May 17, 2009 /24-7PressRelease/
-- Texas' Expanding Sex Offender Registration Requirements
Article provided by Joe D. Gonzales & Associates. Please visit our Web site at www.joegonzales.com
Sex offender registration statutes are not a recent occurrence; for almost twenty years, Texas has required some form of registration for those convicted of certain sex-based offenses. In 1991, the Texas legislature passed the first -- of what would become many -- sex offender registration laws, this one requiring those convicted of incest, sexual assault or indecency to register with the state.
While this initial foray into sex offender registration may have gone somewhat unnoticed, the issue received the full attention of the state in 1993, with the abduction, rape and murder of 7-year-old Ashley Estell. In response, the legislature pushed through Ashley's Law, which required all sex offenders to register for a period of years after their sentences -- for some violent sex offenders, the law required registration for life.
Since the passage of Ashley's Law, the legislature has revisited the sex offender registration issue often, each time adding new crimes for which registration is required or increasing the scope of information that must be included in the registry.
Piece by piece, the sex offender registration law evolved, until today most sex offenders face lifetime registration requirements. Under the current regulations, sex offenders must report their address, birth date, height, weight and race to local authorities and must keep an up-to-date photo on file. This information is also available to the public, via a number of searchable Web sites. Moreover, Texas' sex offender registration laws may soon become even more stringent, despite the efforts of a number of civic groups.
The Impact of the Adam Walsh Act
Passed by Congress in 2006, the Adam Walsh Act is a federal law that sets minimum standards for public registries at the state level, including who must register and for how long, as well as what portion of the registered information is made public. The Act was signed on the 25th anniversary of the abduction and murder of Adam Walsh, the son of John Walsh, host of the television program America's Most Wanted.
Under the Adam Walsh Act, states are required to set up a tiered system of registration requirements based on the severity of the underlying crime. Beginning with Tier I -- the least serious crimes -- offenders are required to register for 15 years and must update their status annually. Tier II crimes require registration for 25 years and status updates every six months, while Tier III crimes -- the most serious -- require registration for life. Those convicted of Tier III offenses must update their status every three months.
In Texas, the Adam Walsh Act would require the state to take a step backward in its policy toward juvenile offenders. The Act requires certain juveniles -- as young as 14 years old -- to register as sex offenders for life. At one time, Texas had a similar mandatory registration law, but relying on the opinions of prosecutors and defense attorneys alike, the state now relies on the discretion of judges in individual cases.
In the opinion of at least one civic group, Texas' sex offender registration laws are already too severe, even before the sweeping changes promised by the Adam Walsh Act. The group includes hundreds supports of those convicted of sex offenses or placed on sex offender probation of sex offenders who believe that the existing registration laws do not work to keep the children of Texas safe because they fail to separate sexual predators from non-violent, non-dangerous offenders. The group believes that the law should distinguish, for instance, between an 18-year-old high school senior who foolishly had sex with his freshman girlfriend and a serial rapist. Since, in Texas, anyone under the age of 17 cannot legally consent to sex with an adult, both situations are treated as rape crimes.
Through monthly meetings and an expanding outreach effort, Texas Voices is working to convince lawmakers that the sex offender registration laws should be rewritten to better focus on those offenders who pose a risk to the public, especially children. According to a study conducted by the US Department of Justice, only 5 percent of sex offenders were arrested for another sex crime within three years of their release from prison.
As evidence of the trouble with sex offender registration laws, Texas Voices can point to the case that started it all, at least in Texas: the rape and murder of Ashley Estell. Prior to the passage of Ashley's Law, authorities convicted a man named Michael Blair of the crime, at least in part because of a previous conviction for a sex offense.
Long after his conviction, Blair maintained that he was innocent of the crime. In 2008, DNA evidence cleared Blair, pointing instead to a man who died ten years ago. In this case, at least, the sex offender registration laws that were designed to protect children such as Ashley would have failed; in fact, it was knowledge of Blair's previous offense that may have cost him more than a decade of his life.