More sex offenders would become eligible to have their names removed from the Arizona’s sex offender registry but would face new hurdles in doing so, under legislation being pushed by Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.
But some criminal justice reform advocates oppose the bill, saying it may actually make it harder for people to get off of the registry.
Currently, all people convicted of most sex crimes must register as a sex offender. Anyone convicted of sexual contact with a minor who is at least 15 years old can petition the courts to be removed from the registry, provided he or she meets a number of criteria. The sexual contact must have been consensual, the offender must have been no older than 22 years old at the time of the offense, and the offender must not have violated probation or committed another sex-related felony.
House Bill 2613 would slightly expand the list of offenses for which someone would be eligible for removal from the sex offender registry. The bill would amend the statute to include situations involving law enforcement officers or others who pose as a 15, 16 or 17-year-old, and to any other offense in which the victim was at least 15 years.
The bill would also add new requirements for anyone who wants to be removed from the registry. They must be at least 35 years old, and cannot have been convicted of more than one offense involving more than one victim. The bill specifically excludes a host of offenses, including sexual assault, child molestation, child prostitution, child sex trafficking or sexual exploitation of a minor. The bill would keep in place a pre-existing exclusion for anyone deemed by the court to be sexually violent.
Under current law, an offender must not have committed another sex crime in order to be eligible for removal from the registry. HB2613 would change the law so that an offender must only have been without new sex crimes for at least 10 years.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, said he sponsored the bill at Montgomery’s request. He ran similar legislation in 2018. The House Judiciary Committee will hear the bill on Wednesday.
Montgomery said the legislation reflects years of data and research regarding less serious offenders.
“What you see in the bill reflects review of research and what we think is a fair approach to giving people who are in that right offender profile an opportunity to have that requirement lifted,” he said. “Those are all specific data points that the research tells us, if you have someone who committed this particular type of offense and they are this age with this amount of time or they haven’t reoffended, there’s no danger to public safety if they’re not required to register.”
But it’s unclear exactly what new offenders would become eligible to be removed from the registry if HB2613 passes. Amanda Steele, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, told the Mirror that it would apply to anyone who meets the eligibility criteria, but didn’t say what other offenses would meet those criteria. Montgomery said he doesn’t know how many people would be affected by the proposed law.
Some criminal justice advocates say the bill may actually do more harm than good.
Charity Clark, a defense attorney who primarily handles sex crimes cases and is a member of Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, a reform advocacy group, said the new requirement that someone be at least 35 years old to be eligible for removal is a problem, considering that they must be no older than 22 at the time of the offense, and in many cases are only 18 or 19 years old when they’re charged for crimes that occured while they were minors.
Clark said HB2613 adds very few people to the list of offenders who can get their names of the sex offender registry. And even some of those who are eligible on paper may not be eligible in reality. While the bill explicitly applies to people convicted of offenses involving law enforcement or others who falsely pose as teenagers, Clark said such offenders are often charged under child sex trafficking statutes, which would make them ineligible to get off the registry. And Clark said teenagers who engage in “sexting” are sometimes charged with sexual exploitation of a minor, a charge exempted by Bowers’s bill.
“While it appears that this is trying to expand the ability for individuals to terminate registration, a lot of the added language undoes any expansion that there would be,” Clark said. “I think it would wind up making it harder to get off the list.”