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When the Sex Offender Registry Gets It Wrong

Posted by Thomas Huguenor on February 7, 2018 in Contentious Divorce

Nothing can damage a reputation like being placed on California’s sex offender registry. We think of it as a list for the state’s most egregious criminals: pedophiles, rapists, and molesters. But because of certain ambiguities and poorly worded laws that differ from state to state, some people who don’t deserve this stigma end up on the registry.

A Custody Dispute Turns Ugly

Take for example the story of Pennsylvania mother Shaquana Green. Pennsylvania laws regarding its sex offender registry are some of the strictest in the country, which Shaquana discovered firsthand. During her custody dispute, Shaquana violated a visitation order, which prohibited unsupervised contact with her toddler daughter. At the time of the violation, she was a 26-year-old single mother with no criminal record.

Unfortunately for Shaquana, Pennsylvania added several crimes to its 2011 legislation regarding sex offender registration, including interference with child custody. Because Shaquana was found guilty of violating her child custody order, she was forced to register as a sex offender—and will have to register for the next fifteen years; despite the fact that she was in no way a sex offender! Sadly, Pennsylvania does not allow any exemptions, and there are at least 33 other people in the exact same situation in the state.

Standards Vary by State

One of the major problems with the United States’ sex offender registry is that it’s run at the state level, and every state has different rules. This makes for patchwork enforcement that can cause people who commit minor crimes in one state to be labeled sex offenders in another. For instance, at least two people found guilty in New Jersey of custody interference, just like Shaquana, discovered that they had to register as sex offenders when they moved to Pennsylvania.

There’s no asterisk by their names either, saying that their inclusion on the list is considered a mistake. Anyone who looks up their criminal records will simply see that they are registered sex offenders without any other context. You can imagine how severely this will affect their ability to find work, find an apartment, take out a loan, and perform any of the other normal activities that people do on a daily basis.

California to Expunge the Registry

California is no exception to this problem. Efforts to scale back the law and make it more manageable and fairer had stalled for many months. Meanwhile, 105,000 people were on the registry, some of them violent criminals, but others, like Shaquana Green, listed for minor offenses and no danger to their communities.

Finally, in October 2017, the law passed, meaning it’s now possible for certain offenders to have their names removed or their categorization reduced. As state senator Scott Wiener said, “Our sex offender registry is broken and useless to law enforcement, with many nonviolent and low-level offenders who committed their offenses decades ago. If we’re serious about monitoring high-risk sex offenders — as we should be — we must reform this registry.”

This comes as good news to anyone who was put on the list for a non-sexual offense, like a custody disagreement or parental “kidnapping.”

We’ve seen, time and again, how parents can react wildly when their children’s custody is at stake. From false accusations of abuse to violations of visiting time, it gets ugly. However, a person shouldn’t be forced to register as a sex offender for a non-sexual crime.

When it comes to high-stakes divorce litigation, Huguenor Mattis, A.P.C., has a wealth of experience in difficult cases. Hiring a lawyer could be the best thing you do to protect your reputation and livelihood—and more importantly, your children. For a free consultation with a skilled San Diego custody attorney, please contact us at (858) 458-9500.

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Posted in: Contentious Divorce

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