204 sex offenders put back on Net
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Capitol Bureau
Most of the more than 250 sex offenders who were removed from a state Web site two weeks ago over worries their personal information should not have been posted are back on the Internet after a review by the state attorney general's office.
Attorney General Mark Bennett said yesterday that information on at least 15 sex offenders would not return to the Internet but the public could view the material at the Hawai'i Criminal Justice Data Center or at police stations.
Names, photographs, home addresses and work streets of more than 1,400 sex offenders were posted earlier this month after Gov. Linda Lingle signed a bill expanding public access to the information. Voters in November overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment giving the state Legislature the authority to make the information public.
But Bennett immediately took down some of the names over concerns that the Legislature may not have intended the information to be posted. The sex offenders in question were convicted of more than one felony third-degree sexual assault but there was some doubt about whether the convictions stemmed from the same incidents or were repeat offenses.
Bennett's office is still reviewing some of the convictions but has posted information on 204 sex offenders back on the Web site. Many of these sex offenders were convicted of sexual abuse or assault against children under 14, and the state will now post that detail along with the offenders' information.
"What I was left with was the horrible trauma that was visited upon these young boys and girls whose lives may never be the same," said Bennett, who personally read the case files and made the final decisions on what information should be posted.
Bennett said he would ask the Legislature to clarify the issue next session but believes the law permitted all of the original information to be posted, even though he has chosen to remove some of the names. Some state lawmakers did not want information on lower-level sex offenders on the Internet because the public might equate their crimes with violent or habitual sex offenders.
The Web site sexoffenders.hawaii.gov has had more than 1.6 million hits, or views, during its first two weeks. "We've received dozens of calls from parents who are grateful to have this information," said Liane Moriyama, the administrator at the Hawai'i Criminal Justice Data Center. "Members of the public have also called to give us information on the whereabouts of offenders who failed to update their address with us, as required by law."
Lois K. Perrin, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai'i, said she continues to hear complaints from sex offenders who believe their information should not be on the Internet, including some who were convicted decades ago and believed they had moved on with their lives.
Before the new law, sex offenders had the right to ask for a court hearing before their information was posted. Perrin said the hearing process was a safeguard against mistakes but, now that it is gone, she hopes the state will be more careful.
"We would have hoped the state would have undertaken this review before the individuals were posted on the Internet," Perrin said. "For 15 people, the damage has already been done."
Reach Derrick DePledge at 525-8070 or firstname.lastname@example.org.