Committee passes sex offender registry bill, urges broader reforms

Photo by Ervins Strauhmanis | Flickr

The House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously in favor of a limited proposal to slightly expand the number of people who are eligible to be removed from Arizona’s sex offender registry, lauding a proposal that many called an incremental step in the right direction while calling for Arizona to go further.

House Bill 2613 would extend eligibility for removal from the sex offender registry to people 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. Currently, the statute only applies to people convicted of consensual sexual contact with a minor who is at least 15. The legislation would remove that exclusive requirement, but it’s unclear what other offenses might become eligible for removal from the registry.

The bill would also add new requirements for people to be removed from the registry, including that they be at least 35 years old and haven’t been convicted of more than one offense involving more than one victim.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, said he sponsored HB2613 at the request of Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and others. He called it a modest step toward alleviating what he called the “perpetual punishment” of people who have to register as sex offenders. Bowers said he’d like to go further, noting that he’s spent three years working on juvenile justice issues related to sex offenses. But HB2613 is as far as county attorneys are willing to go.

“At the same time, they recognize and I recognize that there is a huge population and growing, both in prison and out of prison, that are basically lifeless because of what this does to a real person’s life to be on the registry,” Bowers said.

Several people testified about the effect that sex offender registration has had on them or on loved ones.

Ryan Jacobsen testified that he must register as a sex offender after communicating with a 14-year-old who initially told him she was 18, despite the fact that they never had any physical sexual contact. Rather than risk being sentenced to up to 55 years in prison, he said it was a no-brainer that he take a plea deal. After completing four years of probation, he went back to school, but mistakenly failed to properly re-register for the sex offender registration, for which he said he faced an additional charge.

Even if HB2613 becomes law, Jacobsen said it won’t help him because, once he turns 35, he’ll still only meet nine of the ten criteria is establishes. Nonetheless, he urged the committee to pass the bill.

Vicky Campo said her son spent five years in prison after he took a plea deal for having sex with a teenage girl while he was in college. Her son has been out of prison for four years, she said, but his punishment will never be over because of his sex offender registration, which has made it nearly impossible for him to hold down a job.

Campo said many people are required to register as sex offenders for things like sexting photos or public urination.

“When we say the word ‘sex offender,’ people hear ‘sexual predator.’ And it is simply not true,” she said. “I don’t condone my son’s actions. But his punishment did not fit his crime. And even this bill wouldn’t provide him with relief.”

Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, said it’s absurd for Campo’s son and others like him “to suddenly be life-imprisoned with a sexual offender label,” and that he’d like to see legislation in the future that would help him. And he said what Jacobsen has gone through is “just unacceptable.”

“How many of that man are there in our society? And what do we do about them?” Lawrence said.

Both Democrats and Republicans said they supported the incremental step that HB2613 will take, but said more needs to be done. Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, said she hopes that the bill can be amended to make it broader, a sentiment echoed by Rep. Jennifer Pawlik, D-Chandler.

“At least we’re starting to do something. I would be interested in expanding it, as well,” Pawlik said.

Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, said he supported the incremental approach that the Legislature is taking. He said his attitudes have changed a lot on the subject over the past decade.

“I think we need to rejoice in the fact that we’re here today having this discussion,” Roberts said, adding, “We should not overstep.”

Jeremy Duda
Associate Editor Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”

7 COMMENTS

  1. Incremental steps are much more realistic than attempting to make sweeping changes. There is no support in the law enforcement community for broad, sweeping changes and their support will be required before any meaningful modifications to sex offender registry laws takes place. Or, the courts will have to intervene in some fashion to override legislative/political will. For now, the discussion is beginning and that’s a step in the right direction. Even so, in today’s digital world, it is difficult to imagine how no longer having to register will help someone who previously was required to register, as the digital records will be perpetual.

    • The registry is the most wasteful and useless article the government has ever created, not surprisingly to its earliest opponents because it is predicated on false premises. Registrant recidivism was always among the lowest of all classes of criminal except murderers (a remarkable statistic considering the additional restrictions applicable only to them). In turn, “public safety” is not affected. Extreme scrutiny of those unlikely to re-offend accomplishes absolutely nothing.

      Regardless of its original intents, the registry has evolved into nothing more than a means for political pandering and grandstanding for obscure politicians to make a name for themselves and less-than-ethical ones to hide their failures and misdeeds. To include most state court judges, who are every bit as much politicians as legislators (despite any claims to the contrary) in that they are elected and subject to he politics of the moment.

      It’s well established that 97% of new sex crime is committed by non-registrants. Even on the rare occasions when registrants do re-offend, the registry never plays a role in the identification or arrest. In fact, the assailant’s status as a registrant is never known until after he’s arrested.

      In private, any law enforcement official (other than those specifically assigned to registry task forces and such) will tell anyone that the registry serves no law enforcement purpose. There’s nothing on it that is not in the federal National Crime Information Center, its state counterparts, or scores of other databases routinely accessed through routine investigation. Despite being the first thing consulted in Amber Alerts and missing child reports, it has never led to an arrest because most often the subject is not a registrant. The only thing accomplished is delaying the next step of investigation by several hours due to searching for nearby registrants to interview (or more likely, harass).

