising the issue that I find it puzzling that a person that is not an actual age is being charged for solicitation of age – even with electronic evidence. It would seem more prudent and perhaps ethical that the criminal charge would be attempted solicitation of a minor because no real minor was present. Other charges could be escalated if there was indeed an actual minor present and naturally if other indiscretions occurred, then additional charges would be applicable. All I am suggesting is a better truth in reporting scheme.

There will always be water-cooler debates about how laws should be enforced or applied. There is no real clear answer or remedy to tackle these issues that appear to be ordinary day by day. However, these are the discussions that we should be having about criminal justice reforms and how to perhaps recodify our policies.

“Charge stacking” is a process by which police and prosecutors create a case with numerous charges or numerous instances of the same charge to convince the defendant that the risk of not pleading guilty is intolerable.

Lastly, laws and policies seem to be stacked by the prosecution as a universal benefit. An example is when an initial charge is introduced at the highest felony charge possible to dwindle for a potential plea bargaining agreement. Additionally, many prosecutors will stack charges by adding other unnecessary charges to accompany additional charges. It is somewhat similar to a drug charge, but adding a paraphernalia charge on top of distribution with the intent to do something else mambo-jumbo. The court goes through a gambit of offers to scale back the charges as if it is benefiting the defendant? Not true! It is always helping the prosecution because they will always have the leverage to play outside the rules of law to get their way. Similar to how underage sex sting operations are handled. It’s a big lie with the intent to sell a fear that never happened. It is perhaps something we should also be discussing how to return a bit of truth into criminal justice reforms?

The Biggot In Us All

Many people may have a deep prejudice for anyone listed on a sex offender registry. The stigma of registrants went from a simple listing of constant identifiable threats to a list whereas anyone with an infraction of the word sex is a listable offense. That’s right! Offenses regardless of how significant or insignificant, have always been an integral and meshed part of the sex offender registry. It is no longer a listing of the habitual offender. Today the streakers, nudists, flashers, urinators, and sometimes masturbates in public settings are the midway point as the sex registry grows and expands.

There will always be heated debates as to what is a sex crime, which should be listed, and how that listing is to be used. But one thing is crystal clear; there is no easy solution as to what is the most credible threat of a sex offender these days thanks in part to the convoluted sex registry.

At some point, you or someone you may know has been convicted of something. Rather a traffic infraction or a serious crime, there has been some conviction that has been publically shared or encountered. However, thinking of that particular situation of, for instance, drunk driving, assault, or theft. Does that one black mark insist that the individual should be labeled for the rest of his/her life? Could you imagine a society where one drunk driving conviction would take away your driving privileges for the rest of your life? Better yet, what if there was a special license plate on a vehicle identifying the driver was convicted of a drunken driving encounter? How would you react or feel by that stigma? Better yet, does that conviction demonstrate a need that the punishment should continue for a lifetime? Well, welcome to how society has created the modern day sex offender registry. Of the one million US registrants, mostly all are first time convictions.

Mississippi is considering a DUi license plate. Ohio, Georgia and Minnesota issue DUI plates.


Additionally, most convictions are plea deals similar to those that receive plea deals for drunken driving or other criminal convictions. Before tossing out a narrative that drunk driving is far different than a sex offense; think again. Sex offender registries all across the nation have become a catalyst in adding arson, drug, homicide, and other crimes unrelated to sex crimes as a registerable public offense. Some states are currently in legislative processes to create a pet abuse registry. Sure, all these lists sound as if they serve a more significant cause of public safety. However, quite the opposite effect is taking place. These registries are not only the stigma of shaming efforts but are a threat towards liberty but also a threat to families all across this great nation.

When a state such as Alabama enacts a forced sterilization procedure for convicted sex offenders shouldn’t that alleviate the risk of ever offending again? Why not delist a potential offender from registry requirements if there is forced sterilization? Sounds like a reasonable trade-off? But Tennessee now wants to strip parental rights of registrants from their own families. Without sounding politically motivated, isn’t it the Republican Party and Libertarians that tout where the government should remain out of harm to families and protection of life? Don’t worry; the Democrats aren’t any better. They are the party of transparency, liberty, and human rights but are the first people demanding anyone “suspected” of a sex crime be put on a registry before they have a trial!? Isn’t sterilization or parental right terminations no different than abortion or a violation of the sanctity of family or the protection from divorce? I am sure evangelists will interject some rhetoric, but I warn any religion that “you can’t pick and choose the word of God.” Politics has no business managing families unless the family is in danger and has been assessed by a judge instead of a politician.

