Judge Orders Sex Offenders to Post Signs

A group of Texas sex offenders plans to challenge a judge's order to post signs on their homes and cars warning the public that they have been convicted of sex crimes.

Earlier this month, Judge J. Manuel Bañales reviewed the records of all sex offenders placed on probation in his court in the last decade and who remain under supervision, and summoned 54 of them to his Corpus Christi court on May 18.

According to probation officials, 42 offenders showed up, and Bañales ordered 14 offenders to put up the signs.

They were given 2-foot-wide, 18-inch-tall placards that read, "DANGER: Registered Sex Offender Lives Here" to stick in their front yards. The signs also had a list of phone numbers to report suspicious behavior.

The offenders were also given bumper stickers for their cars and portable signs with suction cups to put in car rear windows when they're riding in someone else's auto.

Onlookers will be able to identify a registered sex offender — and warn their children — no matter where they are. Bañales has no sympathy for the offenders who believe their privacy is being trampled on.

"These laws [sex offender notification laws] are designed to protect the community," Bañales told ABCNEWS' Ted Koppel in an interview for tonight's Nightline. "Children are the most vulnerable of any of us. Many of the victims of these crimes never get over it. The whole idea is to protect the community, protect the children, and if targeting these offenders is what's necessary then that's what we'll have to do."

Sex Offenders Fearful

Attorneys representing the sex offenders said they plan to challenge Bañales decision in Texas' 13th Court of Appeals within a month.

One, Gerald Rogen, who represents several of the convicts, argues that Bañales' punishment is overly harsh, labeling his clients and making it nearly impossible for them to atone for their actions and lead a normal life.

"It's practically the equivalent of branding. … It's causing them to fear for their lives, and its punishing their families," said Rogen, a Corpus Christi defense attorney. "You punish the offender, you don't punish the offender's family. We're arguing that the punishment is cruel and unusual."

Several offenders, Rogen said, have had their lives threatened or been evicted from their homes since being ordered to post the signs. Rogen said he also may argue that Bañales violated his clients' due process rights because they apparently were not told to attend the May 18 hearing with a lawyer.

Judge Fears for Victims' Lives

Bañales said he was more worried about people who the offenders might harm in the future.

He said his actions were prompted by two cases in which convicted sex offenders were involved in attempted kidnappings.

Sex offenders' names, addresses, photos and criminal records have been advertised in newspapers and are available on a state Web site under Texas' sex offender registration and community notification laws. But Bañales thought that was inadequate because not everyone reads newspapers or has Internet access, he said.

Every state and the federal government have "Megan's law" statutes mandating community notification if sex offenders move into a neighborhood. The laws were named for 7-year-old New Jersey girl Megan Kanka, who was strangled in 1994 by Jesse Timmendequas, a twice-convicted sex offender who was living in her neighborhood.