According to Talladega County Assistant District Attorney Christina Kilgore, the state of Alabama adopted national standards for community notification in 2006, but the current version of the sex offender registration and notification act (SORNA) became law on July 27, 2011.
“The new act repealed several parts of the previous act to close some loopholes,” Kilgore said. “And the law itself states that its purpose is not to punish the offenders more, but to protect the public and promote child safety.”
One of the biggest loopholes closed by the new act involves sexually motivated offenses that may not normally be classified as sex offenses.
“Say you have a burglary in the first degree where someone breaks in and rapes the victim. They would be convicted of burglary in the first degree, which is not a sex offense. Under the new law, he would still be required to register once he got out of prison,” Kilgore said.
Another major change involves when an offender has to register. Previously, he did not have to until he was released from prison. Under the new law, he will have to register as soon as he is convicted or found guilty.
“We’ve already had a case here where that was an issue,” Kilgore said. “A man pleaded guilty and was out on bond, but he didn’t register.”
Convicted sex offenders must now register with the sheriff of the county and the police chief of the municipality (if applicable) where he lives, works or goes to school. Offenders cannot change their names unless the name change reflects a change in marital status or religion.
Under the old law, offenders were required to verify their residence only in their birth month and six months later. Under the new act, they have to check in during their birth month and every three months. If an offender becomes homeless, he is required to check in every week.
A convicted sex offender cannot live within 2,000 feet of a school, childcare facility, former victim or victim’s immediate family member (including grandparents, parents, spouses, children or grandchildren).
Under the old law, residence was established if the offender either stayed in the same place for three consecutive days or spent 10 or more days there in the same month. According to Kilgore, the new law adds “failure to spend three days away from the residence without notification unless the offender is incarcerated, in a medical facility or in a mental facility. If they’re planning on being away, they must also notify and complete a travel permit at least 21 days in advance.”
The new law also bars offenders from coming within 100 feet of any of their victims or their victims’ families, and adds college and university campuses to the places where offenders are not allowed to loiter. An offender must have a valid driver’s license or identification card.
The bill also strengthens communications between law enforcement agencies.
The other major change in the new law is that certain offenders can petition the court to be exempted. An offender who has become terminally ill or permanently immobile can petition the circuit court to lift the living restrictions. People who are convicted of consensual sex crimes (where there was no force but the victim was under age, such as rape or sodomy in the second degree) can also ask for exemptions. The law requires that the victim be at least 13 and the offender must be no more than four years older. The new law also provides employment relief in these cases, as well as for juvenile convictions after 25 years.
Offenders cannot work in schools, day cares or any vendor that supplies schools or day cares.
Records will be maintained for 75 years after the adjudication of the case, Kilgore said.
Lastly, the law bars harboring an offender who may not be compliant. “You can’t warn them or provide transportation, disguises or aid in counseling.”
Victims must notify the state Attorney General’s Office if they want notice of release and residence.
In addition to one case where a defendant failed to register after pleading guilty, Kilgore said mainly what she has been seeing are “petitions for relief in consensual offenses. People are asking for relief that was not available under the old law, but none of them have had hearings yet. We’ll see other aspects of the law go into effect over time, too, but everyone was trained in the new act several months ago. It will definitely put more on the compliance workers in terms of workload.”
Investigator Owen Walton, who handles sex offender registration for St. Clair County, said he has definitely seen his own workload increase. “Adults are required to register every three months instead of every six, and they all have to register in Pell City. If you actually live in Pell City, you’re going to be checking in eight times per year. It’s still too early to say how effective this will be, but it’s a good tool. It lets us keep a closer eye on them, handle them better.”
The Alabama Department of Safety lists sex offenders by city and county on its website (dps.alabama.gov/community/wfsexoffendersearch.aspx) and there are several other resources, such as family watchdog, that show the registered locations of various offenders (www.familywatchdog.us).
Contact Chris Norwood at email@example.com.