However, perhaps history has an eerie part in repeating itself through other means? Wasnt is the Nazi’s that created a list of Jewish people although they were not criminals? However, the Nazi’s deemed Jewish people criminals by enacting confusing and complicated policies. What about the Civil Rights movement? Didn’t policy and bigotry create many Jim Crow laws where African-Americans were quickly arrested for crimes that weren’t crimes? What about World War II and Japanese internment camps? What about the AIDS crisis of the 1980s when there was talk about an AIDS registry? LGBT rights where people were arrested for being gay/lesbian, What about the President of the United States that insisted on a Muslim registry? Do you see where this is going? We haven’t learned any lessons throughout history. We repeat history rebranding it as a clever marketing gimmick in the name of “public safety” and “maintaining higher morals.” There is no higher moral standard if the policy intends to do more harm than good.

Instead, there ought to be a point-blank suggestion pro-registry proponents are perhaps the torch bearers of bigotry. After all, it is demanding a listing of sex offenses without equal representation of other more serious criminal offenses that identify the cusp of prejudice. It is all about the generalization of sex and the disgust pretending to maintain Christian standards of becoming pro-registry citizens on the exterior, but in secret, these Christians prey on the internet to find their ill repute but when caught attempt to shame others claiming “they aren’t like the people on the registry!” It’s bigotry at its most elegant design and society dances around the registry as promoters of bigotry and its prejudicial issues. Prejudice is nothing more than hate filled with hate on top of hate. It doesn’t matter how you attempt to slice hate as a choice. It is still hating if you believe it should happen to others but not to you. If you want to fix something, then you find a solution to sustain help, with programs, and education. Instead, all we have over the past several decades is a hate list that keeps filling up; not because of sex crimes. Its because America wants to keep adding hate so that other people will hate too.

If the Sex Offender Registry Ended Tomorow

What if the U.S. Supreme Court miraculously ruled that sex offender registries were unconstitutional? First, the major news networks would be in meltdown mode. I am confident that cataclysm based voice commentary would involve Ron Book, John Walsh, and a cameo appearance by Nancy Grace would be in order. Police, politicians, school boards, and outraged registry supporters would behave like a Kanye West moment during Hurricane Katrina.

A recent web traffic study of the North Carolina Sex Offender Registry shows most searches of the website disclose a higher portion of commercial viewing than individual users. That indicates the registry overall is a business instead of a service to the community. Virtually citizens outraged at the registry termination are service-based organizations that provide traffic content. Which brings me to my first examination. Private registries such as Homefacts or other similar websites would scurry to improve its databases to unofficially track former registrants creating a new private fee-based registry. Criminal background service providers such as Truthfinder.com and others would begin building apps to connect with social networking quickly identify not only sex offenders but other felonious acts to lump in as a part of its services. It is not registries that are the problem, but private services are acting as registries with misinformation or expired data. The threat of private registries would be equivalent to a credit reporting agency relying on data ten years or older. Most disturbing is when these same service providers insist individuals pay to update what the company should keep current. And we wonder why we have so many problematic scams of misinformation in America? Because this data is not protected by the Fair Credit Act, many unsuspected “consumers” would be accidentally uploaded by name mixups or other collected information creating a false report of individuals. It is the hype of individuals such as Book, Walsh, and perhaps Grace that instigate a fear that danger always lurks around the corner. As long as lawmakers listen to these “unqualified experts” there will always be a justifiable need for misinformation and panic.

Congress and states would have more money to spend because it would no longer have a registry requirement. However, count on your elected leadership finding ways to spend newly discovered funds to make matters worse. I anticipate a sudden reaction in ancillary spending towards keeping specific laws intact such as residency restrictions, being on school or daycare property and discovering clever ways of identifying offenders without a registry. I do expect legislation to be introduced for passport and driver license expansion to include identifiers for all former registered offenders. Again, never assume with panic organizations where one victory suddenly creates twenty additional problems. The courts will eventually be clogged with too many lawsuits to count. But, this is the giant registry at work with more legs than a centipede.

As for the judicial system, it could be the straw that breaks the camels back. Prosecutors and judges would begin implementing lengthy prison sentences as a replacement to plea deals for lesser sentencing. Judges are incredibly aware how to use the registry as a weapon. Otherwise without the registry prisons would be at peak population counts. Without the registry do count on higher civil commitment rates because all those so-called political appointed psychology boards have to “protect their jobs.”  These commitment boards will suddenly panic as to what to do with offenders if they continue to believe that sexual offenses cannot be rehabilitated – naturally, they are appointed to think that way. As long as prosecutors and judges remain elected officials, there will invariably be a promotion of fear-based rhetoric and the need to escalate that fear even if civil liberties are jeopardized. Proof that the registry was never information based but planned punishment.

