Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Felonious Hugging

Veronica Rodriguez of Hillsboro, Oregon recently completed a year in prison for the supposed crime of hugging a 13-year-old boy. With time off for good behavior, the 27-year-old completed the sentence imposed on her by the judge who presided over her criminal trial.

The prosecutors in that case, displaying a shameless vindictiveness that might have struck Shylock as excessive, appealed the sentence as impermissibly lenient under Oregon's draconian Measure 11 "one strike and you're out" sentencing guidelines. An appeals court agreed with the prosecutors and imposed an additional five years to Veronica's sentence. The case reached the Oregon state supreme court on February 13, and it may prompt a re-evaluation of the Beaver State's "one strike" sentencing law.

I am not being snarky in describing it as a "one strike" law: That's the way it is proudly advertised by law enforcement and prosecutors who have been granted a license thereby to impose lengthy prison terms on people as young as 15 years of age for behavior that could properly be called lewd and unacceptable, but can't rationally be called criminal. Under the law, first offenders face prison terms that must be considered disproportionate to the offenses they commit.

Among the possible applications of Measure 11 listed on a County prosecutor's website are the following:

You[,] alone or with a friend [,] want someone’s baseball cap. You either pretend to have a weapon or threaten to beat the owner up. You and your friend go to prison for 5 years and 10 months....

You and a friend get into a fight with another person. Your friend pokes the other person in the eye with the handle of a hairbrush, a stick, etc. The eye is injured. You and your friend go to prison for 5 years and 10 months....

You and a date are at a movie. You touch your date’s buttocks, crotch, or breast. Your date tells you to stop. You ignore this and touch your date there again. You go to prison for 6 years and 3 months....

You hear that someone is messing with your friend. You go to their house and force them outside to beat them up. You go to prison for 5 years and 10 months....

Robbery, assault, and sexual battery are all serious crimes, and should be punished as such. But Measure 11 -- particularly where alleged sex offenses are concerned -- seems to have been written for the purpose of criminalizing conduct best punished by a stout, privately administered face-slapping.

Certainly, 15-year-olds -- of any chronological age -- shouldn't persist in fondling unwilling girlfriends (or be permitted to beat up others with impunity, for that matter). But I can't see how it's right to send someone to prison for six years and leave him indelibly branded as "sex offender" for repeatedly copping a feel without explicit permission. And Veronica Rodriguez has been consigned to that fate for behavior much more innocuous than a furtive movie-house grope.

Veronica Rodriguez (center at bottom) with her boyfriend Kevin (left) and her parents.

(Willamette Week photo)

Assuming that the statement of facts in the appellate court's ruling is reliable, there's ample reason to suspect that Veronica Rodriguez was guilty of serious errors in judgment that might have led to less-than-criminal misbehavior with an under-age boy. That misbehavior should have resulted in her losing her job at the Hillsboro Boys & Girls Club, where she worked as a counselor.

The 13-year-old in question came from a broken home and was described as having trouble managing his anger (as most 13-year-old boys do, of course). Veronica, whose initial assignment at the Club was to be a "Prevention Coordinator" -- helping members avoid "doing things such as getting pregnant in high school [or] joining a gang," as she described the role -- took what appeared to be an unusual and unseemly personal interest in the youngster.

According to the summary presented by the Oregon Court of Appeals:

"Defendant and the victim [the Court's term for the 13-year-old] frequently hugged each other, and defendant sometimes put her arm around the victim when they walked, Defendant occasionally allowed the victim to sit on her lap in her office. He kissed her on the cheek between 10 and 20 times. She sent e-mail messages to him in which she said, `I love you' and `I love you lots'.... Defendant took the victim with her on several trips to Bend and Spokane, two of which were overnight trips. The two were frequently alone together in her car, at her apartment, and at his home. They were seen alone together in her office at the club with the door closed."

In addition, Veronica frequently visited the youngster's home and ate dinner with his family, and frequently gave him rides home from school. All of these unsupervised individual contacts, especially the overnight trips, violated the club's long-established rules. They also connoted a deeply improper relationship between Veronica (who at the time was 25 years old) and her 13-year-old friend.

