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Commentary: A sex offender's scarlet letter

  • Story Highlights
  • Sex offender was ordered to post warning signs on his lawn and car
  • Some want to know, saying it's a public service
  • Others say it encourages vigilantism and violates right to privacy
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By Sunny Hostin
CNN
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Sunny Hostin is a legal analyst on "American Morning."

NEW YORK (CNN) -- I'm cool under pressure. Cool as a cucumber, actually, eerily so. My friends and family comment on it. I think I get it from my father, the quintessential smooth operator.

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Sex offender Leroy Schad, 72, has been ordered to post warning signs in his yard and on his car.

But child molesters get me riled up. I get angry, sad, hot whenever I hear a story about a child being hurt. Even other criminals get hot under the collar about child molesters. Child molesters in prison often have to be segregated from the general population lest they be beaten, raped or killed by other inmates.

But other than locking them up for life in some prison, what do you do with a child molester? I have often wondered what we can do to keep these creeps away from our children.

Of course, parental awareness is the first line of defense. That is why I have been a proponent of sex offender registries. I check http://www.familywatchdog.us/ to see whether a molester is living or working near where we live or where my kids go to school or play.

But having prosecuted these crimes, I have always thought that it isn't enough. What about those families that don't have computers or televisions? Don't they deserve to know where the molesters are?

So when I covered the story of Leroy Schad, I thought, "Someone has finally figured it out: scarlet letters for child molesters." Schad, who admitted molesting a boy, was ordered by Kansas District Judge Ron Svaty to post signs on all four sides of his house and a decal on his car, proclaiming to all that he is a sex offender. Video Watch Schad object »

The house signs are hand-painted in scarlet letters (yes, really) and read "A Sex Offender Lives Here." His car has a large decal with bright yellow letters (I like the scarlet better) reading "Sex Offender In This Car."

Schad, 72, was originally charged with four counts of taking indecent liberties with a 9-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy in 2005. He was allowed to plead guilty in March 2007 to a lesser charge of aggravated indecent solicitation of a child, and the original charges were dismissed. Instead of three years in prison, the judge sentenced him to five years of probation and house arrest, and ordered him to post the signs during his punishment.

Schad is appealing the sign requirement and stated, "I know that I deserve something for that, but I don't think I deserve what I got."

"That's exactly what he deserves, isn't it?" I asked my friend Rich, another former sex crimes prosecutor.

I generally agree with Rich. He is smart (Harvard Law) and was a hard-as-nails prosecutor. But he surprised me when he said, "Actually, Sunny, I'm not so sure about that. Statistically, offenders that have a place to work and live and are reintegrated into society typically don't reoffend. It's when they are unmoored from society that they are at a higher risk of hurting a child again."

Then, he went on to say: "This scarlet letter thing encourages people to engage in vigilante-style justice and would make it impossible for offenders to live in our society. So you have to balance warning the public so they can take precautions to protect themselves and the possibility of vigilante justice and allowing offenders to integrate into society."

What? I stood there dumbfounded. Maybe he isn't so smart after all. But maybe he has a point. Now I'm not so sure about the scarlet letter signs or the license plates identifying child molesters.

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But then he said, "Bottom line is, these guys that hurt children; the serial offenders -- I think they are just wired wrong. And nothing can fix that. They should just spend the rest of their lives in prison."

Now that's the Rich I know. We argued the issue up one side and down the other with no real resolution, because that's how lawyers talk to each other. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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