According to the last reported data from the NCMEC, there were more than 900,000 registered sex offenders in the United States as of December 2018. The precise definition of what constitutes a sexual offense differs by state and legal jurisdiction.
Serious crimes like sexual assault, rape, statutory rape, or sexual abuse, always result in sex offender registration. In some states, however, offenses like public urination or engaging in sex in a public place, both constitute offenses that require registration.
So, how does the sex offender registry work, and what are the consequences of failing to comply with its provisions? This article explores in detail everything you need to know about sex crimes.
What Is a Sex Crime?
While different types of offenses fall into this general category, a sex crime is generally defined as the illegal coercion – whether by threat or by force – of sexual conduct against an individual.
Every state has a law that prohibits the various types of sex crimes that exist. Nonetheless, the common denominator that applies across the board is that, regardless of the “severity” of the crime in question, any convicted sex offender has to have their name added to the state or federal sex offender registry.
Types of Sex Crimes
Due to the severe nature of the punishments associated with sex crimes, it is important for anyone facing such allegations to know what they’re up against to mount a proper legal defense.
It’s always a good idea to get a sex crimes lawyer involved from the get-go. The penalties you face if convicted include jail time, fines, and sex offender registration. This will no doubt have far-reaching repercussions that will follow you for the rest of your life.
But, everyone is innocent until they’re proven guilty. So, you have the right to defend yourself to avoid tarnishing your reputation. Below are some of the most common types of sex crimes.
Rape / Aggravated Sexual Assault
Rape or sexual assault is defined as the act of forcing sexual penetration of any form, intercourse, or sodomy on another individual against their will. Aggravated rape or aggravated sexual assault are considered more serious forms of the crimes, due to the level of injury inflicted or other “aggravating” circumstances involved in the offense. Some states have “degrees” instead, to define the severity of the case in question, with first-degree sexual assault being the most serious form of the offense. Aggravating factors can include:
- The offender displaying, threatening to use, or using a deadly weapon on the victim during the offense
- The offender attempts to kill the victim during the assault
- The offender uses an intoxicating substance to incapacitate the victim
- The victim is physically unable to give consent because they’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- The victim suffers severe physical injury
Aggravated sexual assault is always classified as a felony charge, which usually carries a prison sentence of between five to fifteen years. It may also have a possible life sentence, depending on the circumstances surrounding the crime.
The individuals are required to register with the state Sex Offender Registration and Notification Program, regardless of the seriousness of the charges.
This refers to a wide variety of activities perpetrated by adults against children. While sexual activity generally falls within the scope of child molestation crimes, it also extends to include anything else that has sexual undertones.
So, the exposure of a minor to pornography, convincing them to view sexual acts or even non-penetrating sexual contact, all constitute molestation. Getting convicted on these charges requires the offender to serve a minimum sentence of at least a year in prison and register as a sex offender.
Internet Sex Crimes
This is a term used to refer to an adult interacting with a minor in some virtual way for sexual gratification. The various forms of interaction vary widely and may involve engaging in virtual sex acts or encouraging the minor to engage in such activity.
The possession or viewing of child pornography also constitutes a sex crime. These offenses are usually filed as federal crimes and may carry a minimum sentence of one year in a state prison accompanied by hefty fines and sex offender registration.
This is an offense that involves sexual contact with a person who has not attained the age of consent as defined by specific state laws. Most states, however, no longer refer to this crime as “statutory rape.”
While the legal term used may vary from state to state, it is generally referred to as “sexual abuse of a minor,” “criminal sexual penetration of a minor/child under a certain age,” “sexual assault of a child,” or “sexual intercourse with a minor.”
This crime centers on the notion that a person who is below a certain age cannot consent to take part in sexual activity since they lack the maturity required to make an objective decision about adult matters. Statutory rape is a felony offense that carries a minimum prison sentence of one year behind bars.
Sex Offender Registration Act
The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) was the culmination of a series of laws passed between 1994 and 2006, designed to govern sex offender registration and notification in the US.
It started with the Jacob Wetterling Act of 1994, the Pam Lychner Act and Megan’s Law of 1996, and the most recent Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006.
SORNA, which is Title I of the Adam Walsh Act, makes it illegal for a convicted offender to intentionally fail to register with the state authorities or update their registration at designated times as required by law.
If a convicted sex offender fails to register or update their registration, they risk paying hefty fines and/or a maximum of 10 years behind bars. If they fail to register and then commit a violent federal crime, they risk serving up to 30 years in prison.
Here’s how SORNA works.
The sex offender registration requirements by state vary widely. Each state must, therefore, define for itself what offenses are considered sex crimes, and come up with an appropriate punishment for each of them.
SORNA generally has three categories of sex offenders grouped into tiers, depending on the length of prison time, the aggravating factors involved in the commission of the crime, and any other factors that would define the severity of the offense.
Each tier imposes specific reporting requirements on the offenders after their release from prison. Here’s what they entail.
