Sex Offenses Law

Sex Offender Registry: FAQ

All states and the District of Columbia maintain databases of information about individuals who have been convicted of crimes of a sexual nature. The sex offender registry, which is maintained by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, is designed to protect the public by monitoring and tracking the movements of convicted sex offenders. Some of the information it contains can be accessed by members of the public on websites operated by state authorities and the federal government.

Registration requirements and the type of data collected vary from state to state, so the information available to the residents of one city may not be available to those who live in other parts of the country. Congress addressed this issue and established a set of minimum standards by passing the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act in 2006.

What Is the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act?

Passed under Title I of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act categorizes sexual offenses according to the prison sentences they carry and certain aggravating factors. Offenders who knowingly fail to register can face fines and up to 10 years in prison. Offenders who fail to register and also commit violent crimes can be incarcerated for up to 30 years.

What Is the Process for a Sex Offender to Register?

As soon as they are released into the community, individuals who have been convicted of sex crimes and offenses against children are typically required to register with a law enforcement agency located in the town or city where they live. Most states require sex offenders to re-register every year or when they move, and failing to register may lead to additional criminal charges.

While the information that an offender must provide may vary, it will generally include their name, social security number, date of birth, and address, as well as information about the crime they were convicted of. Offenders are also photographed, and they may be asked to provide fingerprints and a sample of their DNA. Some states also ask for information about the vehicles offenders drive. However, not all of this information is made available to the public.

Local law enforcement then passes this information to a central location, such as the state bureau of investigation or state police, and the data is usually kept on file for 10 years. In situations where an offender has been designated a sexual predator, this information is kept indefinitely.

Where Can the Public Get Information About an Offender?

Members of the public can access state sex offender registries or visit the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW). The NSOPW links state, tribal, and territorial sex offender registries, enabling individuals to search for offenders by name, address, city, county, and zip code.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Crimes Against Children Unit provides links to the registries maintained by all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and 212 federally recognized Native American tribes. The national database is named in honor of a 22-year-old student who was kidnapped and murdered by a sex offender in 2003.

What Information Can the Public Access About an Offender?

Sex offender registries will generally provide information about the crimes that a sex offender was convicted of along with a physical description of the offender. Individuals are usually able to enter their addresses into these databases to obtain a list of the registered sex offenders living in their communities. The data that is accessible varies by jurisdiction, but it will usually include:

  • The offender’s name and any known aliases they use
  • Their current address
  • Their photograph

What Is the National Sex Offender Registry?

The National Sex Offender Registry (NSOR) is a nationwide database maintained by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The NSOR is used by the nation’s law enforcement agencies and cannot be accessed by members of the public. The database is designed to help police to identify and track offenders who have failed to register or may have moved without notifying the authorities.

What Happens if a Sex Offender Moves to Another State?

Megan’s Law, which is a subsection of the 1994 Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, requires sex offenders to notify local law enforcement whenever they move or change jobs. Failing to meet this requirement is considered a felony in most jurisdictions. Local, state, and federal authorities use the National Sex Offender Registry to find offenders who have moved without providing the necessary notifications.

Sex offenders who wish to move to another state while on parole must first obtain permission from that state’s parole board, and those who have satisfied the conditions of their supervised release must generally notify local police within 72 hours of their arrival. The laws dealing with sex crimes vary across the country, which means that offenders who do not have to register in their home state may be required to report to local law enforcement in the state they wish to move to.

Can Individuals Take Their Names Off Sex Offender Registries?

Societal values change over time, and what was considered a sex crime just a decade or two ago may not raise many eyebrows today. Some registered sex offenders were convicted of committing crimes that are legal acts today, and they may be able to avoid the social stigma of registration by petitioning to have their names removed. The procedures for doing this vary, but states including California have passed laws that exempt offenders when the offenses they were convicted of are no longer considered crimes.