New Approach to Sex Offenders Registry Deserves Support

By Michele Hanisee

California’s current sexual offender registration law is woefully inflexible. A person who engages in a minor offense is treated the same as the worst offender. Most sex crimes in California require lifetime registration regardless of the nature of the crime, age of offender, or risk of re-offending. California is one of the only states to have a universal lifetime registration system.

Lawmakers have introduced legislation to correct this excess. Rather than lumping all sex offenders in the same category, a tiered system would base the duration of registration on the seriousness of the offense. We support this change because it is just and is good public policy.

California’s current sex offender registry includes more than 100,000 people. Many of these are low-level offenders who drain law enforcement resources. Under Senate Bill 421, introduced by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) a new “tiered” system of registration will be enacted. The proposed law would change sex offender registration by requiring convicted sex offenders to register in one of three tiers based on the seriousness of the crime they committed and the risk they pose to the community.

The system would include the following tiers:

  • Tier 1: Misdemeanor and/or non-violent sex offenders are required to register for 10 years.
  • Tier 2: Offenders who have committed serious and/or violent offenses are required to register for 20 years.
  • Tier 3: Violent sex predators and habitual sex offenders will remain on the registry for the rest of their lives.

Those who are required to register would not be automatically removed from the registry once their term ended, but the bill would establish procedures for terminating sex offender registration under specified conditions. Tier three offenders would be able to petition the court to be reduced to tier two. SB 421 also distinguishes juvenile offenders and tailors registration requirements to fit the crime.

Law enforcement has long recognized the flaws in the current system. We support this legislation for a number of reasons. A tiered system based upon the nature of the offense, the age of the offender and the likelihood of re-offense, is just to the offenders and to the public the system is supposed to protect. Reducing the registration requirements for lower level offenders will also allow law enforcement to direct more resources into monitoring high-risk offenders. High-risk offenders will be stringently monitored while low-risk offenders will not be forced to deal with the devastating impact of lifetime registration.

According to testimony from Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Bradley McCartt, 60 percent of law enforcement resources are spent on registering low-level sex offenders instead of monitoring high-risk offenders and solving crimes. “When you have a child who’s been kidnapped and you are trying to solve that crime quickly, you should be able to turn to the sex offender registry to look for suspects,” said McCartt.

The ADDA joins victim rights groups and other law enforcement groups in support of SB 421. We believe the bill will result in a more effective system that focuses attention and resources on high-risk, violent sex offenders and still protects the public.

Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. To contact a Board member, click here.

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