Some members of the population are often treated as though their entire existence is defined by one characteristic. As a result, even when others know little to nothing of how they came to be convicted (perhaps wrongfully) of a crime or came to be down on their luck, they judge them unfairly.

Fortunately, the justice system strives to see past labels which may cause others to judge individuals unreasonably. A recent case involving a Wisconsin homeless man who had been convicted of a sex crime illustrates that courts are meant to focus on the alleged crime, not the labels assigned to the person who may or may not have committed it.

The Wisconsin man was released from a correctional facility in 2008, after serving time for a sex offense. As a result of the conviction, he was required to register as a sex offender under state law. This registration process mandates that offenders provide an address of where they are staying within ten days of release.

However, after being released, the man discovered that he could find no home to provide an address for. As a result of his homelessness, he was convicted of failure to register as a sex offender.

Fortunately, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld a reversal of this second conviction. Rather than unfairly punish the man for being homeless or being a convicted felon, the court reasoned that such a conviction was indeed unjust.

The court determined that, “In isolation, the penalty subsection of the statute appears to criminalize the failure to provide required information – without regard to the registrant’s ability to provide that information.” It was therefore considered unreasonable to require someone without a home to provide a home address to authorities in this case.

Though it should be noted that the court explicitly refused to create a registration exception for homeless sex offenders in general, the fair ruling in the individual man’s case serves as a positive reminder that the justice system does indeed seek to be just.

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Court rules for homeless sex offender who didn’t register address,” Bruce Vielmetti, Mar. 13, 2012

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