Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry, a searchable database of individuals who have been convicted of sex crimes, has been lauded over the years as an asset to both law enforcement officials and the public. But the registry, available at the Michigan State Police web site, also has drawn criticism — and rightfully so. Now, lawmakers in Lansing are considering legislation to significantly modify the sex offender registry, including striking provisions that currently require some so-called “Romeo and Juliet” offenders — for example, a consenting 17-year-old boy who has sex with a consenting 15-year-old girl — to be logged on the registry for life. The legislation includes important changes that represent steps in the right direction, and deserves final adoption.
Under a new legislative package unanimously approved by the state Senate, the current “listed offense” schematic of the state’s sex offender statute would be replaced with a stratified system in which offenders would be logged for a period of time based on the nature of the offense and the “tier” into which their crime falls. In general, the more severe the crime, the longer the person would be listed on the registry.
In most cases currently, an offender has to remain on the registry for 25 years after the date of initial registration, and comply with certain notification requirements for life if they are convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC); second-degree CSC if the victim is under 13; kidnapping a minor; enticing a child under 14 years of age to engage in sexual activity; distributing or promoting child pornography or activity; or attempting or conspiring to commit one of those offenses.
Senate Bill (SB) 188 would require “Tier I” offenders to be registered for 15 years and report various information to law enforcement officials annually; “Tier II” offenders would be registered for 25 years and report biannually; and “Tier III” offenders would be registered for life and report to law enforcement quarterly.
Currently, offenders who were convicted of a misdemeanor have to report to the local law enforcement agency or a Michigan State Police post between Jan. 1 and Jan. 15 of each year so their residence can be verified. Felons convicted of a listed sex offense have to report each April, July, October and January.
SB 189 would require the reporting of new information from each registered offender, including aliases or nicknames; all e-mail addresses and instant message accounts; vehicle license plate and registration numbers; occupational and professional licensing information; names and addresses of employers; and palm prints.
The bill also would delete a provision under which a person who committed first- or second-degree CSC as a juvenile may be included in the public database when he or she turns 18.
The proposed changes in the sex offender registry laws would bring about reasonable and necessary changes, particularly when it comes to Romeo and Juliet offenders.
Depending on when a Romeo and Juliet offender was convicted and whether they were adjudicated through a diversion program, teens who technically violated the law but engaged in consensual contact may have to be logged on the registry and report to law enforcement officials for life.
This scenario is grossly unfair and has the potential to ruin certain Romeo and Juliet offenders for the duration of their lives. Thankfully the courts have recognized this as cruel and unusual punishment: A teenage offender who engaged in consensual contact typically isn’t a danger to the public or one who can be considered a sexual predator. Yet under some circumstances these kinds of offenders, by virtue of existing listing and reporting requirements, can find it difficult to obtain a job that allows them to earn a decent living and become a productive member of society.
Thankfully, such findings by the courts are forcing state lawmakers to revise the existing sex offender registry laws. The current legislative package — aside from addressing the Romeo and Juliet offender issues — would improve the registry with the tiered approach to registration and reporting requirements. This approach will make it easier for the public to comprehend the severity of the offender’s crime or crimes, which can be difficult under the current statute.
Another thing about the legislation that’s worthy of praise is that while some offenders will benefit from enhanced delisting opportunities, the changes won’t provide any slack for those who commit multiple sex crimes. The bottom line is that repeat offenders — including those previously characterized as a Romeo and Juliet offender and who commit subsequent offenses — don’t get off the hook, which is also a solid measure of justice.
Given the recidivism common among some sex offenders, requiring them to regularly report to police all aliases, e-mail addresses and instant message accounts, vehicle license plate and registration numbers, and occupational and professional licensing information, for example, is a sensible change.