Sunday, September 26, 2010
It’s hard for me to believe that, after more than 10 years, Nushawn Williams can still generate the kinds of passions that he does. But if you have any doubts, check out the comments on a Jamestown Post-Journal article about the Williams case. For other evidence, you can simply look at the fact that the New York State Attorney General’s Office intervened in order to see that he was kept locked up, even after he had served his complete 12 year sentence. They did this by appealing to the New York State Civil Confinement Law.
Civil confinement laws have been passed by a number of states in reaction to high profile child molestation cases. Legislators were motivated by the argument, no doubt holding some merit, that some sex offenders are not ordinary criminals, and that they need treatment, rather than just incarceration. But, if child molesters and serial rapists provided the rationale for these statues, they have drastically expanded beyond that reach.
In New York State now, anyone that commits a felony sex crime is eligible for a lifetime of civil confinement. But eligibility does not mean confinement, and the state seeks confinement for only 10% of those convicted. Such discretion leaves open the potential for arbitrariness, and the possibility, even likelihood, that those cases that have generated intense media exposure will most likely be pursued. Criminal notoriety, however, is not synonymous with mental abnormality, the criterion that is supposed to determine such considerations.
Nushawn Williams, it should be noted, was not convicted of transmitting HIV. New York did not, and does not, have an HIV criminal transmission statute. He pled guilty to “reckless endangerment,” essentially endangering his partners with infection while HIV positive. (I intend to post a future blog about this aspect of his case.) His sex crimes, on the other hand, involved having consensual sex, when he was 18, with several underage girls.
One of the girls was 13, one 15, and one 17. He had been clearly quite promiscuous in Jamestown, and he did not know the identities of the girls that accused him, but pled guilty to the charges on his lawyer’s advice. That one was 13 is often given as evidence of his depravity. But recently, the identities of the girls were inadvertently made public, and Nushawn was surprised to see the name of the 13 year old accuser. Because, according to him, he hadn’t known her.
I would not attempt to defend Nushawn Williams' activities when he was living in Jamestown, selling drugs, partying, and sleeping with many young women. But in comparison to the crimes committed by any number of Catholic priests, some of whom have never been prosecuted, Nushawn’s seem less than spectacular. He did not, after all, force himself on anyone. Moreover, no one, including the state’s psychiatrist, suggests that he is a pedophile.
The question is not whether he did bad things, or even whether he should have been sent to prison, but whether he deserves a life of confinement for having sex with underage girls while he was a teenager himself. Because that is the state’s position.