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REFORM OF THE CALIFORNIA SEX OFFENDER REGISTRY LAWS


 

California’s sex offender registry currently lists over 100,000 sex offenders. The registry has a long history; it was first employed (although not in its current form) 70 years ago. It is estimated that around 650 registrants on the list today were first registered in the 19040’s and 50’s. Since many sex crimes in California mandate sex offender registration once convicted of the crime and in almost all cases, the mandate to register is a lifetime requirement, the registry has grown so large that it has become unwieldy. California is one of only four states in the country that requires a lifetime registration. Not only is the registry becoming unmanageable for law enforcement due to the number of individuals on the registry but the registry has also forced many registrants to live on the margins of society thereby imposing a kind of de facto life sentence.

The largest number of sex offenders on the registry, approximately 65,000, were convicted of misdemeanor or non-violent sex offenses. Some of these crimes were presumed by the offender to be a sex act with a consenting, but under age 18, partner (under California law, a minor cannot consent) or for something as non-threatening as indecent exposure. In previous decades, not that long ago, gay people were targeted by the police for having consensual sex in the park. Many of these individuals were arrested for indecent exposure and ended up with a conviction that required them to register as a sex offender. Those individuals are still required to register.

While some of the offenses may be deplorable, they do not in all cases mean the offender is a sexual predator that must be forever watched by law enforcement, yet that is how anyone on the sex offender registry is branded.

A new California law, slated to go into effect in 2021, changes the mandatory sex registration laws. Persons convicted of certain misdemeanor or non-violent sex offenses, called “tier one” offenses, will be mandated to register for only ten years. Assuming they commit no other disqualifying offenses following their conviction, the requirement to register will expire after that time. Those who were convicted prior to 2021, when the law takes effect, who currently are lifetime registrants will be allowed to petition the court for removal of the lifetime registration requirement ten years after their conviction, assuming they have committed no other disqualifying offense in the interim. The largest number of individuals currently registered, 65,000, are tier one offenders.

Those who are (or were prior to 2021) convicted of so-called “tier two” offenses will have a 20-year registration requirement. Tier two offenses will include convictions for certain sex acts with a minor under the age of 14. Currently, the sex registry has approximately 24,000 individuals who committed these tier two offenses.

Lifetime registration will remain for those who have been convicted of serious or violent felony sex offenses. Only 10% of the current sex offender registrants are in this category. These offenses include crimes such as rape, any sex act with a child ten years old or younger, repeat sex offenders, and pimping or pandering a minor.

It took some courage of the Legislature to enact this law and for the governor to sign it—no politician wants to be viewed as going soft on sex offenders—yet, the reform is long overdue and a far more practical approach to policing those convicted of sex crimes.

Orange County criminal defense attorney William Weinberg has been representing those criminally accused for almost 25 years. If you would like to speak with Mr. Weinberg about your criminal matter, you may contact him for a complimentary consultation at his Irvine office by calling 949-474-8008 or emailing him at bill@williamweinberg.com.