Sept. 19, 2017: CITYWATCH - New Law Eliminating Lifelong Registration for Convicted Sex Offenders Heads for Brown’s OK

September 19, 2017

By Beth Cone Kramer

THIS MUCH I KNOW--On September 16, the California Legislature approved a bill that would create a tiered system for the state’s sex offender registry. The bill, SB-384, is expected to be signed by Governor Brown. 

Authored by Senator Scott Wiener(D-San Francisco) and co-authored by Senators Joel Anderson (R-Alpine), Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), and Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), was sponsored by Equality California, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and the California Sex Offender Management Board. SB-384 was endorsed by both the California Police Chiefs Association and various county sheriffs. 

The bill has been the subject of controversy, among lawmakers and constituents alike. At first glance, many believe this is a weakening of laws aimed at protecting citizens from sex offenders. However, it’s important to note that without the passage of this bill, California was one of only four states (Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina) that required lifelong registration on a sex registry for all convicted sex offenders. California previously did not make a distinction between various offenses that run the gamut from a couple’s sexual activity in a public place, such as a car, to sexually violent predators. 

SB-384 does not create a free pass for all who convicted of various sex offenses; the bill places those offenders on a spectrum, with high-risk offenders remaining on the registry for life.

Mandated registration on the registry would operate under three tiers. Tier 1 would require a minimum 10-year registration for misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies. Tier 2 would require a minimum of 20-years for serious or violent offenses and Tier 3 would maintain registration for life for high-risk offenders, including sexually violent offenders, repeat violent offenders, and those convicted of sex offenses for which lifetime registration is required.

In order to be removed from the registry, Tier 1 and 2 offenders must petition the court at the end of the registration period; the removal is still dependent on approval by the court, which may deny termination. The District Attorney may also request a hearing in opposition to any petition.

This bill was written by law enforcement and supported by rape crisis advocates because they know we need a sex offender registry system that actually works to protect people from those who pose a significant risk of committing sexual violence. Our current registry system is broken and burdensome for law enforcement to use, and wastes resources by requiring law enforcement to monitor low-level offenders who pose little or no risk of committing any crime. -- Sen Weiner.

Currently, the state’s sex offender registry includes over 100,000 people -- or 1 in 400 Californians. The list includes many who were convicted decades ago and present little to no risk -- including LBGTQ people who were initially placed on the list for same-sex behavior, which is no longer criminalized.

SB-384 is not a blanket dismissal of monitoring but a sensible tiered system. Reforming the sex registry will allow law enforcement to direct more resources to truly protect the community from those offenders who pose a risk to society, rather than to a broad category without distinction, while retaining the oversight of the court and District Attorney.

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles writer and a CityWatch columnist.)

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