So the proper course of action would have been for the club's faculty to sanction Veronica, and even fire her, if necessary. Absent direct evidence of sexual contact between the two of them, Veronica and her "boyfriend" (as gossip among the other students described the youngster) should have been pried apart using instruments other than the criminal law.

No direct evidence of such a relationship was ever found -- despite the fact that Veronica was convicted of first degree sexual assault and has served a year in prison for that offense.

The purported "sexual conduct" behind that charge took place in the club's game room, which was filled to near-capacity by several dozen students. The offense is described by the Court of Appeals thus:

"The victim, who had since turned 13, was sitting on a chair. Defendant, who had since turned 25, was standing behind him, caressing his face and pulling his head back; the back of his head was pressed against her breasts."

At this point you're probably asking yourself, "Self, could you explain how an attractive 25-year-old woman could be topless in a room full of adolescent boys without triggering a riot?" That's a good question, because it underscores a key distinction rational people would make, and that the prosecutors talked a jury into ignoring: The "victim"'s head was pressed against Veronica's shirt, not her breasts. Both Veronica and her "victim" were fully clothed.

This was the "sexual conduct" referred to by the prosecution, which makes me think they must never have gotten the little speech from their parents explaining "Where babies come from."

Oregon's laws, like those of most states, describe sexual contact as one intended to gratify the sensual appetite of one or both parties. It's not clear at all that the contact described above would qualify. Oh, sure: Given the state of perpetual hormonal carbonation in which many 13-year-old males exist, any contact with an attractive female could qualify, but that's hardly a sound standard.

There's little doubt that Veronica's conduct, as described by the courts, was ragingly improper. But the one overt act described here is not a crime. The jury deadlocked on a second count involving another alleged incident of a more overtly sexual nature.

So Veronica was convicted of sexual assault on the basis of one non-sexual act and a relationship shrouded in a dense fog of insinuation. To win a conviction, the prosecutors essentially convinced a jury to find the defendant guilty of inferred acts and imputed motives. In this way, an inappropriate hug became a felony

Michael Hintz, a former police detective who has worked for Veronica's defense team, describes her conviction as the most perverse miscarriage of justice he's seen in two decades of investigative work. The trial judge, Nancy Campbell, insisted on setting aside mandatory sentencing guidelines because she found the prescribed sentence sufficiently disproportionate to shock the conscience.

But because of Measure 11, and a corps of prosecutors incontinently eager to twist the knife as fiercely as they can, Veronica now faces another five years in prison for conduct that no sentient being can consider criminal.

As the Pharisees prepare to stone a woman to death for adultery, Jesus brings to their attention a fatal flaw with
their version of Measure 11.

The fact that a jury was willing to buy the prosecution's case suggests that, in Washington County, Oregon, at least, jury pools are drawn primarily from those who take their bearings on reality from daytime television. And the willingness of the state judiciary to sentence Veronica to five additional years in prison underscores the political triumph of the chief promoter of Measure 11, a retread Republican "family values" politician named Kevin Mannix.

Until the political winds shifted a decade and a half ago, Mannix was a "McGovern Democrat." With the ascendancy of the Gingrich-era Republican Party, Mannix changed parties -- eventually becoming chairman of the Oregon GOP -- and began to give voice to previously unknown social conservative convictions.

Perhaps inspired by the exploits of the television gumshoe bearing the same surname, Mannix also embraced the "law and order" theme, which is always a good way for cynical politicians to consolidate tiny rivulets of social discontent into a torrent of politically useful alarm. In 1994 he sponsored Measure 11 as a way of tying the hands of judges regarded as too solicitous of the rights of criminals. The predictable result was a draconian system of mandatory sentencing and an invitation for career-minded prosecutors to pad their statistics by building cases against "felons" like Veronica Rodriguez.

Kevin Mannix, the moral conscience of Oregon and scourge of the criminal element, is radiant during a photo-op with a singularly impenitent criminal.

Mannix has served in both chambers of the state legislature. During three state-wide elections, offered himself as a gift to the voters of Oregon; each time the voters have politely said, "Thanks, but no thanks." In his losing campaign for Attorney General in 2000, and his equally unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in 2002, Mannix benefited greatly from the financial support of Loren Parks, a Nevada resident described by some as the "Daddy Warbucks of Oregon conservative causes."

