Byron Deweldon is not the poster boy for one-trial learning. He has several sexual assault convictions behind him and was civilly committed for eight years.
But he was released from civil commitment last year. That means that he was found no longer to be at a dangerous risk of re-offending. He could live in the community, monitored, as a registered offender.
And that is exactly what he did for almost a year. He settled down in a home with his mother in Warwick, Rhode Island. He lived quietly and with no further arrests. He was monitored by the authorities in Warwick and was on his way to becoming a slow learner who finally got it.
Then the Rhode Island Legislature, driven largely by one legislator who was angered when a registrant moved a few blocks from him, passed legislation increasing the residency restriction “buffer zone” around schools from 300 to 1,000 feet for the higher-level registrants. This encompassed the home occupied by Mr. Deweldon and his mother.
According to Deweldon, he was notified of this change and his imperative to find another place to live on September 17. The next day he left home.
He traveled. He went to California, Florida, Maryland, Connecticut, Maine and Pennsylvania. He did not register in any of the states he visited for brief periods although the states required him to do so. Meanwhile, during a routine compliance check at his home in Rhode Island, his mother told the officers that he was traveling.
Deweldon then talked with the Warwick authorities and returned to Warwick where he was immediately arrested and is being held on warrants of failure to register in violation of SORNA.
He will most likely go back to prison—not for committing a sexual re-offense, not for stealing or assaulting or murdering, but for committing a crime that didn’t exist a few years ago, the crime of failure to register. Instead of continuing to live peacefully in his home with his mother, he will now again most likely be back in the Rhode Island prison system for a non-violent crime and because of a retroactively applied law that gave him no choice but to leave his home and go somewhere else.
This is the beginning. Numerous other registrants across Rhode Island, those that have stayed in their homes up to this point, will in a few days face either arrest or homelessness. The ACLU is fighting this. RSOL is fighting this. This cruel and retroactive piece of legislation was passed with no support from anyone except the Rhode Island legislators and the president of a union representing the correction officers who work in the Rhode Island prison system. Much evidence was presented against it, including expert testimony that these restrictions do only harm and do not provide a public safety benefit, but it passed anyway.
Byron Deweldon knows where he will be residing for the immediate—and most likely beyond—future. Sadly, other registered citizens in Rhode Island do not.