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Naked Came the Carpenter

        Court tv called it the “stupid story of the week:" 51 year old San Francisco carpenter Percy Honniball was arrested and charged with indecent exposure for working in the nude. He’d been caught engaging in naked carpentry at a client’s home after a neighbor spotted him nakedly sawing wood in the backyard. 

        This is indeed an amusingly “stupid story,” but only because Honniball was acquitted last week.  California’s indecent exposure law requires exposing yourself in the presence of other people “to be offended or annoyed,” and Honnibal worked nude simply because “it’s more comfortable,” he said, not in order to offend or annoy anyone.  Had Honniball drawn a less discriminating judge and been convicted, however, he would have been subject to a maximum prison sentence of one year and a lifetime of surveillance and drastically limited liberties: as a convicted indecent exposer, Honniball would have been required to register as a sex offender, in which case this would still have been a stupid story, but hardly an amusing one.

        The gross idiocies and injustices of sex offender registration laws have long been evident and are regularly exposed, with no apparent effect on their popularity.  Their broad reach captures gay men engaged in consensual sex, teenagers barely past the age of consent who haplessly violate statutory rape laws by having sex with their slightly younger peers, and people guilty merely of viewing pornography or idly exposing themselves, while threatening no one.  In nearly half the states, convicted sex offenders are subject to onerous permanent residency requirements and travel restrictions that effectively exile them from civil society, with no apparent benefit it to anyone but the usual bunch of demagogic politicians.

        Myths about the high recidivism rates of sex offenders and the dangers posed to children by people who have nothing to do with pedophilia, along with general hysteria about sex and nudity, help spread these laws, which promise to become worse.  A recently enacted federal statute, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, includes financial penalties for states that decline to pass repressive sex offender registration requirements.

    That a carpenter who likes to work naked was nearly subject to such requirements is a lot more chilling than laboring bare-assed in the San Francisco fog.  Honniball’s acquittal should not be construed as a sign that the system worked: his prosecution for a sex offense signals that the system is insane.


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