John Norman won’t be sentenced before October, but whatever punishment the ex-Las Vegas police officer receives, he probably won’t have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
That’s even though he pleaded guilty to one count of open and gross lewdness for groping a woman during a traffic stop.
Was Norman given favorable treatment?
It depends on whom you ask.
Who gets entered into sex offender registries, and why, has been a source of debate nationally and in Nevada. Here, someone is entered into the database if they are convicted of sex crimes ranging from sexual assault to lewdness to indecent exposure.
Maggie McLetchie, a lawyer who has worked to reform the registry and classification system, calls the state laws “a huge mess.” Somebody could be in the database for urinating in public, but some sexual predators could escape registration.
She said Norman is one such example.
“If anybody should be subject to the registry, it’s somebody like this,” McLetchie said. “This is somebody who was systematically assaulting women in public.”
Norman was charged with two counts of open and gross lewdness and three counts each of coercion and oppression under color of office for a series of traffic stops between June and December last year.
On two of those stops, he was accused of groping female motorists’ breasts. He told them he was checking to see whether the women were hiding anything under their bras.
Under the terms of the plea deal, announced Monday, Norman will plead guilty to one count of lewdness and one count of oppression under color of office. He will register as a sex offender, but if he completes his sentencing – probation or two years in jail – the lewdness charge will change to oppression, expunging Norman from the sex offender database. Both charges are gross misdemeanors.
Norman has resigned from the Metropolitan Police Department, and he faces sentencing Oct. 30.
A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada said this week that the sentence seemed light. Clark County Public Defender Phil Kohn would not say that. But he did have an issue with Norman being given the option to be removed from the database.
“Because this police officer was acting under the color of his authority … for them to work out where it does not stay on his record, to me, is very troubling,” he said.
Other lawyers the Las Vegas Review-Journal spoke to said that the terms were reasonable, however.
Attorney Robert Langford has worked with McLetchie to reform offender registration laws. But Langford, who also defends sex offenders in criminal cases, said Norman’s sentencing wasn’t unusual for a first-time offender.
“Assuming he showed the district attorney’s office that there was a low risk to reoffend and some other things, I wouldn’t necessarily say that it was an unusual plea bargain,” said Langford, a former prosecutor.
There could be other factors at play, too, he said. The victims could prefer to settle the case instead of having to go through what could be an emotionally grueling trial.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Giancarlo Pesci said prosecutors asked the victims about the deal before making the offer to Norman. The option to be removed from the offender database was not unique, he said.
“We discussed it with the victims and felt this was the appropriate offer,” he said.
Defense attorney Joel Mann he wasn’t surprised by the deal, and he has seen other cases in which defendants were offered the option to be removed from the registry.
“My eyes didn’t pop out of my head saying, ‘Oh my God, how did he get that?’ ” he said.
He added, “Obviously, the more grave the sexual encounter is, the less likely you are to get something like that.”
Attorney Robert Draskovich said he “regularly” sees deals similar to Norman’s.
He agrees with McLetchie’s view of the sex offender registry, which he described as a one-size-fits-all system that doesn’t serve much purpose.
“A guy who urinates in public could have the same reporting requirements as a guy who rapes a 5-year-old girl,” he said. “It’s not very common-sensical. Does it protect the community? Not really.”
Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0440.