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Chapter 9:
Sex Offender Registry


State Sex Offender Registration


OVERVIEW

States are required to have their own legislation for sex offender registration, and these laws vary from state to state. They commonly uphold the minimum requirements outlined by SORNA, but are also modified to meet the specific needs and considerations of each jurisdiction.

STATES: VARIABILITY FROM SORNA

While all states maintain some form of sex offense registration, only 18 have substantially implemented SORNA’s requirements: Alabama, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wyoming. 137 tribes and 4 territories have also substantially implemented SORNA.[1] Jurisdictions have “substantially implemented” SORNA have been reviewed and approved by the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (SMART), and those that have not substantially implemented SORNA are subjected to a reduction in federal funding.[2]

States differ in their requirements for the duration of registration, community notification, residence distance restrictions, employment distance restrictions, the inclusion of employer’s information, the inclusion of online identifiers, labeling of state-issued IDs, and registration costs.


[1] Jurisdictions That Have Substantially Implemented SORNA, Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (2023), https://smart.ojp.gov/sorna/substantially-implemented#states.

[2] Penalty in the form of a 10% reduction in the annual Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant. 

STATE TIER SYSTEMS

Most states sort sex offenders into tiers based on either their offense or their “risk.” Offense-based tier systems sort offenders solely based on what they were charged with, with different charges being sorted into different tiers. Often, someone will be sorted into a higher tier if they have been convicted of multiple lower-tier offenses. The tier that they are sorted into cannot be changed later on because the offense with which they were convicted does not change. Risk-based tier systems score offenders based on their perceived risk to the community, based on any number of factors, but can be updated over time, meaning that people who do not reoffend can drop down a level or two. Risk is evaluated based on a number of factors, including criminal history and tests such as the Static-99 actuarial risk prediction instrument. States vary widely in their risk assessment practices. For example, Massachusetts uses a “structured professional judgment” risk assessment methodology, Washington uses that Static-99R instrument, and New Jersey uses a Registrant Risk Assessment Scale that incorporates both static and dynamic features.[3]

Some states use a combination of these two systems. For example, Wisconsin classifies people as “serious child sex offenders” and “serious sex offenders” based solely on the elements of their crime, which is offense-based.[4] However, someone is a “sexually violent person” if they are determined by a court to be dangerous because they “suffer from a mental disorder that makes it likely the person will engage in acts of sexual violence,” which is a risk-based characteristic.[5] Those deemed a “sexually violent person” are reexamined each year to determine whether they still qualify as such.

While most states use a three-tiered system, Arkansas uses a four-tiered system, and Vermont uses a two-tier system. Some states do not use a tier system, such as Alabama and Florida. 

Fifteen states currently use risk assessments to substantially aid in the determination of offenders’ registration and notification requirements: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, and Washington.[6] All of these except Massachusetts use a structured professional judgment risk assessment methodology. There are nineteen approved risk assessment instruments, used in varying degrees and combinations across jurisdictions.

In Georgia, tier affects only registration requirements, and affects only notification requirements in Arizona, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. In the other risk-based tier system states, risk level affects aspects of both registration and notification requirements.[7]


States’ registration systems are also subject to change over time. For example, in 2021, California transitioned from a lifetime sex offender registration schema to a three-tiered offense-based schema with different required lengths of registration.[8] It is therefore important to remain up-to-date with your state’s registration requirements.


[3] Flattery, M., Zaman, R., Zakia, H., & Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. (2022). Sex Offender Risk Assessment: State-Level Policies for determining registration and notification requirements. https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/smart/306898.pdf

[4] Ss. 304.06(1q)(a); 980.01(4m); 302.116(1)(a); 304.06(2m)(a); 939.615(1)(b); Wisconsin Legislative Council. (2021). Sex Offender Restrictions and Requirements (IM-2021–07). https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/misc/lc/information_memos/2021/im_2021_07

[5] Ch. 980; Wisconsin Legislative Council. (2021). Sex Offender Restrictions and Requirements (IM-2021–07). https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/misc/lc/information_memos/2021/im_2021_07

[6] Flattery, M., Zaman, R., Zakia, H., & Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. (2022). Sex Offender Risk Assessment: State-Level Policies for determining registration and notification requirements. https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/smart/306898.pdf

[7] Ibid.

