Since Megan’s Law was enacted in 1996, new legislation related to California’s sex offender registry has been limited. California Senate Bill 384 and Senate Bill 145 represent new legislation affecting which sex offenders are placed on the Sex Offender Registry and for how long they must remain on that list.
Current law requires sex offenders to register for life, but SB 384, which was signed into legislation in October 2017 and takes effect on January 1, 2021, amends that requirement. The bill changes the registry so that a majority of sex offenders will be able to petition the courts for removal from the registry. Under SB 384, if their petitions are approved by the courts, 90% of California sex offenders would no longer be required to register for life.
Proponents of the bill argue the current system is unmanageable. The bill’s author, Senator Scott Wiener, called the registry “basically useless to law enforcement.” SB 384 creates a tiered registry, with high-risk offenders on the registry for life while others are able to petition to be removed after either 10 or 20 years without reoffending, depending on the offense. No one will be automatically removed from the registry. Rather, low-risk offenders will be able to petition after one or two decades on the registry, and a court, with feedback from the local district attorney, can grant or deny the petition. High-risk offenders will continue to remain on the registry for life.
Opponents of the bill argue the importance of ensuring that law enforcement prioritize their efforts on dangerous predators like rapists over someone cited for public urination, for example. The first two tiers as proposed by the bill may allow some dangerous predators to slip through the cracks and harm people, especially children.
Senate Bill 384 does not mandate lifetime registration for lewd and lascivious conduct with a child under 14, yet such conduct with a child over 14 does require automatic lifetime registration. This is inexplicable, and legislation should be introduced to address and clarify this incongruity before focusing on possible registry removal for sex offenders against minors within 10 years of their age (as proposed by the second bill SB 145). Addressing that discrepancy within SB 384 first would help ensure minors under 14 are better protected from predators.
Senate Bill 145, also authored by Wiener, is a bill that has yet to be signed into law but is making its way through the California legislature. It seeks to change how the law views different types of sex crimes involving minors within 10 years of the age of the perpetrator. Under SB 145, a 25-year-old adult may not be registered as a sex offender for having sexual relations with a 15-year-old child.
Mr. Samuel Dordulian is an attorney and founder of the Dordulian Law Group in Glendale, California (www.dlawgroup.com).