50-state survey of relief from sex offender registration

We have prepared a new 50-state chart detailing the provisions for termination of the obligation to register as a sex offender in each state and under federal law.  This project was inspired by Wayne Logan’s recent article in the Wisconsin Law Review titled “Database Infamia: Exit from the Sex Offender Registries,” discussed on this site on April 15.  The original idea of the project was simply to present Professor Logan’s research in the same format as the other 50-state charts that are part of the NACDL Restoration of Rights Resource, supplementing it as necessary.  But getting all of the state laws condensed into a few categories turned out to be a considerably more complex task than we imagined, in part because we had to fill in a lot of gaps, and in part because of the extraordinary variety and complexity of the laws themselves.

We present it here as a work in progress in the hope that practitioners and researchers in each state will review our work and give us comments to help us make the chart most helpful to them and to affected individuals.

It is risky to try to generalize about the results of our study,  However, we found that registration laws seem to fall into three general categories:

  • 18 states provide a single indefinite or lifetime registration period for all sex offenses, but a substantial portion of these allow those convicted of less serious offenses to return to court after a specified period of time to seek removal;
  • 19 states and the District of Columbia have a two-tier registration system, which requires serious offenders and recidivists to register for life but automatically excuses those convicted of misdemeanors and other less serious offenses from the obligation to register after a specified period of time, typically 10 years;
  • 13 states and the federal system have a three-tier system, requiring Tier III offenders to register for life, and Tier I and Tier II offenders to register for a term of years, generally 15 and 25 years.

Most states require recidivists to register for life.  About half the states have shorter terms or special termination provisions for juveniles.  Successful completion of deferred adjudication avoids registration in many states.

Most of the states that authorize discretionary relief after a period of years specify the criteria that are to be considered by courts, and require that there be no intervening convictions of any kind.

A number of states give specific effect to executive pardon, and a few others specify that a pardon must be for innocence before it will relieve registration.  Many states make no mention of pardon as a relief mechanism, but it is at least arguable that a full and unconditional pardon would relieve the obligation to register as well as other collateral consequences.  A number of states specify that general expungement or sealing provisions have no effect on the obligation to register.  However, as noted, deferred adjudication schemes may avoid registration in many states.

Most states provide the same relief to those whose obligation to register derives from out-of-state convictions, but a few refer to require them to return to their jurisdiction of conviction for relief.

You can view the chart here, and find it with the other 50 state charts on the Restoration of Rights page.

We welcome feedback, both from those familiar with a particular state’s laws and from those who simply have questions about particular aspects of the chart.  Please send your comments to joshgaines@gmail.com.

Margaret Love

Former U.S. Pardon Attorney Margaret Love represents applicants for executive clemency in her private practice in Washington, D.C.. An author of Collateral Consequences of Criminal Convictions (NACDL/West), she created and maintains the NACDL Restoration of Rights Resource and serves on the enactment committee of the Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act.

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