“Routine compliance checks” are anything but

By Michael McKay . . . What would you do if you answered a knock at your door and were greeted by eight police officers and a television camera crew at your front doorstep?  Chances are, it’s not an occurrence that you would characterize as “routine,” even less so if you happen to be someone who is listed on a sexual offense registry.

It’s the sort of thing that happens on a regular basis every day, in practically every county and state in the country. This week, it’s happening to the 88 registrants and their families living in Mayes County, Oklahoma and being reported on in the local news media.

Imagine being a registrant who opens his front door to a large gaggle of police officers and TV cameras.

Imagine being the innocent parent, spouse, or child of a registrant who finds himself in those circumstances.

Imagine trying to explain to your six-year old child why something like this is happening.

The palpable fear of being arrested for a small, unintentional infraction is ever-present. The mere thought that a clerical error or misunderstanding could turn your life upside-down is terrifying. Seeing the fear and concern in your family members’ faces is heartbreaking. Unfortunately, these are not the unintended consequences of harsh registry enforcement. They are premeditated and intentional, designed to keep registrants and their families in a perpetual state of fear. As software coders are known to say, “It’s a feature, not a bug.”

How many actual crimes could be solved, how many actual taxpayer dollars could be saved, if the same sort of herculean effort was made to tackle the backlog of criminal cases that remain unresolved?  Sending a posse of deputies all over the county fishing for technical violations that may or may not be happening is a quest in search of low-hanging fruit and positive media attention.

It’s all about the “optics,” and that is s a temptation that is difficult for local law enforcement agencies to resist. It creates the illusion of progress and efficacy, diverts attention from their internal problems, and, let’s face it – it’s just more fun to go looking for new crimes instead of solving the ones you already know about.

Major Rod Howell, Mayes County Sheriff’s Office told Oklahoma’s NewsOn6, “Some of them change their address and forget and obviously, that’s a violation.” He goes on to say that “surprisingly few” of the registrants visited were in violation of any laws.

Forgetting to update one’s address may indeed be a technical violation of the law, but the Mayes County Sheriff Department’s unwarranted intimidation tactics against registrants and their family members are an obvious violation of common sense and constitutional rights.

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Michael McKay

Michael McKay is NARSOL's Director of Marketing and a frequent contributor of articles to the NARSOL website. He is the published author of several non-fiction books, contributing editor & board member at LifeTimes Magazine, the executive editor of The Registry Report, and founding host of Registry Report Radio on BlogTalkRadio.

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    • #52667 Reply
      Ed C

      What would you do if police arrived at your door and began asking questions regarding whether you had marijuana in your home, or if you had cheated on your taxes? Most likely your answer would contain a reference to a warrant, an attorney, probable cause, or the 5th Amendment. If they asked you to step outside, you might point out that your 4th Amendment rights are strongest at the threshold to your home, and that you would prefer to stay inside, not allow them in, and to not answer questions. “Have a nice day, officers.”

      That scenario is no different than when police arrive at your home and question compliance with sex offender restrictions. Laws applying to former sex offenders are no different than any other laws, in that constitutional protections are not suspended. As an Alabama federal district judge recently wrote, “[s]ex offenders are not second-class citizens.” That implies that their offenses do not place them in a distinct constitutional underclass, and they must consent to relinquish rights.

      I will say that I have had only one address check in 1-1/2 years. Deputies simply asked whether I was a specific person, thanked me and left. So I don’t have a personal bone to pick with compliance checks. However, if I’d been subjected to the heavy-handed Oklahoma checks, I might have acted differently.

      Has anyone ever contested the constitutionality of compliance checks at a residence? This has a rough equivalence to stop-and-frisk at a home. I realize the difficulty in developing a court challenge is that, in order to have legal standing, one would first need to be harmed after refusing a compliance check. That would most likely involve being wrongly arrested. That is a tremendous risk, and a horrible intrusion into one’s life.

      History has repeatedly shown that governments use despised or feared populations to erode the rights of everyone. Challenging government overreach requires courage, such as with Mr. Von Behren in Colorado. No one, particularly those of us still on supervision, really wants to shake that hornets’ nest. However, until someone does, police actions will become ever more egregious.

