“More Dangerous than Hitmen”: Judicial Perceptions of Sexual Offenders


  • Johnny Nhan
  • Katherine Polzer
  • Jennifer Ferguson


This paper explores the structural and cultural effects of legal and criminal justice processes through judicial perceptions of sexual offenders, using a law and society theoretical framework. The researchers conducted face-to-face interviews with judges from California and Texas. Initial findings suggest judicial actors share negative public sentiments towards sex offenders and felt these offenders were much different and worse than other criminals and in some instances worse than murderers. However, judges face an inherent conflict: they must remain neutral appliers of the law while satisfying public demands for justice, thus highlighting the friction between “law on the books” and the “law in action.” Some California judges have used punitive measures under the pretext of treatment to circumvent this conflict and punish offenders beyond mandates, in many instances indefinitely. The ramifications and realities of restrictive and punitive policies, including Megan’s and Jessica’s Laws, have resulted in costly state-funded solutions for offenders.