HB1640 (2008)

HB1640, titled “an act relative to the classification of convicted sex offenders and offenders against children,” is New Hampshire’s attempt at complying with the federal Adam Walsh Act (AWA). We’ve identified a large number of serious problems with this bill, and thus we oppose its passage in its current form.

Among these problems are:—

  • Privacy rights. This bill requires, among other things, listing on the state’s online registry a person’s Internet identifiers, information about their vehicles including license plates, and even current employer along with their address. The bill also calls for the retroactive collection of DNA samples from registered offenders, regardless of whether or not they’re suspected of committing another crime.

    Considering the ease with which one can create new screen names and email addresses, the Internet identifier requirement is all too easy to circumvent. Secondly, what if an offender uses a screen name on one service which is identical to that used by a completely different person on another service (e.g., AIM and MSN)? Are the people running the state registry technically savvy enough to understand these issues and make it clear on the registry who’s really who? Would the average person searching the registry understand?

    Random strangers using the same screen names as the offender aren’t the only innocents that could get caught up in this mess. What happens when a member of an offender’s family—their spouse, or child—borrows their car?

    The publication of employer information in the registry will only serve as a strong deterrent for employers to consider hiring registered offenders, making their integration back into law-abiding society that much more difficult. Why should businesses be forced to have their details published online for merely hiring registered offenders?

  • Faulty classification schemes. The study committee set up under HB1692 two years ago was supposed to study classification of offenders, that is, to individually classify them and designate a level of dangerousness—not pigeonhole people into tiers based on the offense for which they were convicted. Under the proposal in this bill, the registration scheme will continue to be offense-based. Why was this important reform not included in this bill?

  • Inconsistency. This bill both exceeds and falls short of the federal requirements under AWA. With this bill, tier II offenders are initially registered for life—exceeding the AWA requirement of twenty-five years—but can petition the courts to be removed after only fifteen years, something not allowed under AWA. Furthermore, AWA mandates that sex offenders report changes in their registration within three days, yet this bill allows for up to five days. Additionally, we already exceed some of the convicting methods for the crimes listed, e.g., AWA allows for a four-year age difference in statutory rape cases before registration is required, but New Hampshire requires such offenders to register if the age difference is only three years. Finally, we never truly allow anyone off of New Hampshire’s registry—only the public registry. And AWA requires the removal of a person from the registry after their required term has elapsed.

    If New Hampshire branches off into their own idea of what’s required under AWA, then we run the risk of the federal government declaring New Hampshire noncompliant with AWA—rendering this whole bill a useless and expensive waste of time.

  • Money. If states don’t comply with AWA by 2009, the federal government is threatening to cut by 10% the criminal justice funding provided to the states by the federal government under the Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. Yet, in the federal budget for fiscal year 2008, Byrne Grants have already been cut by 67%, across the board for all fifty states! So, what’s the point of this bill if we’ve already lost most of the money to begin with? What’s 10% of virtually nothing actually worth? Will it even cover the increased costs of implementing this bill?