      They will never say so publicly, however. They’ll praise it as a “useful tool,” but never describe what they do with it. They’ll claim without it some investigations wouldn’t even have a starting point, but never mention what the next step is if that doesn’t pan out or why they couldn’t have started with that next step in the first place. They’ll parrot the claims that neighborhoods are safer if you know where registrants are and can take additional steps to protect yourself from them, but never offer one word or suggestion of what those steps should be or how they differ from the ordinary caution of any other stranger.

      The reason why is very simple – money. Grants and budgets are determined based on the size of the registry in any given city, county, or state. Accordingly, most want their registries as bloated as possible (shown by the continued registration of dead and incarcerated registrants, who obviously are not a public safety threat). Legislators will continue to maintain the status quo (at a minimum), evidenced by the inordinately inane limitations and procedures enacted that one must follow in the rare cases where removal is authorized (where automatic removal could have been implemented just as easily), which require an attorney that the overwhelming majority of registrants cannot afford.

      Any legislature, including Congress, could abolish the registry in a day. Prohibition was repealed in 12 years which, in US Constitutional Amendment terms, is the speed of lightning. They simply choose not to, considering it political suicide, and more than a few probably have financial interests in keeping it as is. “Incremental steps” such as this proposal are merely efforts to appease the growing number registry opponents while maintaining the status quo. No amount of amending or altering the registry will make it useful or beneficial to law enforcement, the public, or registrants. It’s merely cosmetic, like saying a car will go faster and get better gas mileage if you paint it a different color.

      Ultimately, it will be the US Supreme Court that will abolish the registry. Ordinarily, a difference of opinion among the circuits is a key criteria to the USSC accepting a case. That exists now – the 6th and 10th circuits have ruled that the registry is punitive (Millard v. Rankin and Doe v. Snyder, respectively), and the 11th may as well (Doe v. Marshall, certiorari granted). Not-so-curiously, the USSC has refused to grant cert in these (and probably other) cases that could result in abolishment, probably due (at least in part) to Chief Justice Roberts’ representation of the government in Smith v. Doe, the Alaska precedent that most courts cite to cling to the idiotic notion that the registry isn’t punishment because the legislature never intended it to be (That’s like saying the Rams won the Super Bowl because they didn’t intend to lose. I can think of no other case or circumstance where a court would consider intent synonymous with success).

  2. Thank you for posting on a sensitive subject. It seems that the laws need to be more realistic. There are many individuals (juveniles and many others) that deserve a second chance and not be punished for life. The label “sex offender” has created hysteria. I hope you continue to post more positive information so the public has a realistic understanding of sex offenders.

  3. Honestly, whenever I heard about sex offender registry I thought it was absurd. It’s so fear based rather than factual based. Why is there not an arsonist registry? A murder registry? When we start grouping people in pockets because of crime that is put out there publicly – we are not a unifiying country at all. We are simply dividing more and more. These draconian laws registration laws need to be Stopped and abolished.

  4. In a country with over 900,000 people on the Sex Offender Registry, most people have a connection to someone who is affected. As a society, we should all be concerned about the fact that the registry does nothing to keep our communities safe and is based primarily on fear and myth. We should also be concerned about the power of the prosecutor to dictate what laws get passed. Arizona has the 4th highest incarceration in the nation. With some minor changes, HB2613 will have a powerful and positive impact by allowing people an opportunity to lead a successful life without the permanent brand of the registry. Thank you…

  5. Women Against Registry advocates for the families who have loved ones required to register as sexual offenders. More about the issue:
    According to the NCMEC map there are over 912,000 men, women and children (as young as 8 and 10 in some states) required to register and the “crimes” range from urinating in public (indecent exposure), sexting, incest, mooning, exposure, false accusations by a soon-to-be ex-wife, angry girlfriend, or spiteful student, viewing abusive OR suggestive images of anyone 18 years old or younger, playing doctor, prostitution, solicitation, Romeo and Juliet consensual sexual dating relationships, rape, endangering the welfare of a child, the old bait-n-switch internet stings (taking sometimes 12 months before a person steps over the line) guys on the autism spectrum or with intellectual disabilities and many others.

    If you multiply the number on the registry by 2 or 3 family members you can clearly see there are well over 3 million wives, children, moms, aunts, girlfriends, grandmothers and other family members who experience the collateral damage of being murdered, harassed, threatened, children beaten, have signs placed in their yards, homes set on fire, vehicles damaged, asked to leave their churches and other organizations, children passed over for educational opportunities, have flyers distributed around their neighborhood, wives lose their jobs when someone learns they are married to a registrant….all these things occur when these people try to hold their family together and provide the three things that professionals indicate are needed for successful reintegration; a job, a place to live and a “positive” support system.

