The world at large is against sex offenders, particularly those who target children. To that end, many people have argued that all people who commit a serious sex offense should be subject to chemical castration. But others argue that such a law would be highly unethical as well as a serious violation of the US constitution’s protections against cruel and unusual punishment. It’s with both standpoints in mind that California allows for the chemical castration of sex offenders, but only in specific circumstances.
The First State to Permit Chemical Castration of Sex Offenders
While some mistakenly believe the state is lax when it comes to crime and punishment, California is often on the forefront of criminal justice concepts and sometimes has more strict penalties than other states. In fact, California was the first state to allow for the chemical castration of sex offenders and it legalized the practice all the way back in the 1990s.
Under the law, those who have committed sex crimes against a victim under 13 are required to undergo chemical castration in order to obtain parole and be released from prison. In general, this law only applies to those who used force in the commission of the crime and who have already been convicted of a first offense, though a judge may order chemical castration for a first time sex offender in some circumstances.
It’s worth mentioning that convicted child molesters have some limited amount of choice under this system. They can not only choose to stay in prison until the end of their sentence rather than submit to the chemical castration, but they may also choose surgical castration if they prefer.
The Constitutional Argument Against Chemical Castration
The most obvious argument against California’s chemical castration law is the question of whether it is constitutional under or if it is considered cruel and unusual punishment. While the majority of effects of chemical castration only last as long as the offender continues to take the drugs, and can then be reversed by the discontinued use of the drugs, the effects go far beyond that of a reduced sex drive. Some users have increased body fat, larger than normal mammary glands (meaning they develop male breasts) and they have reduced bone density. Some of these effects, most notably the reduced bone density are not reversible and can contribute to dangerous conditions such as cardiovascular disease. The hormones may also change a person’s personality and cause depression. Whether or not these risks are enough to be considered cruel and unusual punishment is debatable though.
The Problem With Wrongful Convictions
Perhaps the bigger issue in this law is when those who are wrongly convicted are made to suffer these side effects and are also unable to engage in normal, healthy sexual activity during the duration of the treatments. While this risk is limited since California’s law requires two convictions, it can still happen, especially considering that child molestation cases involving young victims often rely on the testimony of a scared child who may have a vivid imagination or who may have been illegally coached by a parent. While attorneys are sometimes able to successfully fight such testimonies, juries, judges and prosecutors often try to error on the side of a scared child because they hope to protect those they see as innocent victims.
Chemical Castration Doesn’t Always Stop Sex Offenders
Additionally, many critics of castration point out that the practice does not even effectively stop all offenders from committing further crimes. Testosterone boosting drugs can even be purchased to negate some of the effects. If the process isn’t even always effective, it seem unfair to inflict on convicts.
If you have been accused of child molestation, Peter M. Liss can help. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.
Creative Commons Image by Markus Kniebess