Child Sex: The New Crack?

Those of us who earn our living on the front lines of the criminal justice system are often too shell-shocked to recognize larger trends. But when things go beyond a mere trend, and take the form and shape of a tsunami, everyone notices. So I write today about allegations of sexual misconduct with minors, the latest tidal wave to inundate the courts. It is the new crack cocaine of the criminal justice system.

There was a time when it seemed as if every other call for representation was from some soul caught within the web of a federal indictment for conspiring to sell crack cocaine. Here's how the game was played: The feds would target a suspected dealer. They'd watch him, record his phone conversations, and then, after several weeks, sweep in and arrest every person who as much as touched a rock of crack. Those at the periphery of the action were expected to plead guilty and get favorable terms in exchange for fingering those at the center of the conspiracy.

These cases became an art form, with predictable acts, plots and characters. (Client: "We never talked about the coke on the phone." Lawyer: "Yes, I know you talked about shrimp. But tell me, what have you to corroborate that you were really in the business of selling seafood?") Once you've seen a couple dozen of these, you've pretty well seen them all.

Today new melodramas are unfolding. They all involve child sex claims. It seems that two of every three calls we get now comes from someone accused of either looking at child pornography on line, enticing a purported minor on line to have sex, or groping a niece or daughter of a friend. Law enforcement has got its game down pretty well now, so expect more and more of these cases to be brought until, for reasons as yet unforeseen, some new fashions sweeps lawmen off their feet.

I'm not the only lawyer to observe this trend. I live in a tiny jurisdiction, and cover courthouses throughout my state. Lawyers gossip about what they are doing. Many lawyers are stunned by the sudden volume in these cases. Sex, I say, is the new crack.

I doubt seriously that some new wave of lechery has overtaken our society. In terms of the actual contact between adults and minors, I suspect things are pretty much the way they have always been. Sometimes the wrong things go bump in the night. We no longer overlook these transgressions: Today we seek long periods of incarceration in the effort to banish untoward desire.

But what has changed in the ubiquity of images on the Internet. I represent plenty of young men who took their libido for a walk on line. Some of them got curious about things they might never try. They looked at pictures of forbidden acts. Now the state and federal government want them to go to prison. It seems like a waste of life and human potential.

Other young men dabble at sex on line. The forms this lust takes is sadly common. If I hear about another guy in his twenties promising an undercover cop posing as a 14-year-old girl that he will teach her to give oral sex like a porn star, I'll sigh a deep groan of despair. I fear that Dante's vision of Hell is far more interesting that the warp and woof of our contemporary sins. Lust is ugly; we bend in only so many grotesque ways.

But here is what I worry about: As law enforcement perfects the craft of prosecuting these cases the standard for when to prosecute will get lower and lower. I now represent a young man accused of possessing four images of child pornography on his computer. This calls for prison. If there were only three images, he'd go free. So we fight now about whether he actually looked at all four images, and whether that matters. Were lawmakers thinking when they passed laws calling for mandatory prison time?

Or consider a new statute in Connecticut, aggravated sexual assault in the first degree. Touch two or more children under the age of 13 in an improper manner, and you look a twenty-five year mandatory sentence dead in the eye. That's the same penalty as required for manslaughter with a firearm. The real import of a statute like this is to frighten defendants into a plea: anything to avoid the risk of trial, whether they are guilty or not.

We're in the grip of a strange moral panic. The end does not seem yet to be in sight.

It is far too easy for lawmakers to pass legislation requiring draconian sentences from within the antiseptic chambers of a legislative assembly. Who, after all, wants to appear to go easy on those who abuse children? But not all forms of abuse are identical, and neither are all defendants. Sometimes a mistake is just a mistake and the harm than comes of making it a crime dwarfs all justice. I wish that lawmakers were required to go to court to see their handiwork.

I wish that lawmakers could see that making child sex allegations the new crack cocaine of the criminal code is a manifest tragedy. I wish, finally, that each lawmaker were required to spend a few months behind bars to get a sense of what it is to live isolated and afraid. Is it to much to ask those who make the product to test drive what they are producing?

Comments: (9)