      • #52717 Reply

        I am in the process of testing part of it. In every case over the past 6 years or so, deputies arrive for a compliance check and state, “We are required to come inside and verify residence”.
        Understand that I’m neither on probation or parole and that my charge occurred almost two decades ago – for which I received 2 years probation (and completed successfully years ago).

        When I ask how the officer(s) how is is verified, they state they have to look in closets to make sure I have clothes in there; and look around the living area to see if there are pictures with me in it etc because those are evidence of my living there. In the past I’ve been cooperative because frankly I was ignorant to what they could do, and I didn’t want any problems with law enforcement. But recently I’ve spoke with a couple of attorneys and they advised me that LE is in fact abusing their authority, and that they cannot come inside my home unless invited or they possess a warrant. It could be the deputys just don’t know that a compliance check does not mean they can come inside for verification, so I intend to be polite yet adamant in excercising my rights in the future. We shall see how it works out.

        • #52738 Reply
          Ed C

          Good for you, Glen. I’m also happy that you consulted with attorneys. We all need to be properly informed before we butt heads with LE. That can be a dangerous path unless we are standing on solid legal ground. The best to you.

        • #52947 Reply

          I’m also not on paper, and when the sheriff’s investigator comes knocking on my door, I go outside to talk to him. There’s no way in hell I’m allowing a law enforcement officer into my home without a warrant. I wouldn’t even allow him inside if he asked to use my bathroom or anything else.I ask what crime they are investigating and when they tell me there’s no crime, I ask them what the hell they’re doing here. And I always tell them that if I want a policeman at my door, I’ll call 911. And, I tell him that it’s nothing personal and I know that he’s only doing his job, but don’t come back.

          The very fact that you are there to answer the door is proof that you live there. Besides, there’s no legal requirement that you or anybody else is required to have anything whatsoever in his home. You got the clothes on your back and you sleep on the floor. When they look in your closets, what they’re looking for is to make sure you don’t have any twelve year olds hiding in there. Never, ever, allow a law enforcement officer into your home. Not unless you called them and certainly without a warrant.

          Here in Georgia the law says I must notify the sheriff when I change my residence. If I didn’t notify the sheriff that I have changed my residence, then it stands to reason that I have not changed my residence. Besides, just because you might not be home to open the door, that doesn’t mean that you have changed your residence. This is government run amok, and it must end.

    • #52668 Reply

      Realistically speaking, there’s nothing left to do at that point but to step outside and lock the door behind you. Do not allow any of them into your home under any circumstances. If you are on probation or parole, refuse them entry and take the technical violation. If you allow law enforcement into your home, you are inviting disaster. Better a technical violation than a new criminal charge. Trust me on this, I’ve been there. If I had done what I said, stepped outside and locked the door behind me, I would have avoided two years in prison because they took the remainder of my probation based on what they supposedly found on my computer. What they found on my computer was perfectly legal but still a violation of my conditions of probation. Yep, don’t voluntarily admit the MFs into your house. If you do, you will regret it, I promise you that.

      • #52682 Reply
        Ed C

        Being on supervision presents its own set of constraints which don’t exist for someone who is simply on the registry. Your point about letting police into your house is well taken. Once you give consent for entry, anything in plain sight is fair game. A probation officer may have search authority granted by the court, which police don’t have. Be careful while on supervision.

        • #52708 Reply

          I’ve heard it said and adamantly so, that a person on probation or parole cannot refuse permission for such officer to enter and search the probationer’s home or auto or even his person. But I strongly disagree. Sure, refusal to allow the search is an instant probation violation which speaks for itself and needs no corroboration. But, if you allow the officer into your home, you are most likely leaving in handcuffs. Suppose you smoke tobacco, and you smoke roll ups. You may have a pack of rolling papers in plain view along with an ash try containing cigarette butts that look just like roaches. Boom! You’re going to jail. What if you have actual contraband in your possession; a firearm, a little bit of dope, alcoholic beverages in the fridge, whatever. If you allow that residence check officer into your home, you are courting disaster.
          Better, if you see him coming, to step outside and lock the door behind you. Let them take you on a technical violation for refusal to allow a search of your home than to be sitting in the county jail facing a new felony charge.
          It bears repeating that you absolutely have the right to refuse a search of your home. It just happens that it is an instant probation violation for which you are going to jail. Take your pick but choose wisely.

