Texas Debating Sex Offender Registration Changes

The stigma of a sex crime is something that can follow someone around for years, if not a lifetime. If a conviction results, many different punishments may be handed down. Not only may there be extensive prison time, but offenders will also be required to demonstrate that they have been rehabilitated. Additionally, those convicted will also need to register as a sex offender. Once someone is on this list it becomes very difficult to be removed. Some sexual offenses require lifetime registration.

All of this costs a lot of money for states. Many jurisdictions have embraced a "better safe than sorry" policy when it comes to the crimes for which it requires offenders to register, meaning that most sex offenses require some type of post-release monitoring. Like many other states, Texas is currently struggling with finding ways to pay for the treatment and monitoring of all of these sex offenders.

In 1994, Congress passed the Jacob Wetterling Act. This act was designed to provide states with guidelines for creating their own sex-offender registration laws. States based many of their provisions on the federal law, which was designed to target those who were likely to reoffend. In 2006, Congress passed The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act (AWCPSA), which strengthened many of the requirements that states already had in place. The law intended to create a uniform system of nationwide sex offender registration.

AWCSPA requires states to form a three-tiered system of classifying sex offenders. Those in tier three have been convicted of serious crimes and are deemed most likely to reoffend. Tiers two and one contain those offenders who have been convicted of less serious crimes.

Those convicted of a tier-three offense will be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of their lives. Tier two offenders will need to register for 25 years, and tier one for 15 years.

The current law in Texas forces the state to comply with federal laws in place, specifically the criteria handed down by the AWSCPA. The debate now is whether the state will fall in line with the AWCSPA, or opt to determine its own criteria for forcing sex offenders to register or be removed from the list of offenders. The law has been very controversial, with only three states being in complete compliance. Congress has threatened to cut the grant funding of those states that do not enact the tougher requirements

The Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee recently examined what compliance with AWCSPA would mean. If forced to register all sex offenders convicted of certain offenses, the cost of monitoring those offenders could be extremely high. In fact, according to the commission, if the new law is enacted in Texas, it would cost the state nearly $39 million. If the grants are withheld, the state would lose nearly $1.5 million in grant money.

Another issue that is concerning for state officials centers on new registration requirements for juvenile offenders. Currently, the judge in the case has discretion to decide if a juvenile will have to register as a sex offender. Under AWCSPA, the juvenile would be forced to register if they committed one of the specified crimes. The judge would have no ability to prevent this from happening. If entered into the registry, this information would become more accessible, and could prevent the juvenile from finding work or attending college.

The main issue that many critics have with this aspect of the law is that it does not take the risk of reoffending into consideration. Juveniles are much less likely to reoffend, and the damage caused by placing them into the program does not seem to offset the gains that registration would provide.

Families may also suffer if this law is put in place. In some situations, the relationship may have started before one party hit 17, the age of consent in Texas. If convicted of an offense like statutory rape, the adult could still be forced to register as a sex offender, even if the parties eventually end up marrying. There is a very small if not nonexistent chance of this person reoffending, but the AWCSPA would not take any of this into consideration.

The committee provided its recommendation against complying with the AWCSPA, due to cost and effectiveness concerns. The state would like to give risk assessments to each sex offender, to consider the potential for reoffending or removal. Once this information is obtained, the sex offender registry can be put to better use.

While this is being debated, strict laws are in still in place for sex offenders. If you have been accused of a sex crime or learn that you are under police investigation, contact an experienced attorney in your area to understand the options available to you. The consequences of a conviction are severe, and you may be forced to register as a sex offender for the rest of your life.