California Senate Bill SB 421 Would Alter the State Sex Offender Registry

A new bill being considered in the California Legislature will adjust the way the state handles sex offender registery. Senate Bill 421, or the Sex Offender Registration Act, would introduce a tiered system to the current registry system. Current law requires sex offenders to register for life, regardless of how heinous their crime may be. The bill would change that by introducing three tiers of registration requirements.

Under the proposal each tier would have a specified minimum period for which a sex offender would have to register for.

  • Tier One offenders would have to register for at least 10 years for an adult conviction and at least 5 years if adjudicated a ward of the juvenile court.
  • Tier Two offenders would have to register for at least 20 years for an adult conviction and at least 5 years if adjudicated a ward of the juvenile court.
  • Tier Three offenders would have to register for life.

Tier One offenders include those with a misdemeanor conviction for a registerable offense or for a felony that is not serious or violent, as defined by subdivision (c) of Section 667.5 or subdivision (c) of Section 1192.7. Tier Two offenders include individuals who were convicted of a registrable felony that includes some of the offenses listed in subdivision (c) of Section 667.5 or subdivision (c) of Section 1192.7, as well as certain other offenses. Tier Three offenders include individuals convicted of multiple registrable offenses that includes at least one that falls under the definition of violent felony, are committed to a mental health facility as a violent sexual predator, are considered an above average risk of reoffending per the State Authorized Risk Assessment Tools for Sex Offenders (SARATSO) Review Committee, or are sentenced to 15 years to 20 years to life for a conviction under penal code 667.61 among other specified circumstances. Certain conditions and exceptions can cause an individual to be placed in a different tier, and due to the nature of the legislative process the conditions listed here may change before this bill even passes the legislature (if it even does).

The Los Angeles Times has reported that the Assn. of Deputy District Attorneys, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, and the California Police Chiefs Assn. are among the groups supporting the bill, however the bill does have opposition from members of both parties, and certain victims rights organizations. The article also quoted Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey as saying about the need for the law change:

“The state’s sex offender registry has lost significant value over time because it contains so many low-risk offenders with decades-old offenses. Our bill will improve public safety by creating a tiered system that will allow investigators to focus on those offenders who pose the greatest risk.”

Being included in a particular tier does not mean an individual is automatically granted that relief once the minimum waiting period is met. The waiting period is only the minimum time that must pass in order to file a petition with the court for registry termination, and the district attorney has the opportunity to challenge a request for sex offender registry termination if the district attorney believes “community safety would be significantly enhanced by the person’s continued registration.”

If enacted, this bill would allow certain reformed offenders the chance to ask the court to discharge them from the burden of having to register. Current law lumps together relatively minor offenders and those who are unlikely to offend with the particularly heinous offenders in a way that is not an equitable form of justice. California joins South Carolina, Alabama, and Florida in being the only states that require all offenders to register for life. Allowing reformed offenders the chance to remove the registration burden would allow them access to greater opportunities in employment, education, and the ability to feel like a whole member of the community. The bill passed the California State Senate by a vote of 24-10 and moved to the California Assembly Committee on Public Safety. It passed that committee on 7/13/2017 and moved to the California Assembly Committee on Appropriations. There is a pending hearing before the Assembly Committee on Appropriations scheduled for September 1st. You can read the full bill in its current state and check on its status here. Please note that the bill is still moving through the legislative process and nothing is finalized until Governor Brown signs the bill into law. Amendments can be introduced that change how the proposed law would function if it passes.

If you have further questions about the status of the bill, or you would like to express your opinion on the bill, please contact the lead sponsors of the SB-421, State Senator Joel Anderson (916) 651-4038 or State Senator Scott Weiner (916) 651-4011. You can also call the Assembly Committee on Appropriations at (916) 319-2081. Finally, you can contact your state representative and inform them of your opinion. Find your representative here.

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