December 8, 2006
FEDERAL LAW ON CLASSIFYING SEX OFFENDERS
By: Christopher Reinhart, Senior Attorney
You asked about a new federal law that requires states to classify sex offenders for purposes of sex offender registries.
A new federal law, the “Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006” (P.L. 109-248), took effect July 27, 2006. It makes a number of changes regarding sex offender laws including imposing on the states sex offender registry requirements, requirements on where and when a sex offender must register, and notification provisions.
The new law requires each jurisdiction to maintain a sex offender registry that conforms to its provisions. The U.S. attorney general must issue guidelines and regulations to implement it (§ 112). Among its many requirements, it divides sex offenders into three tiers and requires different registry periods for each tier.
Jurisdictions must implement the act's provisions by July 27, 2009 and failure to do so results in a loss of federal funding (§§ 124-125).
A Tier III sex offender is the most serious classification. These sex offenders are convicted of an offense that is punishable by more than one year in prison and:
1. is comparable or more severe than one of the following federal crimes or conspiracy or attempt to commit one of them: aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual contact against a minor under age 13;
2. involves kidnapping a minor, unless the actor is a parent or guardian; or
3. occurs after the offender became a Tier II sex offender.
A Tier III sex offender must register for life, unless he is a juvenile delinquent in which cases the registration period is 25 years if he maintains a clean record.
A Tier II sex offender is someone convicted of an offense punishable by more than one year in prison that:
1. is committed against a minor and is comparable or more severe than one of the following federal crimes or attempt or conspiracy to commit one of them: sex trafficking, coercion and enticement, transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, or abusive sexual contact;
2. involves using a minor in a sexual performance, soliciting a minor for prostitution, or producing or distributing child pornography; or
3. occurs after the offender became a Tier I sex offender.
A Tier II sex offender must register for 25 years.
A Tier I sex offender is someone convicted of a sex offense not included in the other tiers. The act defines a sex offense as (1) a crime involving a sexual act or sexual contact with another, (2) specified crimes against minors, (3) specified federal crimes and military crimes, and (4) attempt or conspiracy to commit one of them. Certain foreign crimes and certain crimes involving consensual sexual conduct are excluded but certain juvenile adjudications are included.
A Tier I sex offender must register for 15 years, but with a clean record (as defined in the act) the registration is reduced to 10 years (§§ 111, 115).
The law also requires sex offenders to appear in person to have a picture taken and verify registry information. Tier I sex offenders must appear every year, Tier II sex offenders every six month, and Tier III sex offenders every three months (§ 116).
For any fiscal year after the implementation period ends, a jurisdiction that fails (as determined by the attorney general) to substantially implement these provisions cannot receive 10% of the funds that would otherwise be allocated to the jurisdiction for that fiscal year under the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (42 USC 3750 et seq.) (§ 125).
The new law includes a number of grants and studies. Among these, it requires the attorney general to study risk-based sex offender classification systems. He must analyze the:
1. different systems,
2. methods and assessment tools,
3. efficiency and effectiveness of the systems in comparison to offense-based systems in (a) reducing public safety threats and (b) assisting law enforcement and the public in identifying the most dangerous offenders, and
4. resources to implement and legal implications of the risk-based system.
He must report to Congress by January 27, 2008 (§ 637).