Are Internet sex crime punishments in Illinois too harsh?

The research group Human Rights Watch recently issued a report on the lasting damage that can follow people placed on a sex offender registry. Punishments for sex crimes and the consequences of registering as a sex offender may last for the life of the convicted person - even for sex crimes that seem relatively slight in comparison to others.

The group looked at 281 minor sex offenders in 20 states. The report they issued - "Raised on the Register: The Irreparable Harm of Placing Children on Sex Offender Registries in the U.S.," listed the offenders, their crimes and the accompanying punishments, which the report felt were excessive in most cases.

One offender mentioned in the report was a girl in Pennsylvania who in 2005 took nude photos of herself at age 15 and then posted them to the Internet. She was charged with distributing child pornography and tried as an adult, meaning now she must register as a sex offender for life.

The report noted some of the side effects of registering as a sex offender. Sex registries can cause stigmatization, isolation and depression for the people on the list. Illinois' Sex Offender Database is available to the public and registrants face restrictions on housing, employment and their own movements. Sex Offender Database registrants also face lifelong economic consequences.

The harsh penalties for sex crimes stem from a movement in the 1990s that attempted to limit the number of repeat sex offenders. However, the study noted that fewer than one in ten youthful offenders had repeat convictions and 13 percent of adult violators had repeat convictions. In other criminal matters offenders commit a repeat offense an average of 45 percent of the time.

Other potential punishments

Most Internet sex crimes are felonies; this means lengthy prison sentences for a conviction. For example, in Illinois a child pornography charge is generally a felony, but the charge will depend upon the evidence in the case. Still photos of child pornography may bring a lower charge than a video of similar content, for example. The age of the child depicted will also factor into the potential sentence.

Fighting charges

Internet sex crimes may also bring due process concerns. For example, police may use entrapment methods to lure suspected criminals by posing as children in chat rooms. Entrapment means police induce a person to commit a crime using fraud or pressure.

With their freedom at stake and the potential for negative consequences for life, it is vital that people in Illinois charged with a sex crime protect their constitutional rights and put forth a skilled defense. Illinois residents facing Internet sex crime charges should speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss their legal rights and options moving forward.

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