Lastly, kiosks would suddenly emerge requiring instant background checks to enter buildings, companies, organizations, or public emergency disaster shelters as a miniature quasi-registry with complementary sticky name-tags to wear that you passed its self-imposed quality restrictions. Implementation of kiosks would demonstrate consternation and expansion of criminal based information perhaps purchased from the same unofficial registry websites with outdated data. Naturally, to correct the issue individuals would be in the crossfire of misinformation being forced to pay to correct information that shouldn’t have been public in the first place? Do count on companies and organizations to be sued for wrongful information based on false or inaccurate information being shared. As always, there will be a nice disclaimer to say “this organization is not responsible for incorrect information” and to call another organization to straighten out the fiasco. If kiosks aren’t bad enough, then it may be safe to assume facial recognition is the next wave of information sharing. But the best bizarre standard may be similar to the airport Global Entry standard. Those with a background check based card similar to the REAL ID act would gain quicker access than those that don’t. It wouldn’t surprise me if this implements sooner because it is already being discussed with particular lawmakers?

Does all this imply that the registry needs to remain? Certainly not. It does suggest a peek into the proverbial future that California and the rest of America created. The registry beast will ultimately find its reach grasping innocent victims, family, friends, and advocates combined with misinformation no different than the Hillary Clinton Pizzagate scandal. Politicians with greased palms accepting Book or Walsh dollars with falsity with “consulting” and exclusive paperback deals may be the real injury as to why homeless, jobless, prison rates, major crimes, and other economic problems have risen – and continue to increase. However, if humanity will take a leap of faith to help assimilate offenders back into society rather than a registry requirement, they may quickly discover that homeless, jobless, prison rate, major crimes, and other economic worries become lessened with better opportunities and outcomes.

Patty Wetterling once voiced her concern about the registry. But her voice was dismissed as consumed by the giant enterprise of the registry to squelch any opposition and voice of reason. I have calculated my investigation and analysis of perhaps what the world will be like if the registry goes away. In fact, I find it may be more dangerous because politicians and opponents enjoy selling fear and anxiety. However, I tend to reflect more of the powerful words borrowed from Colin Powell saying, “If you break it, you fix it!

The registry is broke and breaking the bank of economic stability and primary rationale with Ameican culture. It had proven to be no more effective today than when it was implemented. It is convoluted, harmful to families, and swallowing up innocent bystanders under the guise of behaviors sometimes not closely associated with rape or violent offenses. The only beneficiary to the registry is companies and individuals that use the registry for its benefit. Individuals that visit the registry, if they can find the correct one, have mentioned feeling less educated or informed because of the lump sum mindset. It is a mammoth service that provides no service to any community and offers no real protection. Typically it is the person not on the registry that one should be concerned with. That is not a hint or suggestion that the registry works. That would equivalent to when an impaired driver gets behind the wheel, gets arrested, have his/her license revoked until court appearance, posts bond, only to drive back home still under the influence and continue driving back and forth to work on a suspended license. I see that the DMV registry is sarcastically impressive. The bottom line is that no registry is useful. What is effective? Law, evidence and a plan to deal with repeat offenders.

Lastly, adding specific laws to the registry requirement further creates a constructive culture of recidivism. What was once black and white to understanding registry requirements are replaced with black and gray content with ambiguous meaning. That is what lawmakers have created, and the registry continues to administer as a broken database of tiered information. This colossal effort of spending and identification in hopes to reduce specific behavior has not matured but expanded into an enterprise business. The registry provides sole benefit to a select few overstated commentary advocates, fear-based advertisers, careless data content providers, and a few attorneys career obsessed with tales of removing people from the registry only to have those reinstated because of retroactive legislation. Even if the registry ended tomorrow, the struggle to regain identity would be an uphill climb because of hostility and resistance towards a failed experiment. Despite police officers being relieved of sex offense monitoring allowing more officers to patrol streets abandon logic and consideration. It’s the opponents that would be out of business and have the ambition to create further harm by selling a new potion claiming it will keep a community safe. Perhaps the best safety and slaying the giant is to meet my neighbors no longer hiding because of registry requirements actively engaged and involved in my neighborhood. We don’t need an app or registry for that – and it will save me and my community a lot of money!

In the meantime, the sex offender registry ending anytime soon doesnt appear to have an optomistic outlook.