  • The state's attorneys are the most pathetic gaggle...
    The state's attorneys are the most pathetic gaggle of lawyers imaginable. Knowing they were woefully outmatched by corporate attorneys at the Pullman and Comley law firm even though I presented a case with irrefutable evidence of theft of property of mine to them on a platter, they opted instead to try to entrap me for sex and/or drug crimes beginning with an illegal wiretap on my apartment phone. This was the easiest route to them. Their aim was to gain kudos from other corporate attorneys for having foiled yet again--in the manner of Fearless Fosdick--the effort by one (i. e., me, a law-abiding Connecticut resident) to extort money from a peerless Connecticut corporate law firm (which I have exposed is criminal to the core with the blessing of attorney general Richard Blumenthal).
    One needs to go no further than the naughty, naughty (though nauseating in my opinion), pubescently titillating TV show Desperate Housewives to understand the sources of what Pattis laments as one of the latest faces of contemporary American pathology, a pathology which as I have noted above and as Pattis has noted permeates state law enforcement. For reporting, prosecuting, and denouncing sex crimes offers a large portion of the public balm for its weekly, habitual enjoyment of Desperate Housewives and the like.
    Or--another example--one may have seen on Diane Sawyer's recent nightly news program the piece on the bevy of grade-school girls bumping and grinding in a dance contest. This video "mistakenly" found its way to YouTube. Parents interviewed expressed outrage that the video found such a wide audience, when it was meant only for local consumption. The matter of the propriety of the video was never the issue, only the extent of its distribution. My guess is if someone else had made such a video, teaching the young girls how to bump and grind and dressing them in such scant costumes, there would have been an inquiry and probably an indictment for child pornography. Parents and their neighbors would not have stood for someone making such a video--i. e., someone other than themselves. But as it was the parents who were doing the staging and the prompting, this was acceptable.
    I foiled the state's attorneys entrapment attempts. I am not so careless nor easily tempted to fall for entrapment attempts such as solicitation at Southport Beach, which is not a known stretch for prostitution. The state's attorneys then resorted to witness intimidation including death threats. And I have strong reason to believe, they have involved FBI and other Federal law-enforcement in observing me and hoping to target me for terrorist connections or activities. When sex crime entrapments fail, the pathology of law-enforcement moves to the theme of terrorism.
    The state's attorneys escalate and refine their prosecutions for sex crimes so the public may in good conscience continue to take in the growing salacious and pornographic offerings of television, the Internet, advertising, etc., and as the case of the young girls bumping and grinding exemplifies, grade-school dance competitions.
    Posted on May 16, 2010 at 2:18 pm by Henry Berry
  • Norm--just so you know, there are lots and lots of...
    Norm--just so you know, there are lots and lots of people who are not paranoid conspiracy theorists reading the fantastic stuff you've been writing, they just seem to comment first lately.
    Posted on May 16, 2010 at 6:00 pm by Lee
  • Thanks!
    Posted on May 16, 2010 at 11:48 pm by Norm Pattis
  • One man's conspiracy theorist is another man's cla...
    One man's conspiracy theorist is another man's clarion-caller. You know, there are lots and lots of people reading the fantastic stuff you've been writing who think everything is just hunky-dory in the UnKonstitution State. They just seem to be slow to hit that send-button. Their retarded comments just seem to appear at the bottom of the queue, if at all, as they stick their heads in the sand or some place where the sun don't shine.
    Posted on May 17, 2010 at 12:20 am by William Doriss
  • I am grateful for any and all readers. I, too, am ...
    I am grateful for any and all readers. I, too, am slow to see the obvious, as you have pointed out from time to time, Bill.
    Posted on May 17, 2010 at 12:37 am by Norm Pattis
  • Sure, Bill. Of course if these clarion callers ha...
    Sure, Bill. Of course if these clarion callers have so much to add, perhaps they'd do better starting their own blog where they can determine the topic of discussion rather than treating comments sections as open invitation soapboxes for any non-sequitur they deem worthy?
    And, yes, I have now hijacked the comments to this great post with a discussion of comments section etiquette. Irony duly noted.
    Posted on May 17, 2010 at 3:11 pm by Lee
  • I like non-sequiturs; they are the best kind. I al...
    I like non-sequiturs; they are the best kind. I also like this blogsite, not the least reason being that it is always sending me to the dictionary.
    If I am not mistaken, Mr. Berry does have his own blogsite, for which he has provided a link to here. Pay attention, Ms. Lee. The Defense Rests? ALL RISE!
    Posted on May 18, 2010 at 1:29 am by William Doriss
  • So he does.
    So he does.
    Posted on May 18, 2010 at 4:07 pm by Lee Stonum
  • I genuinely enjoy your writings, including the Law...
    I genuinely enjoy your writings, including the Law Tribune column but as far as I can tell, you have one minor flaw in this argument. What about the children who were legitimately victimized? I understand being raped, or photographed, or "inappropriately touched" isn't a death sentence for a victim. They can go on to live productive lives. But the truth is, it's difficult to get to that point and many suffer feelings of guilt, shame and unworthiness their entire lives. Not to be crass but, what if it happened to your child? Would you honestly say to yourself, your spouse, well gee, we'll just get little Johnny the best shrink money can buy and it'll be fine. I understand that people are falsely accused, and that's a huge problem. I also understand you feel it's wrong for the police to entrap men fishing for young bait on the Internet. But frankly, is it healthy for a 22 year old to chase a 14-year-old online? Would you expect your 22-year-old son to engage in that type of behavior? Just a thought but, your argument sounds like a man who is absolutely sure that his children would never be victimized. You talked about heart and bounce in this week's Law Tribune Column, do you really ahve that litte heart when it comes to considering how sexual abuse could affect the victims?
    Posted on June 22, 2010 at 2:43 pm by Anonymous

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