Monday, January 2, 2012

Scarlet Letters: Reforming Exile to the Sex Offender Registry

Utah's Sex Offender Registry has been seen as a tool to help encourage public safety.  Individuals who have been convicted of sex offenses are placed on the registry along with their current address, photograph, and conviction record.  

Placement on the registry typically means a life of hardship.  Felons are difficult to employ and the stigma associated with being on the registry carries heavy social consequences.  Those on the registry often face isolation and are ostracized from the community.   

Due to the severity of the consequences, a review has taken place of the offenses that qualify a person to be placed on the registry.  The questions have been asked: 

1.  Does the registry adequately serve the purpose of public safety when those that are on the registry do not pose a risk to the public?

2.  Is it equitable to maintain registered status for those who do not pose a public safety risk?

3.  By what means and method would the public safety risk be assessed for a registered individual?

To understand these questions, it is important to know which offenses qualify someone to be placed on the registry.  Rather than enumerate the offenses, many of which are unspeakable, let us suffice to say that the list is long and disturbing.

Obviously, many of these crimes are so unfathomable they warrant registration...even for a lifetime.  However, not all of these offenses are of equal gravity. Three offenses are of the least severity on the list (click for a legal definition):

Two of them are what we would consider "statutory rape" crimes and the third would be a "peeping Tom" offense.  However, when placed on the registry, these offenders are treated the same as violent rapists and pedophiles.   

Do these offenders pose an equal threat to public safety and therefore warrant the same treatment as their violent and deviant counterparts?  If a 23 year old dates and has a consensual sexual relationship with a 17 year old, when convicted, he or she will be placed on the registry until they are 33.  There is an ironic real life case of a man in Cache Valley who was 19 and had relations with his 15 year old girlfriend.  He was convicted, fined, and the two married upon his release.  He is on the registry to this day and has restrictions placed on where he can live and what places he can go with his four children.

Was this the intent of the sex offender registry?  Is this individual being treated equitably under our current law?  A reasonable observer could conclude that this individual does not pose a threat to the public.  So what can be done?

HB 13 has been proposed by my colleague in Cache Valley to help navigate this sensitive subject.  Rather than create a blanket solution, the law allows for elected judges to decide with the help of input from victims.  Here are the key provision of the bill:

1. It allows for a person who has been convicted of the following crimes to petition the court for removal from the Sex Offender and Kidnap Offender Registry after five years:

                           .    unlawful sexual conduct with a 16 or 17 year old;
                           .    unlawful sexual activity with a minor; or
                           .    a misdemeanor violation of voyeurism

2. Requires that the person have successfully completed any court-ordered treatment and not have any subsequent convictions.
3. Requires that a copy of the petition be delivered to the prosecutor and victim, or if the victim is still a minor, the victim's parents.
4. Gives the court discretion to order the person removed if it determines that the person is no longer a risk to society.
As someone who knows many victims and offenders of the more egregious crimes, I believe that this legislation will still preserve justice in our execution of the law and continue to provide for public safety.  Yet, I believe it will also provide civic redemption for those who are deemed worthy of it by our courts.  I understand that many of those affected by more egregious crimes will have strong feelings about this legislation.  I sympathize and ask that the legislation be reviewed on its merits.  As the father of four young daughters, I support this bill.    


  1. Jeremy, the way the bill is proposed, it also includes a 22-100 year old who has sexual relations with a 14 to 17 year old. This includes the class A and B Misdemeanor. Acts constituting a felony are not included in this bill. In other words, if you've committed forcible rape, you don't get the chance to apply for removal from the registry. In addition, the removal from the registry would not alleviate the offender from disclosing his record if an employer asked for it.

    There has to be a balance. The idea of the bill is a good one but it exceeds it's purpose and puts the citizen in harms way.

    A 50 man who has 'consensual sexual relations' with a 14 year old is who this bill will grant secrecy to. Once off the registry, he's has a greater chance to go undetected. That's not okay. Pedophiles and or sexual deviance is a very secretive crime.

    Our system is already broke enough. We were just beginning to protect victims. This bill as written is a step backwards. Suggestions have been made to amend which will be much better for the whole.

    Remember, just because you have a couple of personal experiences or knowledge of a circumstance or two, you've got to realize the many who are and will be effected by this bill. If everyone was as innocent as your example, we probably wouldn't have the law in the first place. The statistics say loud and clear inappropriate sexual conduct is a serious problem.

    If the law can't protect children then what is it good for? Ironically, the only people we are relieving here are those who possibly hurt children ages 14-17.

    This bill isn't ready to pass yet.

  2. Laura, I'm undecided... and confused.
    Under this proposed bill each individual case petitioned to the court would be heard and analyzed by a judge.
    Do you not trust our judges to differentiate between a 50 year old who entered into a "consensual" relationship with a minor as opposed to a 19 year old? Do you not think our judges will be reasonable and fair in the vast majority of cases and will gauge their decision to grant the offenders name being stricken against the measure of public safety?

    It seems to me, that decisions are always best made as close to the situation as possible. Isn't that the foundation of a small government mentality? A Weber County judge seems like the absolute best person to make that call to me. If they aren't doing their job and are consistently make decisions that adversely affect public safety, my logic tells me we need to boot them out of the judgement seat... they shouldn't be there regardless of this proposed bill. This is just an opportunity for very limited redemption to those who may deserve it. Let the punishment fit the crime, right?
    Isn't the whole purpose of the justice system to rehabilitate criminals? If a judge deems the offender safe to society and their rehabilitation a success, why do you second guess that?
    I'm not saying your wrong, I just don't understand.

  3. "If the law can't protect children then what is it good for? Ironically, the only people we are relieving here are those who possibly hurt children ages 14-17."
    The "think of the children" argument, really? I am assuming you are the same Laura posting about this bill on Facebook. If so, you just proved that you are only trying to strum the same illogical emotional strings with this argument that the the Brady Campaign uses to push gun control by posting about how ridiculous it is that someone wants to ban minors from tanning beds. Think of the kids and their melanoma.. you racist! Doh! Sorry! You didn't actually call anyone a racist, my mind just inserted that remark because it almost always follows the think of the children rhetoric.

    In answer to your question, the law is good for ensuring justice and rehabilitation of criminals into contributing members of society.


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