In 2017 The Alliance for Constitutional Sex Offense Laws held its inaugural national conference, “We Are All In This Together” on June 16th and 17th in Los Angeles at the Southwestern Law School’s historic Bullocks-Wilshire building. More than 165 registered citizens, family members and supporters from across the country were in attendance.
Featured speakers at the conference included nationally recognized leaders in Criminal Justice Reform including sociologist Emily Horowitz PhD, law professors and ACSOL Board Members Catherine Carpenter and Ira Ellman, WAR Founder Vicki Henry, Professor Larry Dubin and practicing attorneys Laura Arnold, Dylan Ford, ACSOL President Chance Oberstein, and ACSOL Executive Director Janice Bellucci.
Professor Emily Horowitz, Ph.D. is the author of “Protecting Our Kids? How Sex Offender Laws Are Failing Us” which was a 2016 Choice Outstanding Academic Title. Her research focuses on sex offenses and crimes against children as well as the hysteria that surrounds those cases. At St. Francis College, Professor Horowitz teaches courses in sociology and criminal justice, directs the Institute for Peace & Justice, founded and co-directs the post-prison college program and is the Chair of the School’s Department of Sociology & Criminal Justice. Her expertise includes: Wrongful Convictions and False Confessions, Miscarriages of Justice Involving Crimes Against Children, Law and Society and Sex Offenses.
Professor Catherine Carpenter (Southwestern Law School) is one of our countries top 25 most influential people in legal education. Elected to the American Law Institute in 2012, Professor Carpenter is nationally renowned as a criminal law scholar in the area of sex crimes and sex offender registration laws.
Professor Ira Ellman (University of California, Berkeley, retired) served as a law clerk for Justice William O. Douglas of the United States Supreme Court, was a legislative aide to Senator Adlai Stevenson III, and worked as a consultant to the California legislature. Ira and his Wife Tara are the authors of the 2015 essay “’Frightening and High’: The Supreme Court’s Crucial Mistake About Sex Crime Statistics,” which reveals that the sources relied upon by the Supreme Court in Smith v. Doe, a heavily cited constitutional decision on sex offender registries, in fact provide no support at all for the facts about sex offender re-offense rates that the Court treats as central to its constitutional conclusions. At ACSOL’s Conference, Professor Ellman discussed how the false “facts” stated in the Doe opinion have since been relied upon repeatedly by other courts in their own constitutional decisions, thus infecting an entire field of law as well as influencing policy making by legislative bodies across the country.
Vicki Henry is the founder of Women Against the Registry (WAR) a national group working tirelessly to educate the public about the impact and the “unintended consequences” sex offender registries have had and are having on the family members of registrants. WAR also operates a support helpline staffed by volunteers which answers questions and provides hope and encouragement to registrants and family members, women, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, daughters, children, friends, and others that are suffering collateral damage because a family member, friend, or loved one is on the sex offender registry.
Professor Larry Dubin is a professor of law at the University of Detroit, Mercy School of Law. Larry Dubin’s son Nick was born with Asperger’s syndrome, a neurological disease on the autism spectrum. The complex world of sex and appropriate sexual behavior can be extremely challenging for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and, without guidance, many find themselves in vulnerable situations. When Nick was 33 he was arrested for a sex offense and is now labeled a “sex offender.” At ACSOL’s Conference Professor Dubin spoke eloquently about Nick’s arrest, the aftermath, the love he and his son share for each other and how the “sex offender” label has needlessly and unnecessarily magnified the effects of his son’s disability. Mr. Dubin has co-authored a book with Dr. Emily Horowitz entitled The Autism Spectrum, Sexuality and the Law.
Laura Arnold is a public defender in Riverside CA. She earned both her undergraduate and law degrees from Ohio State University. In 2015, Ms. Arnold successfully argued against sex offender residency restrictions (Jessica’s Law) in front of California’s Supreme Court in the Taylor case.
Dylan Ford is a deputy public defender in Los Angeles County. He graduated from Princeton and earned his law degree from UCLA. Mr. Ford worked with Laura Arnold to help process what he calls “a deluge of challenges by homeless sex offenders” caused by California’s Jessica’s Law.
Chance Oberstein is the current President of ACSOL and a practicing attorney representing clients throughout California. Since starting his practice, he has handled hundreds of cases involving misdemeanor and felony crimes at the state and federal level. His practice focuses on post-conviction relief including felony reductions, termination of parole, dismissals, pardons, parole hearings, removal from sex registration and certificates of rehabilitation. Mr. Oberstein is highly-trained in this complex area of the law and has many years of experience negotiating with prosecutors, litigating in court and obtaining exceptional case outcomes.
Janice Bellucci is the past President and current Executive Director of ACSOL and a practicing civil rights attorney whose legal practice is limited to registrants and family members. She has filed more than 100 lawsuits challenging proximity restrictions, residency restrictions, Halloween sign requirements and the International Megan’s Law.
In addition to these exceptional, talented speakers, 24 workshops were held by experts on topics as varied as domestic and international travel, housing, employment, parole and probation, advocacy and registrant resources. Other workshops included a panel made up of family members discussing their challenges with living on the registry, a panel of mental health counselors and a panel devoted to LGBTQ issues.
“We are so gratified by the positive response and enthusiasm people are having to our inaugural conference, our workshops and speakers” said ACSOL Executive Director Janice Bellucci, “and I’m thrilled so many people generously donated scholarships enabling those with financial challenges the opportunity to attend the conference.”
As the conference progressed a common feeling was articulated by attendees: “If I had to describe the conference with two words, the words would be: overwhelming and hope” said one attendee while another commented “The thing I’ll remember the most about the conference is the hope that continued to grow with each word said and each idea shared. Each speaker or presenter gave me more and more hope.”
ACSOL Executive Director Janice Bellucci, closed the conference on Saturday with her inspiring speech, “I Have A Dream” modeled on the famous speech of the same name penned by civil rights giant, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The speech was acknowledged with a thunderous standing ovation and tears including a few from Mrs. Bellucci. “I almost made it through without being overcome with emotion but this issue is so important to so many. The pain and real danger these registry laws cause those who are forced to register and their loved ones is just wrong… I’m renewed by this conference, by our invited speakers and by the strength of everyone who was able to show up, stand up and speak out this weekend.”
To those who were able to attend this year we thank you for your support and hope you will join us again next year. To those who were not able to attend this year we sincerely hope you will join us in 2018. As one conference goer remarked, “I felt more validated and respected these past two days than I’ve felt in the last decade.”
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