          • #52736 Reply
            Ed C

            That is why a person needs to research his status and rights. I am on federal supervised release in New Mexico. Local police do not have the right to arbitrarily enter my home. Even if I were in the right, I would never refuse my PO because he would contrive some way to retaliate. I’m already on his radar because, as a matter of principle, I’ve asserted my right against self incrimination during a polygraph. This is precedent only in the 10th Circuit, so don’t try unless you want to risk setting precedent in other circuits (See U.S. v Von Behren, 10th Cir, 2017). Not that I have anything to hide; but rights evaporate if citizens can be intimidated into not claiming them.

            Parole, probation and supervised release entail different legal statuses in the various states. In order to make their jobs easier, police often apply a one-size-fits-all approach, and may tell you things that don’t apply to your status. Police always try to intimidate, are certainly not above lying to you about the law, and will presume authority they may not have.

          • #53558 Reply

            I actually got a police officer fired for that exact same behavior. She insisted that she had to come inside to “verify” that I lived there. This was 8:00AM on a Sunday morning. I let her inside the front door, no further, then told her to get out of my house. As soon as she left, I called the SOR supervisor, and reported what had happened. He told me in no uncertain terms, that I was not forced to allow her even that far inside my house, and that I did exactly right, and he would take care of it, so that it never happened again. And guess what, it never happened again. The only other officer I have allowed in my house, was this same supervisor, and only because he was doing me a favor in coming to the houe very early in the morning, and it was cold as a cast iron toilet seat in an outhouse outside. He told me he wasn’t supposed to come inside, but I told him there is nothing there, and it was too cold to stand outside. He came in the front door, and we actually had a pleasant conversation including the fact that he did not agree with pot being illegal.

      • #52767 Reply
        Ed C

        Of course, the best advice is to not have anything that would violate your release conditions or any law.

    • #52670 Reply

      One more thing. This behavior by law enforcement should be illegal and unconstitutional. This is an investigation in search of a crime. In this country, it is customary to start with a crime and search for the perpetrator and evidence through reasonable suspicion. In this type of investigation, you have a bunch of law enforcement officers coming to your home searching for a crime to investigate.
      I have deputies come to my house periodically, and I always tell them that if I want a policeman at my door, I’ll call 911, and to get off my property and don’t come back (unless called for). They always come back anyway because, guess what, Georgia law says that they have to verify my residence several times a year. I’m thinking about getting an injunction.

    • #52676 Reply

      SORNA Forms are a compliance check in their own right, only better.
      The sex offender registration forms themselves are agents hiding in a mailbox just waiting for your permission to look over your shoulder at your private lives. A driver’s license is part of public life. An email address, or internet identifier, are not “reachable” by gov agents unless a registrant, by volition or choice, discloses it. I literally have created an email specifically for that SOR purpose. Why would a man share this information with those he knows better than to trust. Because a law says he must? The right to remain silent is fundamental AND foundational to American justice.

    • #52680 Reply

      So why don’t they go around to all of the bars in the county checking on people with prior dui offenses. What’s the biggest danger to the public, drunk drivers or sex offenders?

      • #52704 Reply
        a man without a country

        Amen, Bob. Let’s not forget drug dealers.

        This story actually makes me think again about a question I had during my probation 20 years ago. If all of this is needed AFTER the fact of an alleged crime, why isn’t there more investigation into the causes of such crimes. Of those on the registry whose story involved a real person (and not some obese uniform sitting on the other end of the chat connection), what percent of those are the very serious one’s like Megan’s and Polly’s ABDUCTORS and MURDERERS, and what percent might involve a little “provocative action” prior to the crime. So many of the stories I’ve read make me wonder about THE victim and A perpetrator vs A victim and THE perpetrator.

    • #52719 Reply

      Police showing up on your doorstep with news teams and cameras seems a clear violation of privacy; especially for those no longer on probation or parole. The fact that news teams would show up for a compliance check at your home (accompanied by LE) indicates that police have contacted them and shared your information with them.

      How is it there has been no legal challenge to this?

    • #52720 Reply

      Great article Michael and thanks for bringing this practice to our attention.