Tier 3 Sex Offender
Tier 3 sex offenses are the most serious of the three under SORNA and are punishable by a minimum prison term of one year. Offenses that fall under this category involve abusive sexual contact or aggravated sexual abuse committed against a minor aged 13 years or below.
Crimes involving the kidnapping of a minor who wasn’t accompanied by a parent or guardian, or those committed after the offender had previously been convicted of a Tier 2 offense, both constitute Tier 3 offenses as well.
Ex-cons in this category have to register with the local authorities every time they relocate to a different jurisdiction or change their address. They are bound to these reporting requirements for the rest of their lives.
Tier 2 Sex Offender
Tier 2 offenses involve sex crimes that carry a prison sentence of at least a year. They include:
- Abusive sexual activity with a minor older than 13 years
- Sex trafficking
- The production or distribution of child pornography
- The solicitation of a minor to engage in prostitution
- The use of a minor in a sexual performance
- Transporting an individual with the intent to commit criminal sexual activity
Tier 2 crimes carry with them a 25-year reporting requirement.
Tier 1 Sex Offender
There are defined as sex offenses that don’t fall into any of the two previous categories. If a Tier 1 offender maintains a “clean record” after their conviction, meaning that they aren’t convicted of any subsequent offenses – sexual or otherwise – that carry a punishment of at least one year in prison, and complete the required parole period or rehabilitation program as ordered by the court, they get a 10-year reporting period once they register.
If they don’t meet those requirements, the reporting period is 15 years from the time of their release.
Megan’s Law mandates the Department of Justice to notify the public about specific sex offenders that pose a greater-than-normal risk to public safety. The law has two components to it.
- It requires states to register all sex offenders who have been convicted of sex crimes.
- It compels states to make the personal and private information of registered sex offenders, and child predators, available to the public. The law, however, leaves the criteria for disclosure at the discretion of the state.
This information is available at the National Sex Offender Public Website. If you’re wondering how to report a sex offender, get in touch with the US Marshals Service National Sex Offender Targeting Center (NSOTC) to report an unregistered or non-compliant sex-offender.
Retroactive Sex Offender Registration
When SORNA was first enacted, it expanded the scope of crimes that constituted offender-registration-worthy sexual offenses.
When the new law was passed in 2006, it applied retroactively, meaning that a massive number of ex-convicts whose crimes previously didn’t warrant registration in the sex-offender database, now had to do so for the first time.
Critics viewed it as punitive and unconstitutional. In 2012, however, the retroactivity of the law was repealed, and the three-tier system created.
How to Remove Sex Offender Registration
Several states have modified their laws on sex-offender databases, to allow individuals convicted of “victimless” crimes, to have their names removed from the registry. This mostly applies in statutory rape cases that involved teenagers, under the Romeo and Juliet laws.
The Romeo and Juliet laws provide exemptions to consensual sex with a minor, provided that the age gap between the two parties is not more than a specific number of years as defined by the state laws. In most cases, it’s four years or less. These individuals can apply to have their names removed once a certain period has elapsed.
In cases involving adults, you first have to determine whether the offense in question is eligible for removal. A criminal defense lawyer can help you review the laws in your state to find this out.
If it is eligible, you need to file a petition for removal with the court. It is at the court’s discretion, however, to determine whether or not they will grant your request. If it is denied, you have to wait for a specific period before you can file a new petition.
Keep in mind that removal from the registry doesn’t equate to the crime getting expunged from your record. The crime will still show up on your criminal background check.
Statutes of Limitations on Sex Crimes
Dealing with the emotional and sometimes physical pain that comes from sexual assault can often be quite overwhelming for the victims. Having to rehash it again if they decide to seek compensation, can bring up some tough memories.
But, difficult as it may be, it is your right to seek punitive damages for the distress and trauma you have to live with for the rest of your life. One thing you need to be aware of, though, is that there’s a time limit within which you can sue the perpetrator. This is known as the statute of limitations.
A criminal trial against the offender is entirely different from suing them. Once the court finds them guilty of committing the offense, the next step would be to pursue a lawsuit against them.
Depending on the state you live in, victims have anywhere from one to seven years from the date the incident occurred, to file. The majority of states set it at the two-year mark. Others like Connecticut don’t have any time limit suits involving aggravated sexual assault cases.
The tolling statute allows a pause in the timer if the victim was a minor at the time the abuse took place. In such instances, the clock starts running again, once they reach a certain age as defined by the state laws. This is typically 18 years old.
Get Legal Help for Your Specific Case
If you were previously convicted of a sex crime, you must register with the sex offender registry as mandated by SORNA. Failure to do this could cost you some hefty fines or land you right back in prison.
If you’re a victim of sexual abuse seeking compensation, ensure you file a lawsuit before the statute of limitations runs out.
If you need further assistance, chat online with a Laws101.com attorney to get guidance on your specific case.