Imagine that, because you were convicted of a crime, you couldn’t go to your child’s high school graduation. If you lived with children or within 2,000 feet of a park, you would have to move. Your residence, your date of birth, and the fact that you broke the law would become completely public and available to anyone with internet access for the rest of your life.
These are the realities facing people convicted of a variety of sex offenses.
Registration for sex offenders seems to be a formalization of the stigma that has always existed against child molesters and rapists. Unfortunately, the registration requirement’s scope is much too broad. The same registration requirement and restrictions apply whether the crime is annoying children without touching them or forcible rape. A 20-year-old who has consensual sex with a 17-year-old, if convicted of statutory rape, must register for life, the same as the person molesting 10-year-olds.
Unfortunately, the stigma often attaches upon accusation. I have one client whose case is still pending. Even before conviction and registration, he and his family have become pariahs in their community. People have vandalized their home, smashed their car windows, and have issued death threats.
Another client of mine who was a sex offender and paroled to San Francisco was forced into homelessness by the scarcity of compliant housing in the city.
Remember that you may guarantee that you would never commit a sex-related crime, but could you guarantee that no one would ever accuse you? We are familiar with cases of children alleging molestation by adults in their lives. While many of these cases are true and must be prosecuted, a number are false. Innocence Projects across the country have estimated that up to 10 percent of the total prison population is factually innocent, meaning people convicted by faulty evidence, untrue testimony, and overzealous prosecutors.
Although requiring sex offenders to register may not seem unreasonable, the fact that this information is easily accessible by anyone makes it outrageous. Registration is, of course, additional to the normal penalties of incarceration, fines, and parole or probation. The penalties are no less harsh than they were before registration.
Even for the guilty who are justly punished, to be subject to lifelong registration, to be forbidden to live where they please, and to be forced to miss key events in the lives of their loved ones is more than anyone deserves. That these people suffer this burden after completing their punishment and repaying their debts to society is a travesty. Some common sense has to be restored to this law.
Naresh Rajan is an attorney in San Mateo County. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.