And here is where this particular story takes a turn from the tragic to the genuinely weird.

Loren Parks, unlike Veronica Rodriguez, is a certifiable pervert. He's the founder and owner of Parks Medical Electronics Inc., which manufactures a device called the "penile plethysmograph," which takes readings of the galvanic skin response of a male sexual organ while a test subject is bombarded with pornography; this is supposed to measure male sexual arousal.

That heinous device is frequently used in child abuse investigations: Men suspected of molesting children are subjected to an assault of visual pornography, including scenes involving children. Reactions determined to deviate from an arbitrary norm have been used as evidence in criminal trials, despite the device's dubious reliability.

What kind of a mind could have conceived of such a device? I won't presume to open a window into Loren Parks' soul; that's not necessary, given the exhibitionistic streak that led him to set up a website boasting of his putatively astonishing sexual prowess. Another useful public admission came in 1986, when he settled a lawsuit filed on behalf of a mildly retarded woman whom he had sexually exploited -- an act not noticeably distinct, in a moral sense, from child molestation.

Parks is also dealing with a lawsuit filed by a former employee named Maria Guerin, who accuses him of barraging her with pornographic e-mails and pressuring her into a sexual relationship. To parry that accusation, Parks produced a document called a "Contract to have a sexual relationship" that Guerin allegedly signed before a 2001 trip abroad. The document says, inter alia, "We will be sleeping together on the trip for our mutual pleasure.... Neither of us is obligated to continue an intimate relationship following the trip. All of this has been discussed with my supervisor...."

Guerin contends that the document is spurious and that Parks inserted into her personnel file after the fact. I'm inclined to think that it would be more alarming -- and more compelling as evidence against Parks -- if the document were genuine.

Parks was a major financial backer of Measure 11 in 1994. Somehow it just figures that an individual as extravagantly perverted as he would be the chief financial supporter of that law that may steal six years out of the life of an undisciplined young woman who has been labeled a sex offender on the basis of an intrinsically harmless act.

(Thanks to Anthony Gregory at Strike The Root for bringing Veronica's story to my attention.)

My new book, Liberty in Eclipse, is on sale now.

Dum spiro, pugno!


zach said...

wow. I'm continually amazed at either the cowardice, or Christian self-control of the family members of the victims that are introduced to us on this forum. If my daughter had to serve 6 years for the sake of a prosecutor's career, I would patiently, elaborately plan some private time between me and those responsible.

Anonymous said...

In one instance you wrote chapter 11 instead of measure 11.

Anonymous said...

Reason number 10 as to why I hate the Republican party. Absolutely corrupt to the core - due in large measure to the massive amounts of money that has flowed in over the last decade from weirdos like Parks. This guy Parks reminds me of Bill Oreilly. Obsessed with expanding the States ability to root out sex crimes while living the life of a reprobate. I was a life long Republican till last year when my political affiliation was changed to Independent. I have never regretted it since.

Anonymous said...

This is so loony that even Joseph Stalin would be appalled at the injustice involved.

Anonymous said...

Stalin? No, he wouldn't be appalled. He'd be proud for the destruction his followers are inflicting on this once great nation.

Anonymous said...

This is social control for the sake of social control. Those responsible for these kinds of measures are sadists, and they care nothing at all about what happens in society as long they can regulate us into oppressive fear and self-loathing while they extract tremendous power and wealth. It is imperative that they imprison attractive women so that they cannot be accused of sexism, although their policies are designed primarily to destroy men. 1-2% of men will be convicted of rape in his lifetime in the US, and 1 out of 50 adult males is in prison today in the US. The forces of social control also design to control a signficiant percentage of men who are not in jail, through the criminal process. These men are considered surplussage, and the money to be obtained controlling them is considered legitimate profit in the pursuit of genetic purity of the race.

Al Newberry said...

This story just reminds me of many young, naive women to come into my field of residential care. I can remember many times telling one that "when Joey wants a hug, he's trying to cop a feel." So the advice is "side hugs only." In this woman's case, she clearly became too close to this young boy.

