Thursday, August 31, 2006

Understanding Sex Offender Searches

Sex Offender searches have become one of our most requested searches. However, it is important to understand just what you are getting when a sex offender search is requested as well as what you may not be getting.

As states succumb to increasing pressure to protect our children, more and more sex offender information is released to the public. However, many states still have laws that restrict which offenders will become part of the “registry” and which names on the registry will be released to the public. In many cases, who becomes part of the public sex offender database is not decided by statute, but by the judges, psychologists, social workers, and other clinicians who work for the courts. In other words, the protection of your children, employees, and neighborhoods is not based upon any objective criteria, but on someone’s opinion.

After an “evaluation’ by the court an offender will be assigned a risk level. This level is less dependant upon the seriousness of the crime, than on the court’s opinion as to the likelihood that the convict will re-offend. Many states, but not all, use a risk level of 1, 2, or 3 (level1 being the least likely to re-offend and 3 being the most likely). Although all offenders who commit some crimes may be required by federal and state law to register, not all registered offenders will be revealed to the public via the state’s sex offender database. In New Jersey and California, for example, about 25% of sex offenders are withheld from public view because they are “low risk” offenders. Moreover, in most states, if an offender chooses not to register as required, he/she will not be part of the public access database. Unfortunately, offenders are not automatically registered upon conviction. They must register themselves upon release into the community.

In 1994 the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act was passed as part of the Federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. This law required states to implement a sex offender and crimes against children registry. In 1996, Megan's Law amended the Wetterling Act and required states to establish a community notification system. Unfortunately, the penalty for not fully adhering to these laws is weak. Additionally, politics play a large role in determining just how dedicated some state’s legislators are to protecting our children. As more and more public pressure is applied to legislators, the integrity of the information contained in sex offender databases will improve. Sex offender searches are important as they will help identify offenders who migrate from the states in which they were convicted. They have become a mandatory search for any client who interacts with children or vulnerable adults. However, sex offender registries are not a substitute for criminal conviction searches; rather, they are part of a layering on process intended to achieve due-diligence.


At 2:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good insight! I really did not know what information sex offender searches resulted in. Thanks.


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