[8] California Department of Justice & California Justice Information Services. (2021). California Tiered Sex Offender Registration (Senate Bill 384). In California Department of Justice (pp. 1–8). https://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/csor/registrant-faqs.pdf

LENGTH OF STATE REGISTRATION AND REMOVAL FROM STATE REGISTRATION

States use a variety of methods to determine the required duration of registration.[9] 21 use offense-based tiers or a single duration requirement for all offenders,[10] 2 use offense-based tiers but allow some offenders to petition for release and consider risk assessment scores in the process,[11] 2 use offense-based tiers but differ from SORNA’s duration requirements,[12] 5 use a single duration requirement for all but allow some offenders to petition for early release,[13] and 21 states and D.C. apply “multiple paradigms to duration of registration requirements.”[14]

States vary widely in their policy for whether, when, and how offenders can petition for relief from registration. In some states, risk assessments impact whether an offender can file a petition or whether a petition is granted.[15]


[9] Flattery, M., Zaman, R., Zakia, H., & Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. (2022). Sex Offender Risk Assessment: State-Level Policies for determining registration and notification requirements. https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/smart/306898.pdf

[10] Alabama, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Wyoming, and Virginia

[11] New Hampshire and Iowa

[12] Arizona and Maine

[13] Georgia, Idaho, Montana, New Jersey, and Oregon

[14] Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

[15] Arkansas, California, Georgia, Montana, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington

EXAMPLE OF STATE LAWS: VIRGINIA

Virginia enacted the Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry Act in 2003.

Tiers [16]

Offenders are sorted into tiers based on the severity of their offenses. For each offense, a person is required to register for violation of, attempted violation of, or conspiracy to violate. Virginia used to use a two-tiered (violent and non-violent) approach, but their system now mirrors SORNA’s tiers as of 2015.

  • Tier I Offenders: Any homicide in conjunction with causing serious harm to a minor, carnal knowledge of a minor, breaking in with intent to commit rape, felony violation of prostitution, transportation of a minor for prostitution, commercially sex trafficks a minor, more than one violation of possession of child pornography, use of a communication system to advertise or solicit a minor for the production of child pornography, or three of more violations of unlawful dissemination or sale of images of another, a violation with a physically helpless or mentally incapacitated minor victim, penetration of mouth of child with lascivious intent, aggravated maliscious wounding by an adult to a victim under 13, receiving money for procuring a minor or for the earnings of a minor prostitute, felony violation of aiding prostitution or illicit sexual intercourse with a minor
  • Tier II Offenders: Convicted of carnal knowledge of a minor over the age of 15 who is committed to the custody of the State Department of Juvenile Justice or is under the purview of the juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court Law, reproduces/sells/distributes child pornography, attempts to persuade another person to provide them with child pornography in order to gain entry into a child pornography group, use a communications system to solicit a minor with lascivious intent
  • Tier III Offenders: Convicted of abduction with intent to extort money or for immoral purpose, certain rape violations, carnal knowledge of a child between 13 and 15 when the offender is more than 5 years older, forcible sodomy, or two or more violations of carnal knowledge of certain minors

Registration Requirements [17]

Sex offenders must register with the Virginia State Police or their jurisdiction’s local law enforcement agency and submit a new registration form with prints:

  • Within 3 days of release from incarceration, program for sexually violent predators, or suspension of the sentence
  • Within 3 days of receiving an additional conviction or suspended sentence
  • Within 3 days of a change in Virginia residence or mailing address
  • At least 10 days prior of change in residence if moving outside of Virginia
  • Within 3 days of a change in employment
  • Within 3 days of release from a correctional facility, jail, probation, or parole
  • Within 3 days of a legal name change
  • Within 3 days of a change in owned vehicle registration information
  • Within 3 days of enrolling in, quitting, or graduating from a higher educational institution
  • Within 30 minutes of a change in or addition to email address, instant message or chat screen name, or other Internet electronic communication name or identity information
    • This notification can be done via e-mail or in person

Tier I and Tier II offenders must re-register once per year. If one is convicted of failure to register, they must re-register twice per year. Tier III offenders must re-register every 90 days. If one is convicted of failure to register, they must re-register every 30 days.

Offenders must inform their residence jurisdiction of intended international travel at least 21 days prior to the travel.

Virginia’s statute requires state police to visit the offender’s residence unannounced every six months. They can also visit the offender’s place of work. 

Prohibited Activities [18]

Some offenders cannot live within 500 feet of a primary, secondary, or high school, child day center or public park that shares a border with a school and is regularly used for school activities.

Some offenders are prohibited from loitering within 100 feet of the premises of any place they know or have reason to know is a primary, secondary, or high school or a child day program or for the purpose of having contact with children not in their custody (playground, athletic field or facility, or gymnasium).

Tier III Offenders cannot enter or be present during school hours, school-related, or school-sponsored activities upon any public or private elementary or secondary school or child day center property. They also cannot be on any public or private property when the property is solely being used by a public or private elementary or secondary school for a school-related or school-sponsored activity. Tier III offenders also cannot enter a school bus or operate a taxi cab.

All registrants cannot work for any transportation network company such as Uber or Lyft.

