Oregon sex offender terms apply to non-offenders

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by By WILLIAM McCALL, Associated Press Writer

kgw.com

Posted on February 5, 2010 at 8:15 AM

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- The Oregon Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the state parole board can treat some inmates like sex offenders after release from prison even if they were not serving time for any sex crime convictions.

The court said the state Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision can base those sex offender conditions on an inmate's criminal history and background, rather than other crimes resulting in conviction.

The ruling involved two inmates, one convicted of drug crimes and the other convicted of assault and weapons charges.

Both inmates had been charged with sex offenses in the past, but those charges were either dismissed or reduced to lesser offenses.

The opinion by Justice Virginia Linder said their background was enough for the parole board to require a set of special conditions normally reserved only for sex offenders following release from prison.

"In each of these cases, the board reasoned that petitioner's individual criminal history provided reason for concern sufficient to justify imposition of the four sex offender special conditions of post-prison supervision," Linder wrote.

Michael Roberts was serving sentences for assault and weapons convictions, but his criminal history included a rape charge that had been dismissed, and sex abuse and rape charges that resulted in a conviction for a lesser charge of sexual misconduct. Before his conviction for several drug crimes, Edgar Weems had faced sodomy charges that were dismissed and sexual abuse charges that were reduced to a lesser charge of menacing in a plea deal. He also underwent a sex offender risk assessment by the state Department of Corrections in 2004 before the board considered his release.

The court said the state law that Roberts and Weems had challenged "focuses specifically on the offender, not the offense."

As a result, Linder wrote, "the Legislature plainly intended the board to consider more than just the narrow circumstances of an offender's current crimes of conviction." Peter Gartlan, chief defender for the state Office of Public Defense Services, said his office argued that the board should be limited only to the circumstances of the conviction that resulted in a prison sentence.

Otherwise, Gartlan said, a person could be convicted of a crime such as driving under the influence of intoxicants and still be assessed for the risk of sex offenses after release.

But Tony Green, spokesman for Oregon Attorney General John Kroger, said public safety was a key consideration.

"The Legislature wanted to give the Board of Parole this authority to protect the public, and we felt -- and the court agreed -- it was in the Legislature's authority to do so," Green said.

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