From transphobic prosecution to wrongful conviction to a viable alternative

1,241 words

I am not a sex offender, but the state likes to think I am. That must change, by any means necessary.

For coming out, I was sent in

Back in 1993, I came out as transgender. At the time I was living in a religiously conservative community. As you may guest, it did not go well.

The nation was still in the grip of a sex panic. Popular misconceptions of LGBT folk characterized us as “child recruiting sex predators.” Very fear-based.

A child I had never met was apparently indoctrinated to think this way. Out of nowhere, she falsely accused me and my trans roommate of some bizarre stuff. If trans people did it then it must be true, right? No evidence required.

I soon learned how the bar for criminal conviction gets set painfully low, while the bar for exoneration remains elusively high. My defense lawyer showed me a sentence in the law book that spelled my doom: “No corroborating evidence is necessary for a conviction of criminal sexual conduct.” See? No evidence required.

After two weeks of something of a show trial, we were both declared guilty by a jury of our cisgender “peers.” Confirmation bias allowed the coached testimony of a child to send us to the hostile environment of a men’s prison. No evidence required.

After numerous attempts to clear my name, while re-experiencing the trauma each time, I have yet to prevail. Despite being an asexual transgender person with no other felonies and numerous college degrees, I am required to register for life as a sex offender and remain impoverished.

Certainly you're not a complicit sex offender, right?

Did you know you can legally impose your sexual will on another person? With non-contact sexual harassment included in our current understanding of sexual violence, you can slip into sexual violence and not even realize it. In short, you can obstruct another person from enjoying the same level of life and liberty you enjoy by imposing your own sexual will.

How? By assuming every person listed on the sex offender registry must be guilty, and then acting upon that misinformation in ways that exclude a wrongly convicted person from accessing such basics as a stable income, stable housing, and access to healthcare. All because of someone’s sexual feelings, projected upon the falsely accused. No less, to sexually objectify an asexual transperson like me.

Consider this for a moment. When someone wrongly convicted of a sex crime finally receives exoneration, they finally can have their name removed from the sex offender registry. Until then, the registrant’s name sits there alongside other violent predators. How are you to know the difference?

The current sex offender registry provides no context to distinguish between actual sex offenders and credible innocence claimants. This allows damaging discrimination against the wrongly convicted for whom exoneration continues to remain out of reach. In this era of the back­ground check, I am repeatedly denied meaningful employment because of a popular misconception about transgender people decades ago.

The continuing reluctance of criminal courts to admit their costly errors gets compounded by the overwhelming number of requests to Innocence Projects for legal aid. The adversarial system digs in its heels, to deny its culpability in the increasing number of wrongful convictions. It is now easier for the accused to admit their human errors than for law enforcers to admit theirs.

One size fits all?

Consequently, public information about persons legally required to register as a sex offender fails to include the finely nuanced but essential distinctions between the guilty and the innocent. In each listing you will find only what the self-protective criminal justice system prefers you to know:

  • a mug shot of the presumed “offender,”

  • the latest address they provided,

  • whether or not that person has regularly reported to the nearest police station as required by law;

  • the crime for which the person was convicted,

  • the date of that conviction,

  • the severity level of the crime according to the most recent law, and

  • how long the registrant must register.

Wouldn't you like to be better informed

Each listing excludes some vital pieces of information to help you, or anyone conducting a background check in your interest, to distinguish between the truly dangerous and those in danger because they are wrongly listed. So you will never know:

  • who consistently maintains their innocence;

  • whose profiles do not fit the stereotypical case of felons who deny criminal involvement (e.g., blaming victim, minimizing their behavior’s damaging impact, expressing no empathy for accuser, other criminal behavior);

  • whose conviction was based solely or primarily upon the inconsistent testimony (or coached testimony) of the complainant;

  • who asserted their right to trial to demonstrate their evidentiary innocence;

  • whose case involved one or more common causes of wrongful conviction:

  • eyewitness misidentification,

  • junk science,

  • false confessions,

  • government misconduct,

  • snitches, &

  • poor legal assistance;

  • who willingly faced a trial penalty of many years of incarceration, and willingly would face it again (or have faced it again), by resisting or never entertaining a plea deal, or coerced into a plea deal out of fear of the trial penalty;

  • who received the harshest penalties allowed by law and still maintained their innocence;

  • who consistently maintained innocence at risk of being denied parole, and then served out their maximum sentence without regret;

  • whose record shows little to no other criminal activity;

  • who continues to seek exoneration;

  • who comes from a group historically targeted (e.g., gay, transgender, black males);

  • whose personal lives do not fit the profile of the case (e.g., whose children never accused them of inappropriate touching, who never consumed porn, who never paid for sex, etc.); and

  • motivations by state actors to maintain such a wrongful conviction.

Here I make my stand

As I write this, countless others find themselves in a similar situation. If not for myself, then for them I must now take a stand. As a public act of civil disobedience, I will no longer comply with the SOR reporting requirements.

Authorities are free to ask me why, to engage me and convince me of any better options. Any authority trying to impose the state’s indiscretion shall be met with proactive resistance. I can offer no less to all in need of substantive (and not merely procedural) justice.

If arrested for my failure to report, I shall go limp and not comply. If charged for resisting arrest, I shall wear it as a badge of honor. If subjected to further forms of state violence, I shall inspire others in proving my point.

I stand with a viable alternative to this bad law, and invite discussion for its improvement or viable alternatives. Reverting to failed due process is not an option. Due process falls short. It fails the many women declaring “me too.” It fails targeted black communities shouting “black lives matter.” It fails victims of school shootings. It fails me again and again. A more nuanced process is painfully overdue.

I can no longer aid and abet this bad law. Where the government fails to responsibly provide for the needs of the people, then can the people assert the liberty to provide for them­selves? What is democracy if it does not actually empower people to be their best?

To hell with your bad law and dysfunctional legal system, and your self-serving criminal justice system that objectifies victims and victimizers without accountability. I now stand to be my best, to live more by love than by law. I dare anyone to try and stop me.

Steph is a self-described transspirit, which is a kind of sacred misfit. By transcending conventional limits—gender norms, religious identities, political polarities, and more—Steph experiences a unique connection in life. And suspects others do as well. This blog shares that spirituality, and affirms others of a similar state of being.

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