If you happen to be a sex offender, New Mexico isn't such a bad place to live. If you are arrested for a sexual assault, the likelihood you will be convicted is less than 50 percent.
Only one sex crime in New Mexico carries a mandatory prison sentence. Probation is an option for all the others. If you do get sent to prison? Serve your time and they have to let you out.
Even if you are a sexual predator; even if you still seem dangerous. Then there is parole. It is capped at five years. While on probation or parole, you will be expected to attend sex offender treatment. But there isn't much chance you will end up in the state's sole residential treatment facility.
It has only eight beds. Up for parole, but can't line up a place to live or work? You could join other inmates who serve their parole behind bars. If that happens, you will leave prison with no supervision by a parole officer and no requirement for treatment. Just report once a year to the local sheriff's office for address verification, or whenever your living situation changes.
For the next 10 to 20 years, the neighbors can call up your picture on the Web. But, unlike in other states, they won't be told what kind of risk you really pose. This is how the state of New Mexico protects the public from sex offenders. Some say it's like no protection at all.
A Journal survey of eight other Western states found all of them have enacted major reforms aimed at protecting their communities from dangerous sex offenders.
And, many have done a better job of helping to rehabilitate sex offenders through prison treatment. Some states have boards to oversee sex offender monitoring and treatment, or have enacted civil commitment procedures. Others require lifetime supervision of certain offenders.
Arizona even requires special driver's licenses for sex offenders so law enforcement officers can ensure they are registered. So far, there have been few prosecutions under the "two-strikes" statutes enacted in and The laws mandate life imprisonment for certain rapists and child molesters.
New Mexico was one of the last states to approve a Megan's Law that included a publicly accessible Web site. New Mexico seems to have a reputation for attracting convicted sex offenders. In fact, a recent Journal survey showed that nearly one-third of the approximately 1, registered sex offenders on the public Web site came to New Mexico after being convicted in other states.
One of the highest profile out-of-state sex offenders is David Siebers, who tried to settle in New Mexico last year after his release from a Michigan prison. He spent 19 years in prison for raping several women during a robbery and trying to entice a year-old girl.
Siebers' New Jersey lawyer advised that New Mexico could be a good place to start over because of its rugged individualism and less restrictive sex offender laws. He left the city but lives nearby.
His mobile home in the East Mountains was burned to the ground in March, the fourth time someone tried to harm Siebers or his property. Dominic Akers, 22, was a convicted child molester on probation and was working at the Sunshine during a hip-hop concert the night of July Prosecutors say he lured Marissa Mathy-Zvaifler upstairs with a promise to meet a band member.
There, they say, he raped and strangled her, then hid her body in a storage area. Since then, Chavez has pushed through two sex offender ordinances. On the state level, Gov. Bill Richardson has added the issue to the agenda of the upcoming special session of the Legislature that begins Oct. Dan Foley, R-Roswell, a co-sponsor of the Megan's Law legislation, said Richardson's involvement could make the difference.
Lacking the facts It's happened before. A terrible crime is committed. The public demands a response. Lawmakers rush to pass new laws. But there isn't a lot of good data on the subject of sex offenders in New Mexico. In fact, statistics are incomplete or nonexistent on topics such as the prevalence of sexual assaults, the average length of sentences for such crimes and the recidivism rate of sex offenders.
It's not even clear how many sex crimes are reported in New Mexico. Unlike other states, there is no central law enforcement registry that keeps statistics on reported sex crimes. FBI statistics based on reports from New Mexico law enforcement agencies include only certain types of sex crimes. For the past two years, the Department of Health has funded a study to begin capturing statewide sexual assault data.
Forty-six percent of those involved criminal sexual penetration. Another 28 percent involved criminal sexual contact of a minor, with 11 percent reported as criminal sexual contact. The remaining crimes included indecent exposure, child enticement and sexual exploitation. Seventy-one percent of victims were under the age of Thirty-four percent of sexual assault victims were victims of a prior sexual assault.
The study noted how underreported sex crimes are here and nationwide. It estimated that about 19 percent of adult women in New Mexico have been victims of one or more forcible rapes during their lifes. About 15 percent of New Mexico law enforcement agencies didn't participate in the survey.
Meanwhile, a check of various state criminal justice agencies turned up no statistical data about recidivism rates of sex offenders convicted in New Mexico. For instance, the state Corrections Department couldn't say how many of its inmates serving time for sex offenses had prior convictions for sex crimes. In Bernalillo County, deputies who register offenders estimated that about one in seven has a prior sex offense.
But a state district court judge suspended the sentence and put Akers on five years probation. He pleaded guilty to second-degree criminal sexual penetration, third-degree criminal sexual contact, and bribery.
None of those crimes carries a mandatory minimum prison sentence. Only first-degree criminal sexual penetration requires prison time. Probation is an option for all others. Bob Schwartz, a former Bernalillo County district attorney and the governor's criminal justice policy adviser, said New Mexico's criminal laws also don't allow for sentences "that are contoured to the crime.
You have the same amount of time, same basic sentences. Obtaining a conviction for a sex offense in New Mexico can also be difficult, according to Caponera's study.
Of the felony sex crime cases prosecuted in district court in , she found that the overall rate of conviction was 43 percent. About 53 percent of sex offense cases processed in state district courts were for criminal sexual contact of a minor, with 47 percent of those prosecutions resulting in conviction. The average length of sentences imposed in such cases is still a question, the study found. It is unclear how many of New Mexico's sex offenders go to prison. But, according to a Colorado study, the percentage of New Mexico's prison population incarcerated for sex crimes was 18 percent in It's currently 12 percent.
Elena Giacci, coordinator for prevention of violence against women programs in Bernalillo County, said New Mexico has "decent sentencing available under the law. We just don't get it from our judges and juries. Time after time, I've seen where 20 or 30 years have been given, and much of it is suspended. What happened to punishment? John Brennan, chief judge of the Bernalillo County District Court, said he believes long sentences have been meted out for serious sex offenses.
He registered as a sex offender, attended 52 group therapy sessions, made 80 office visits to the probation office and passed 34 drug tests. Then, in early July, he failed to file a required report with the probation office.
Within two weeks, Mathy-Zvaifler was killed at the Sunshine. Akers was assigned to one of three probation officers in Bernalillo County who supervise the highest-risk sex offenders and have reduced caseloads. But other convicted sex offenders report to probation or parole officers who juggle up to cases at a time, including those convicted of non-sexual crimes. Of the convicted sex offenders in New Mexico, about are on probation or parole, Knipfing said.
Based on registration records, that leaves another 1, without any formal supervision. While various reforms have been suggested for the upcoming session, a major focus is on how to better supervise convicted offenders in the community. Some people suggest extending parole from its current two-year maximum and allowing judges to impose probation beyond the current five-year cap.
Perry, now an Albuquerque attorney, said he tried to sell the Legislature on appropriating money for prison sex-offender treatment and increasing the length of parole for sex offenders.
But he said such proposals became "caught up in a lot of political stuff. Moss Aubrey, an Albuquerque psychologist, said extending the length of probation would also be helpful to treatment providers.
Sex offender treatment is usually a condition of probation or parole. But, Aubrey said, "once they've finished their probation or parole, most of them terminate treatment. Arizona has had a lifetime supervision law since Judges decide whether probation may continue for a term up to and including life. An eye on the workplace Perry said he became concerned about sex offenders who serve "in-house parole.