By Sandy . . . In a recent column, Dear Abby makes the unqualified statement that a person with a Level 3 or Tier 3 designation on the sexual offense registry means that the individual is “. . . the most dangerous and most likely to reoffend.”
From those in the know, this drew immediate criticism and protest.
In 2003, Joe* was put on the registry in Minnesota as a Level 1 with a misdemeanor sexual charge. There were no repeat offenses and no registry violations. When the Adam Walsh Act became law there, it dictated the offense levels for various offenses, and Joe’s Level 1 offense was immediately classified a Level 3. Joe is the same person he was. It is his label that changed. He is no more dangerous or likely to offend than he was when he was Level 1.
John* was put on the Texas registry in 1996 as a Level 3 offender for sexual assault of a child. John was a high school senior; his victim was Mary*, his 15-year-old sophomore girlfriend. Many states have dispensed with what used to be called “statutory rape,” and Texas law, and that of other states, dictates that any sexual assault charge involving a child – anyone under the age of consent – is a Level 3. John and Mary have now been married twenty years and are raising four children together. He was never dangerous.
In a few states, a registrant who moves in from another state is given the highest designation and most stringent reporting conditions. A level 3 risk level does NOT automatically mean that the registrant is dangerous or of a high risk to reoffend, nor is the conundrum about what a level 3 means the only complexity and absurdity regarding the regulations of the sexual offense registry.
Paul* lives in Missouri and has grandchildren. Paul can help his grandchildren carve a pumpkin into a jack-o-lantern out in his yard all day long on October 30 without breaking any laws. He can do the same on November 1. Actually, he can engage in that activity 364 days of the year should he wish. But should he take knife in hand and assault a pumpkin outside of his home on October 31, he will have committed a crime. Should he turn on the outside light after 5 p.m. so that he can see the pumpkin better, he will have committed a crime. And should he grow weary of the pumpkin and take a stroll around the block, or even around his house, between 5 and 10:30 p.m., he will have committed a crime.
The sex offender registry has spawned many things, none of them beneficial to actual safety. It has even created its own little group of crimes and offenses, labeled together as failure to comply. These crimes are committed in a variety of ways, depending on the state and jurisdiction, from total absconding to being a day late in updating information. And the penalties vary widely also. For simple tardiness in reporting a change in address or a new car, in some states the penalty is relatively minor.
Matt*, however, lives in Texas. Due to traveling and confusion of dates, he was several days late reporting a new address after he moved. He was arrested at the police department while he was there attempting to do that very thing. If he had been convicted, the consequences of his failure to comply charge would have been a new sexual offense on his record, a hefty fine, and a return to prison for up to five years.
A Vermonter on the registry there who fails to comply with any aspect of registry requirements for more than five days faces five years in prison and a fine of $5,000.
For offenses adjudicated federally, a federal failure to comply conviction can result in up to ten years in prison.
Writing for The Appeal, Josh Vaughn found, “In one Pennsylvania county, more than three times as many people on the registry were charged in 2016 with failing to follow registry requirements than were charged with a new sexual offense.”
Whether deciphering what the levels mean, figuring out the regulations governing those on the registry at Halloween – or, in Louisiana, at Mardi Gras, Easter, Christmas, or any other recognized holiday, where state law prohibits everyone on the registry from giving gifts or candy to children under 18 for any of these holidays – or living one’s life in fear of violating any of the myriad federal, state, county, or local restrictions, some of which even the authorities do not know, one thing is sure.
If you are on a sex offender registry and you think you know what is expected of you under all circumstances and what the penalties are if you deviate – you are probably wrong.
*Names have been changed.
Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.