It happens to pretty much everyone who works with kids at some time or another. A kid comes along who really pulls at the worker's heartstrings. The worker loses his/her objectivity and allows him/herself to become too involved with the kid. The worker believes he/she is helping the kid, but doesn't see that he/she can be of no good to the kid whilst losing his/her objectivity.

Of course, most workers don't get to this level of involvement, but it's all too common to one degree or another.

Anonymous said...

I've worked in my state's court system for nearly 25 years, and just have to ask: Is this one of the most egregious case you've seen? How about 10 years for a guy who exposed his privates to a nearly 18-yr-old boy at a beer party? How about 12 years for a guy who copped a cheap feel from his drinking partner at a bar? or 7 years for a guy whose hand, accidently he claimed, touched the private area of a niece while rough-housing? or 10 years for a retarded 19 year old who received oral sex from a younger teenage strumpet who approached him? And all these cases are just from our court. These cases are going on throughout the land on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Kind of makes me wonder just how isolated your life in Idaho has become!

Anonymous said...

Careful, Will! Be careful!

You must not show too intimate a regard for any one of your five children. You must address the boys as "mister" and the girls as "madam," and NEVER kiss or hug or even touch any of them. Otherwise you might be convicted of having thoughts of incest with your daughters, or, in the case of hugging one of your sons, having the intention to commit homosexual acts.

After all, who knows your own mind better than a prosecutor or judge, who has seen the sleazy side of life? These mighty and holy men and women, may Allah shower his blessings upon them and take them into his bosom, are charged with preventing crime, so what better way than to lock up anyone suspected of having bad thoughts?

Imagine an America that looks like a Wal-Mart commercial, with happy faces in every aisle. All the unhappy faces have been sent to jail.

For example, any time George Bush gives a speech, perhaps they could lock up 20-30 million Democrats for the rest of their lives, for harboring thoughts which allegedly prove their inherent proclivity to commit murder.

("Oh boy! What a great idea! We were wondering how we could possibly steal the NEXT five elections.")

Of course, this was the way little George Bush was raised, which explains two things: One, why our country is in such a mess right now, and two, why the Repugnicans want to institutionalize rigid, robotic and inhuman parenting, as practised in the Bush Crime Family. This is the only way they know to raise their evil spawn, which is probably why Republicans are all such strange, twisted, voracious people, like Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly. All of them were probably unwanted children whose parents would have gladly aborted them, but because of rigid dogma, unwisely chose to carry them to term and inflict them on the world instead.

How's that strike you for a new definition of Republicans?: "The unaborted." It has a certain Transylvanian resonance to it, don't you agree?

Yours happily,

prairiesurfer said...

Bush has already started throwing the Democrats in jail - Don Siegelman - Ex Alabama Govenor - 7 years.

If Bush can get away with that one, I would venture to say he can probably get away with you or I.

I went to L Parks web site that was linked-what a sicko! The rest of the vocabulary that comes to mind to describe him should not be posted. This guy is really in love with himself, and his deep thoughts.

Nice to know we have such wonderful thugs to buy and support our "Christian" politicians.

I too renounced my Republican label for that of Independent, temporarily rejoining so as to canvas for Dr Paul. I have in recent times, started to back-pedal from even the label of "Christian", preferring to keep it on a simple level of "follower of Jesus", due to the bad name that every NeoCon who wants to get elected has called himself.

Tom Eddlem said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Eddlem said...

Here's my dilemma: I've long believed that there is a less serious category of non-sexual "sexual" crimes that ought to be punished less severely. There are lots of people who do lewd, immoral things that do not merit lifelong stigma or prison sentences, such as kids in college who go streaking, or a high school kid who moons his teacher over an "F." (By the way, I've done none of these things.)

However, as someone who lives in Massachusetts, where they treat repeated child rapists more lightly than traffic violations (they often receive less than a year in prison), I'm a bit hesitant to criticize strict sentencing guidelines.