    • #52748 Reply

      Not on paper? don’t answer the door.
      Problem solved.
      These home visits are not codified in law.
      They are conducting a criminal investigation on you. Have your attorney follow up on any police contact information left behind. An attorney should put them on notice that you are exercising your right to an attorney and not to contact you anymore.
      Problem solved.

    • #52746 Reply
      R M

      As a convict of a NJ sex offense law and subject to CSL, I can refuse searches but they have the right to search anyway (no matter which state I live in and the Interstate compact) . Routine compliance checks are shit sompared to wht I go though… now for the last 17years.

      • #52762 Reply
        Ed C

        Are you still on state supervision after 17 years??? I believe that interstate compact to which you refer applies only to those on state supervision who wish to relocate out of state. For more information, go to the website, https://www.interstatecompact.org, which is a self-described “quasi-governmental administrative body.” This agency is a product of an agreement between various states. I have no idea how many states have entered into this agreement.

        This rule-making body has no authority over registered citizens, or any former felons, who are off of state supervision. If someone is telling you it does, you are being given a line of BS. We all would like to know more about your situation.

      • #52817 Reply
        Ed C

        I’m sorry that you are subjected to the onerous conditions of CSL. I had never heard that term until I read your post. I was not aware that some states have mandatory lifetime supervision, and am appalled by the per se assumption regarding a person’s danger.

        I know a people with lifetime federal supervision, but that is only recommended by the sentencing commission, not required. As we all know, information a judge receives is heavily influenced by what prosecutors present, which frequently involves “alternative facts” (thanks to Kelly Ann Conway for that term). At federal sentencing, there is an opportunity for judicial judgement in applying supervision terms. Granted, the judge one gets is a crap shoot, but at least there is a possibility of rational sentencing. Mandatory CSL/PSL is effectively a life sentence on the installment plan. I’m at a loss to come up with appropriate adjectives to describe the practice.

    • #52785 Reply

      Fiction or non-fiction I wonder if we all hold our own compliance check. Does one ever notice what is real and what is not real or do we stumble at our own self desire of good, bad, and ugly. What is a compliance check? Making sure one have a bible in ever home or a bottle of Jack Daniels for those special people that stop by.
      While I liked Bob’s answer to the DUI thing and many more thoughts it goes way beyond that. I wonder who’s leading one into temptation in a lot of this sex saga of man over man. Is a lot of this justified by public safety or should one go to court in front of the unjust. I even like the me-too movement how unfathomable it is in so many ways. So who is being trumped over and who is judging who in all this compliance check. Who is leading one astray. I’m sure we all can be lead astray at by many devices but who assumes the position?

    • #74989 Reply

      Ed C,

      I know this is a year old post and you won’t get a notification for this…but I’ve been asking the same question for several years.

      I just called Amarillo Police IA and they said no registrant here has complained before about the compliance checks. That I’m the first. His exact words were “It has to be legal or else we wouldn’t be doing it” while admitting he knew very little about the SO department.

      It goes to show how little they care about our rights here. I’ve had my rights trampled on many times in Amarillo by the police, and honestly had many trial cases that could have been used to help push constitutional rights issues. Sadly, no lawyer yet has cared to take the case.

      Most recently, cops came for a compliance check. The cop looked at my “Beware of Dog” sign, then my “No Tresspassing” sign. Lastly, he stared at the lock on my gate (unfortunately it wasn’t locked just hanging there looking locked).

      He took the lock off my gate, entered and knocked on my door. I wasn’t home, but saw on my camera as my dog chased him out of the yard. My dog could have been killed because the cops trespassed and ignored my warnings.

      Lastly, they left a door hanger on my door ordering me to go in with the door hanger and a recent utility bill. Saying I must do so. Problem is I just did my registration last month. Legally I’m only required to do this once a year.

      There’s actually law saying in Texas a cop can not order me to go in if I’m already in compliance and it’s not time to register again. It’s written into the registry law.

      They don’t care about laws. They say they can not be trespassing because they are on official business, and it doesn’t matter if I want my property private. Even though as far as I know, there are no laws about compliance checks so it can’t be “Official Business” that trumps my rights to private property.

      I’d happily be a test case. Happily. If only someone would take it.

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