Removal from the Registry

After 15 years, if an offender has not been convicted of a sexually violent offense, murder, or more than two offenses for which registration is required, they can petition to have their names removed to the court in which they were convicted. A judge will hold a hearing and ultimately decide whether or not to remove their name.


[16] § 9.1 – 902. Offenses requiring registration

[17] Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry Guidelines. (2023). Virginia State Police. https://vspimages.vsp.virginia.gov/pages/sorpublic/SOR%20pamphlet%20.pdf

[18] Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry Guidelines. (2023). Virginia State Police. https://vspimages.vsp.virginia.gov/pages/sorpublic/SOR%20pamphlet%20.pdf; 18.2-370.2-5; 46.2-2099.49; 46.2-2011.33

EXAMPLE OF JURISDICTION LAWS: DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Tiers [19]

D.C. classifies sex offenders as either Class A, Class B, or Class C offenders. D.C. does not take risk of re-offending into account when classifying offenders into tiers. Instead, offenders are classified and placed on the registry solely due to their conviction record.

  • Class A Offenders: Registrants who have been convicted of (or found not guilty by reason of insanity of) such offenses as carnal knowledge, sodomy or first degree child sexual abuse committed against a child under the age of 12, or forcible rape, forcible sodomy, or first or second degree sexual abuse against a person of any age.
    • They are required to register for life. 
  • Class B Offenders: Registrants who have been convicted of (or found not guilty by reason of insanity of) any other sexual offense against a person under the age of 18, nd first- or second-degree sexual abuse of a ward, patient, or client.
    • They are required to register for 10 years.
  • Class C Offenders: Registrants who have been convicted of (or found not guilty by reason of insanity of) any other felony sex offense against a person 18 years of age or older. Class C offenders are listed in the physical registry at specific locations, but not in the online database for the Sex Offender Registry.
    • They are required to register for 10 years.

Registration Requirements

Sex offenders must notify the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for the District of Columbia (CSOSA) within writing ideally prior to, but at least within three days of:

  • Being sentenced to probation, being released from incarceration or confinement, or entering D.C. to live, reside, work, or attend school.
  • A change in residence and must include new address, location, and phone number information
  • A change in job or school and must include new address, location, and phone number information
  • A change in vehicle ownership, and must include the vehicle’s make, model, color, and license plate number
  • A significant change in their physical appearance so a new photograph can be taken
  • Moving to, attend school in, or work in another jurisdiction

Class A Offenders must verify registration quarterly. Class B and C Offenders must verify registration annually. CSOSA will mail the verification form to the offender’s home address Verifying registration involves correcting inaccurate or out of date information on the form and signing, thumb-printing, and returning the form to CSOSA. If the offender is also on probation, parole, or supervised release, or has previously failed to submit a timely or accurate verification, they must verify the registration information in person. Offenders must report in person to take a photograph documenting a significant change in appearance or to update a photograph that is five or more years old. 

Removal from the Registry

Class A Offenders are required to register for life.


Class B and C offenders’ registration periods end upon the expiration of their probation, parole, supervised release, conditional release, or convalescent leave, or 10 years after they are placed on probation, parole, supervised release, conditional release, or convalescent leave, or is unconditionally released from a correctional facility, prison, hospital, or other place of confinement (whichever is latest). In computing those 10 years, any time in which they are detained, incarcerated, confined, civilly committed, or hospitalized in a mental health facility, in which they failed to register or comply with heir requirements, or were registered prior to a revocation of probation parole, supervised release, conditional release, or convalescent leave, will not count. However, as long as those conditions do not apply, in computing those 10 years, any time a person was registered in another jurisdiction does count. A person is no longer required to register in D.C. when they move out of D.C., but must re-register if they move back.


[19] 28 CFR Part 811

HELPFUL STATE RESOURCES

The Probation Information Network has compiled links and answered questions regarding each jurisdiction’s sex offender registry requirements: https://www.probationinfo.org/sor/ 

The Interstate Commission for Juveniles has compiled a State Sex Offender Matrix for information on the requirements for juvenile sex offenders: https://juvenilecompact.org/resources/state-sex-offender-matrix 

The Restoration of Rights Project has compiled a 50-state comparison of relief from sex offense registration obligations: https://ccresourcecenter.org/state-restoration-profiles/50-state-comparison-relief-from-sex-offender-registration-obligations/

STRATEGIES FOR OPTIMAL SEX OFFENDER REGISTRATION REQUIREMENTS

Because each state varies in its sex offender registration requirements, it might be in an offender’s best interest to move to a different state or territory. For example, Florida is known to be exceptionally punitive, requiring nearly all offenders to register for life.[20] Some states, such as Texas and Florida, require registration status to be included on one’s driver’s license. The following states require all offenders to register for life (albeit with the possibility of petitioning for release after a specified amount of time): AL, AR, CA, CO, FL, GA, HI, ID, MS, MT, NJ, OR, SC, SD, TN, VA, WY.[21] In all other states, certain tiers have a shorter duration of registration requirement.