    The Supreme Court’s Crucial Mistake About Sex Crime Statistics – ‘Frightening and High’ (Debunks the 80% recidivism rate cited by now SCOTUS Justice Kennedy)

    It is very important that you read the abstract below and then the full 12 page essay by Ira Mark and Tara Ellman.
    ABSTRACT This brief essay reveals that the sources relied upon by the Supreme Court in Smith v. Doe, a heavily cited constitutional decision on sex offender registries, in fact provide no support at all for the facts about sex offender re-offense rates that the Court treats as central to its constitutional conclusions. This misreading of the social science was abetted in part by the Solicitor General’s misrepresentations in the amicus brief it filed in this case. The false “facts” stated in the opinion have since been relied upon repeatedly by other courts in their own constitutional decisions, thus infecting an entire field of law as well as policy making by legislative bodies. Recent decisions by the Pennsylvania and California supreme courts establish principles that would support major judicial reforms of sex offender registries, if they were applied to the facts. This paper appeared in Constitutional Commentary Fall, 2015. Google: Frightening and High Essay

    A study reviewing sex crimes as reported to police revealed that:
    a) 93% of child sexual abuse victims knew their abuser;
    b) 34.2% were family members;
    c) 58.7% were acquaintances;
    d) Only 7% of the perpetrators of child victims were strangers;
    e) 40% of sexual assaults take place in the victim’s own home;
    f) 20% take place in the home of a friend, neighbor or relative (Jill Levenson, PhD, Lynn University)

    There is a tremendous need to fund programs like “Stop It Now” that teaches about grooming behaviors and other things at age-appropriate levels in their Circles of Safety.

    Our question to the public is one of, when does redemption begin?

    We support the principles of Restorative/Transformative Justice; restore the victim, restore the offender AND restore the community.

    Lastly, our country is proud to be ‘the incarceration nation’ with 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s incarcerated.

  6. According to the NCMEC map there are over 912,000 men, women and children (as young as 8 and 10 in some states) required to register and the “crimes” range from urinating in public (indecent exposure), sexting, incest, mooning, exposure, false accusations by a soon-to-be ex-wife, angry girlfriend, or spiteful student, viewing abusive OR suggestive images of anyone 18 years old or younger, playing doctor, prostitution, solicitation, Romeo and Juliet consensual sexual dating relationships, rape, endangering the welfare of a child, the old bait-n-switch internet stings (taking sometimes 12 months before a person steps over the line) guys on the autism spectrum or with intellectual disabilities and many others.

    If you multiply the number on the registry by 2 or 3 family members you can clearly see there are well over 3 million wives, children, moms, aunts, girlfriends, grandmothers and other family members who experience the collateral damage of being murdered, harassed, threatened, children beaten, have signs placed in their yards, homes set on fire, vehicles damaged, asked to leave their churches and other organizations, children passed over for educational opportunities, have flyers distributed around their neighborhood, wives lose their jobs when someone learns they are married to a registrant….all these things occur when these people try to hold their family together and provide the three things that professionals indicate are needed for successful reintegration; a job, a place to live and a “positive” support system.

    The Supreme Court’s Crucial Mistake About Sex Crime Statistics – ‘Frightening and High’ (Debunks the 80% recidivism rate cited by now SCOTUS Justice Kennedy)

    It is very important that you read the abstract below and then the full 12 page essay by Ira Mark and Tara Ellman.
    ABSTRACT This brief essay reveals that the sources relied upon by the Supreme Court in Smith v. Doe, a heavily cited constitutional decision on sex offender registries, in fact provide no support at all for the facts about sex offender re-offense rates that the Court treats as central to its constitutional conclusions. This misreading of the social science was abetted in part by the Solicitor General’s misrepresentations in the amicus brief it filed in this case. The false “facts” stated in the opinion have since been relied upon repeatedly by other courts in their own constitutional decisions, thus infecting an entire field of law as well as policy making by legislative bodies. Recent decisions by the Pennsylvania and California supreme courts establish principles that would support major judicial reforms of sex offender registries, if they were applied to the facts. This paper appeared in Constitutional Commentary Fall, 2015. Google Frightening and High Essay

    A study reviewing sex crimes as reported to police revealed that:
    a) 93% of child sexual abuse victims knew their abuser;
    b) 34.2% were family members;
    c) 58.7% were acquaintances;
    d) Only 7% of the perpetrators of child victims were strangers;
    e) 40% of sexual assaults take place in the victim’s own home;
    f) 20% take place in the home of a friend, neighbor or relative (Jill Levenson, PhD, Lynn University)

    There is a tremendous need to fund programs like “Stop It Now” that teaches about grooming behaviors and other things at age-appropriate levels in their Circles of Safety.

    Our question to the public is one of, when does redemption begin

    Women Against Registry supports the principles of Restorative/Transformative Justice; restore the victim, restore the offender AND restore the community.

    Lastly, our country is proud to be ‘the incarceration nation’ with 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s incarcerated.

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