I do understand that in Massachusetts that someone who is stuck in a never-ending traffic jam on a weekend trip to Cape Cod (I've never had to do this either, though there have been times when I've come close) and goes into the woods to relieve himself, will be tagged as a "sex offender" for the rest of his life. That's not right either.

Anonymous said...

I think the best answer I can offer is not mine, but is a witticism coined by one of the French philosophers of the Enlightenment - I don't know which one, Voltaire or some such, who said: "Dans toute l'histoire, il y avait un seul vrai Chretien - et il etait un juif." - "In all of history, there has been only one true Christian - and He was a Jew."

People are all to ready to clothe themselves in the holiness of Jesus, and to congratulate themselves for that achievement. Personally, just as you call yourself a "follower of Jesus," rather than call myself a Christian, I prefer to call myself an "aspiring Christian." I am and always will be an unfinished work in progress until the day I die, and hope that at that time, my futile efforts will be sufficient to provoke divine compassion.

Tom Eddlem,
Nobody can argue with your points. They are so obvious there is no comeback. But we can ask ourselves, "Why?" and "How?" I believe one of the major problems (and also one of the major strengths) of this country is that it is a country of law. (Yes, I know, one would not think so any more, but it is very ingrained in our psyche.)

However, one can never pass enough laws to address every possible situation and set of circumstances. When courts and legislatures try to apply law to every possible situation, it is inevitable that the law falls short, and instead of producing a just outcome, this rigidity of thinking produces injustice instead. Personal liberty becomes instead ever more and more constrained by the State, in an effort to prevent every conceivable error in interpersonal relationships.

We ALL know right from wrong. It is very simple, and does not require the millions of pages of law codices we have produced in 230 years. Basically, respect for individual property is all we need to observe, whether it is the property of one's person, one's thinking, one's water to drink and air to breathe, or one's material goods. If each individual and each corporation and each group respected the property of each individual, instead of trying to steal it by perversions of the vast multitide of codified laws, we would live in a Utopia. If we all said, my properties are mine, and your properties are yours, and neither of us will take from the other, and common property like the air and the forests and the water are the property of all and belong to no one, we would live like the First Americans, who called the Earth their Mother and the Sky their Father. How can a man own his mother and his father? They said, we do not inherit this world from our forefathers for our use, we hold it in trust for our children, for their use.

And our European immigrant forefathers called them "savages." I guess, when one wants to steal someone's land and property it is easier to call them a "savage" or an "Arab" or any of a number of epithets we have invented.

So - no answer to your observations, except to say, yes, we humans have a lot of evolving left to do.

Best Wishes,

Anonymous said...

From several sources I've heard that District Attorneys receive federal funding for the prosecution of "sexual abuse," effectively providing a bounty for every prosecution. When actual child molestors are in short supply, prosecutors trump up "sex crime" charges against the merely indiscreet, such as Veronica Rodriguez. This bounty hunting needs investigation. When I asked the Klamath County DA about it he exploded in a rage against those who would obstruct his pursuit of "these monsters." Very difficult to get straight info when direct questions provoke this sort of response, whose vehemence suggests that something very rotten is being concealed.

InalienableWrights said...

Even if they had been sleeping together the boy was by historical standards an adult. Be Franklin left home and was on his own at about the same age. My great great grandfahter came over from Hungary at 14 by himself.

What's the knee jerk reaction all about when a person in their teens that is sexually active with other teens picks someone over the age of 18 to sleep with?

InalienableWrights said...

Even if they were sleeping together he was an adult by historical standards. My great great grandfather came over from Hungary on his own at 14.

What's the knee jerk reaction about sexually active teens that decide at some point to sleep with someone over the age of 18?

Unknown said...

This makes me laugh so hard!!!! Ive know veronica since i was 6 and she was in college. my mom let me spend the night all the time, ride in her car, go to movies, the park, she'd take me to school and pick me up. id see her pretty much everyday. She worked at west centeral community center which is where i met her. she was my mentor and best friend, and tought me alot. she NEVER ONCE touched me inappropriately. the idiots who put the charges against her are retarded. im now 21 and she 31 live just down the road from me. i see her almost everyday and 15 years later were still best friends....and no shes never tried to touch me or do anything sexual now that im of age to have sex or do sexual acts.