Sex offenders must register at an appropriate law enforcement agency once they are released into the public. Registration aims to protect communities, help apprehend suspects and discourage further criminal acts. Although each state has a separate registry procedure, failing to register is a federal offense.
Congress began to focus heavily on sex offender registration laws in 1994. The Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, passed in that year, established standards for state registration of sex offenders. Several other bills were passed throughout the next decade, including Megan’s Law.
The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, or SORNA, was passed in 2006, establishing a federal standard for registering sex offenders. The bill classifies sexual offenses in different tiers, which are based on a number of factors. Each tier has different reporting requirements, as follows:
• Tier III – Lifetime reporting requirement
• Tier II – 25-year reporting requirement
• Tier I – 10 to 15-year reporting requirement
Although registration and notification are managed through individual systems in each state, they’re standardized and monitored by the federal government. This allows for continuity of tracking if registrants move among jurisdictions.
Sex offender registration is required in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, some Native American tribal jurisdictions and the five principal U.S. territories. Sex offender registration details and legislation differs from state to state.
Jurisdictions must maintain a minimum standard, however. That means that they can enact more stringent laws than the federal standard, but they can’t ask for less than what SORNA requires. Therefore, local sex offender laws and penalties may be more stringent than federal ones.
If you have been convicted as a sex offender, failure to register is a federal crime.
When a sex offender plans to change towns, schools or employers, they must notify law enforcement in person. The old jurisdiction will send information to the new jurisdiction. If the offender fails to register in the new jurisdiction, they will be subject to state and federal criminal penalties.
State penalties for failure to register vary. However, SORNA sets forth financial penalties as well as up to 10 years in prison for failing to comply with federal registration requirements. A convicted sex offender who fails to register and commits a violent crime is also eligible for up to 30 years of prison time.
If law enforcement suspects an offender of a violation, a warrant for their arrest may be issued.
Understanding the requirements can prevent a conviction for failure to register. However, you should make sure that you understand the laws in all applicable jurisdictions. State guidelines may differ from federal guidelines. For example, a conviction for public urination requires registration in some states but not others.
We have included some guidelines to keep in mind when registering as a sex offender. You could be guilty of failure to register as a sex offender if you don’t comply properly.
• Offenders are required to update the registry every year for Tier I, six months for Tier II and three months for Tier III.
• Registrants who work or go to school in a different jurisdiction than they reside in must register in both jurisdictions.
• Offenders must update their registration if they move or change employers.
• Failure to register involves knowingly leaving out important details or including inaccurate information when registering.
• Offenders who are on supervised release from prison must respond and comply to their probation officer within a reasonable time frame.
• Offenders must respond to verification letters and other correspondence in a timely manner.
• Registrants must notify the registering sheriff when they enroll or terminate enrollment in a school.
Complying with sex offender registration requirements is the law. Maintaining compliance could also help you receive a more lenient schedule. In some states, offenders can appeal for a relief from penalties after registering successfully for a number of years and fulfilling other requirements, such as participating in counseling.
If you don’t follow the rules for sex offender registration, you will be charged with a violation. A warrant for your arrest may be issued. Laws may change, and it is the offender’s responsibility to be familiar with all of the registration requirements.
Violators must knowingly and willingly breach the registration requirements. However, they are also required to understand the terms of the registration. Therefore, they cannot use the excuse that they weren’t aware of the laws as a defense. However, if they have evidence that they followed all of the regulations appropriately or there were extenuating circumstances that prevented them from complying, they may be able to avoid a new conviction for the violation.
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