What Are Sex Offender Registries?
When and how individuals must register as a sex offenderBy Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on October 11, 2022
Use these links to jump to different sections:
- What Are Sex Offender Registries?
- Who Has to Register as a Sex Offender
- How to Register as a Sex Offender
- Registration Requirements
- What Information Is Accessible to the Public?
- Failure to Register
- Questions for an Attorney
What Are Sex Offender Registries?Every state has laws directing law enforcement to create and maintain a sex offender registry (SOR) to track and monitor convicted sex offenders in the community. These laws aim to ensure public safety and prevent repeat sexual offenses. Every state’s sex offender registration act sets requirements for:
- Who has to register
- The registration process
- What information must be provided
- How long sex offenders must be registered
- How frequently offenders must update their information
- How much information can be made available to the public
- How the public can access the information
History of Sex Offender RegistriesThrough the 1994 Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, Congress required states to create and maintain registries for tracking and monitoring convicted sex offenders. In 1996, Congress amended the Jacob Wetterling Act, requiring law enforcement to provide information about convicted sex offenders to the public. Modeled on a New Jersey law passed in response to the rape and murder of Megan Kanka, this 1996 amendment is known as Megan’s Law. State laws that require public disclosure of information about sex offenders are generally referred to as Megan’s Laws. In 2006, Congress enacted the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). SORNA:
- Closed loopholes in prior sex offender registry laws
- Improved the network of sex offender registration and notification programs nationwide, allowing law enforcement to collaborate more effectively
Who Has to Register as a Sex OffenderState laws set the specific requirements for who must register as a sex offender and how long they have to register. Typically, anyone convicted of a sex crime must register. There are many kinds of sexual offenses, with varying penalties. Depending on the severity of the offense, individuals may have to register for several years or life. Because each state is slightly different, it is essential to check your state’s laws and requirements. A criminal defense attorney can give the best advice on your state’s specific rules.
How to Register as a Sex OffenderIn general, convicted sex offenders must register with the local law enforcement agency (such as the state police or sheriff’s office) in the jurisdiction where they live, work, or attend school. Registering is not a one-time event. In addition to regular check in requirements, sex offenders are also required to report specific changes to law enforcement. For example, in Michigan, registered sex offenders must notify their local law enforcement or state police agency about any changes in:
- Legal name
- Residence (including moving out of state)
- Place of employment
- Enrollment at an institution of higher learning
- New phone numbers or email addresses
Registration RequirementsWhat information are sex offenders required to provide law enforcement? While each state has its own registration form and required information, offenders typically must provide their:
- Legal name (and aliases)
- Current address information
- Current occupation
- Education plans
- Criminal history
What Information Is Accessible to the Public?This also depends on each state’s sex offender registration law. Typically, the sex offender’s name, picture, address, and offense are listed publicly. In some states, the type of information made publicly available depends on the offender’s risk level of repeating the offense. For example, New York has three re-offense risk levels: low, medium, and high risk. A judge determines the individual’s risk level after a court hearing. Individuals determined to be at high risk of repeating an offense will have the most information made available to keep the public safe. In addition to the type of offender information made available, risk level designation can also determine how information is provided to the public. In Texas, for example, the Department of Public Safety directly notifies communities about high-risk offenders by mailing an informational postcard to each residence and business.
Failure to RegisterFailure to register as a sex offender or to update one’s registration information in compliance with state registration laws can bring severe penalties. Each state has its own penalties for failure to register, from fines to prison sentences. In Kansas, for example, Pettlon says if any violation of the registration act occurs for more than 30 consecutive days, it constitutes a new and separate offense on the 31st day. A first conviction for violation of the state sex offender registry act is severe: It’s a felony with its own prison sentence. Following your state’s requirements in registering and regularly updating your information is essential to avoid further legal trouble. If you are unsure about your state’s registration requirements, consider speaking with a local attorney with experience in handling sex offenses.
Questions for an AttorneyIf you have been convicted of a sex offense and are required to register with your state’s system, it is essential to comply with all requirements as soon as possible. Failing to register can bring significant penalties. If you are facing charges or have questions about your state’s requirements, speak with a sex crimes attorney as soon as possible. Fortunately, many attorneys provide free consultations, allowing the attorney to hear the facts of your case and for you to determine if the attorney meets your needs. To see whether an attorney or law firm is a good fit, ask informed questions such as:
- What are your legal fees, and what billing options do you offer?
- How many years of experience do you have as a criminal defense lawyer?
- What are my state’s sex offender registration requirements?
- What steps do I need to take to register or update as a sex offender?
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