There are currently 10 states with no sex offender residency restrictions: AL, KA, MD, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NM, UT, VT. There are 6 states in which there are some local laws limiting where sex offenders can live: CO, ME, MI, MN, NE, TX, WI. While offenders must still register after moving to a new state, moving to a state with no sex offender residency restrictions makes finding somewhere to live significantly easier.[22]

Because of differing state laws, a person’s registry status often changes when they move to a new state. It is more likely that their tier classification will stay the same or increase rather than decrease. It is also possible to have been removed from the registry in one state but then be required to register with another state upon moving there, so it is important to review states’ current registration requirements before moving. Furthermore, localities within each state might have different registration requirements than the state at large. 

Some states have less stringent requirements than others. For example, in Oregon, only Level 3 offenders have their information posted on their public sed offender registry website.[23] Level 1 offenders are able to petition for registry removal after only five years, and because Oregon uses a risk-based tier system, higher-level offenders can eventually be reclassified as Level 1 and become eligible for removal five years after their reclassification. Sex offenders moving to Oregon must register within ten days of moving to the state, and have ten days to report any changes in registration information. There are only residency restrictions to those who are classified as sexually violent or predatory. Not all people convicted of a sex offense are required to register in Oregon.[24]

Washington state also has a risk-based tier system, allowing for more flexibility in tier classification. Washington uses Static-99R scores in conjunction with other assessments and measures to determine a person’s tier.[25] Under Washington’s current tier system, the majority of offenders are classified as Level 1, and a minority as Level 3. A study found that under SORNA’s Tiering, the same sample of people would be sorted with the majority in Tier 3 and the minority in Tier 1.[26] Therefore, if an offender currently lives in a state that has substantially implemented SORNA, moving to a state such as Washington that uses a risk-based tier system instead allows for the possibility that they would be sorted into a lower tier and therefore have fewer restrictions and a greater possibility of early release. Furthermore, only the information for Level 2 and Level 3 offenders is available on the public registry in Washington.[27]

Fifteen states currently use risk assessments to substantially aid in the determination of offenders’ registration and notification requirements: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, and Washington.[28] However, each state has its own policy for whether offenders may be reassessed or reclassified. Not all states allow reassessment or reclassification, and the approach for these vary significantly. Eleven states allow offenders to be reassessed or reclassified after their initial classification: Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.[29] Eight states grant offenders the right to appeal their tier classifications to the courts: Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.[30] Moving to a state with greater flexibility in their risk-based tiers allows for the greater possibility of an earlier chance to petition for removal from the registry.


When considering moving due to sex offender registry interests, keep in mind that there is no requirement under SORNA for a jurisdiction to remove an offender from the registry once they are no longer required to register there.[31]


[20] Those convicted of less serious offenses may petition the circuit court for relief 25 years after release (§ 943.0435(11)(a))

[21] Collateral Consequences Resource Center. (2022, October 17). 50-State Comparison: Relief from Sex Offense Registration Obligations | Collateral Consequences Resource Center. https://ccresourcecenter.org/state-restoration-profiles/50-state-comparison-relief-from-sex-offender-registration-obligations/

[22] Greg, C. (2023, October 30). 20 States With No Sex Offender Residency Restrictions. Rent2Felons. https://rentingtofelons.org/rights/sex-offender-residency-restrictions/#google_vignette

[23] The state maintains registry information of all other offenders in a private database. Some information can only be requested by naming the specific offender.

[24] State of Oregon. (n.d.). Oregon State Police: Offender Information: Sex Offender Registration (SOR): State of Oregon. Oregon.gov. https://www.oregon.gov/osp/programs/sor/pages/offenderinformation.aspx

[25] Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs. (n.d.). Registered Sex Offender information. https://www.waspc.org/sex-offender-information

[26] Landon, L. R. (n.d.). Sex Offender Leveling in Washington and SORNA Tiering (pp. 3–14). Washington State Statistical Analysis Center. https://sac.ofm.wa.gov/sites/default/files/public/pdf/sex_offender_leveling_and_SORNA_tiering_report.pdf

[27] Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs. (n.d.). Registered Sex Offender information. https://www.waspc.org/sex-offender-information

[28] Flattery, M., Zaman, R., Zakia, H., & Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. (2022). Sex Offender Risk Assessment: State-Level Policies for determining registration and notification requirements. https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/smart/306898.pdf

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid. 

[31] Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking & Department of Justice. (n.d.). SORNA: Clarification of Registration Jurisdictional Issues. Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking. https://smart.ojp.gov/sorna/current-law/implementation-documents/clarification-registration-jurisdictional-issues

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