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Sex Offender Registration in California

Megan’s Law

Sex crimes have historically been treated harshly by the legal system. But sex offender registration did not begin until the mid-1990’s. At that time, a seven year old girl from New Jersey was raped and killed by a known child molester. The man moved across the street from Megan and her family without their knowledge. After the tragedy, there was a strong push to have a system in place that would warn communities about the presence of sex offenders in the area.

Over the past decades, every state in the country, along with the federal government, has some form of “Megan’s Law” involving registration of sex offenders. Generally, those laws require certain sex offenders to register with local law enforcement (usually the city or county police department), and that information is made publicly available on the internet as to many registrants. The names of Tier 1 (see below) registrants are generally not made public on the internet in California.

Who Must Register as a Sex Offender in California?

The registration requirement is contained in PC 290, known as the Sex Offender Registration Act (the “Act”). Under that section, individuals who are convicted of offenses that are deemed sex crimes or sexually motivated crimes are required to register as sex offenders if they live in California. Registration is also required if a person works or is a student at a California college or university. Other requirements exist for “transients,” meaning a person who is physically in the state but has no permanent address.

As originally passed, the sex registration law in California provided for lifetime registration. That requirement was amended in 2021. The Act now contains a tiered system of registration in which the length of the time for registration depends upon the specific crime for which you were convicted:

  • Tier One. This tier requires registration for a minimum of 10 years (5 years in the case of minors). It applies to lower level sex crimes, such as misdemeanors, among them indecent exposure, as well as some non-violent felonies. The names of tier one defendants are not published on the California Megan’s Law Website.
  • Tier Two. Registration for tier two is required for at least 20 years. An example of an offense to which tier two applies is lewdness with a child under the age of 14.
  • Tier Three. This tier applies to the most serious sex crimes, including most rape offenses, child sex trafficking, and most sexual battery charges.

When considering which tier a person must register under, the court will also consider the nature of the crime requiring registration; the number of victims, and their ages; the prior criminal and noncriminal behavior of the defendant; and the risk of the defendant committing a sexual or violent offense in the future, among others. In that regard, if you have been adjudicated a sexually violent predator, you must also verify your address every 90 days.

Persons required to register as a sex offender do so at their local police or other law enforcement agency. Sex offender registration is an ongoing requirement: those who have to register must do so each year not later than five days after their birthday, and within 5 days after moving to a new address. And if you move out of state, you must personally advise the local agency in California of that fact within 5 days of the move.

Note that in any case – even if the charge is not a sex crime listed in the Act – a judge has the discretion to order registration by a convicted defendant if the judge determines that the offense was “sexually motivated,” meaning that it was committed as a result of sexual compulsion or gratification. The judge also has discretion to dispense with the registration requirement in some cases.

Failure to Register as a Sex Offender

Violation of the Act is a serious matter. Willful failure to register where registration is based on a felony conviction is a felony carrying a sentence of 16 months, or 2 or 3 years. Failure to register after a misdemeanor conviction is a misdemeanor with a possible sentence of up to a year in jail.

Note that tier 1 or tier 2 defendants who meet mandated minimum requirements may petition to have their name removed from the sex offender registry.

Defenses to a Charge of Failure to Register as a Sex Offender

If the charge is failure to verify employment every 90 days (for a person deemed to be a sexually violent predator), failure to receive notice of the requirement after each registration is a defense specifically included in PC 290.012(b). A related, but broader defense, and one that applies to all failure to register cases, is that the failure must be “willful.” That word (along with “willfully”) appears nine times in PC 290.018, which covers most violations of the registration requirement. Other defenses include mistakes by the government, including the fact that you did register, but the government lost the documents.

Finally, because the failure to register must be willful, your lack of awareness that caused the failure to may be a defense, provided it was justifiable. If it was the result of a psychological condition affecting your ability to understand, retain or remember information (such as Alzheimer’s, a traumatic brain injury, certain medications, emotional disorders, etc.), you likely will have a viable defense to a failure to register charge.

Defense Lawyer for Failure to Register as a Sex Offender

The issue of registration as a sex offender can be complex. Who must register, where they must register, whether and when registration requirements will end, and related questions, require an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer for answers. Remember that violation of the registration laws can lead to criminal charges, and additional jail or prison time.

If you have questions about Megan’s Law, or if you have been charged with a violation of the sex offender registration laws, speak to Chris Bou Saeed at CBS Law for answers. Call CBS Law at (213) 800-8005

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