Attorneys discuss overhaul of state's sex registry

- Legal News Photo by Frank Weir

By Frank Weir

Legal News


The consequences for youthful lovers of being listed on Michigan’s sex offender registry continue to be lost on a public terrified by the thought of “child predators” running amok among us.

But the so-called “Romeo and Juliet” provisions included in a revamping of the state’s Sex Offender Registry Act (SORA) being implemented July 1 will help.

The changes, part of the Adam Walsh Act recently passed and signed into law in the state, were discussed at a recent meeting of the Washtenaw County Bar Association's Criminal Law Section.

Special guest at the meeting was attorney Cheryl Carpenter, a member of the advisory board of the Coalition for a Useful Registry. She practices in Redford.

Ann Arbor attorney Lynn D’Orio also is a member of the advisory board and was present at the section meeting.

Carpenter noted that only Texas has more registered sex offenders than Michigan and part of the reason has been the current statute which has pulled in many registrants who are “juvenile sexual experimenters,” Carpenter said.

“If teens have sex and the girl is 15 or younger, the boy could end up on the registry under the older system.”

In addition, Carpenter noted a local case involving two high school boys in which one boy pulled down the pants of another in the middle of the day resulting in the boy being put on the registry.

“This was not even a sexual act. It was just touching. And if this is reported to school teachers or officials, they are mandated to report it to the police. A teen putting his or her hand on someone’s behind can be a CSC Four and result in placement on the registry.”

The list of consequences for placement on the registry is long and severe. Carpenter said that prosecutors and even judges do not fully comprehend what is involved with the listing.

Of concern to practitioners, Carpenter noted, is that not adequately informing clients of all the ramifications of sex registry placement under a guilty plea or conviction can mean accusations of ineffective assistance of counsel under People v. Fonville.

Housing and employment consequences are the two worst Carpenter said.

Registrants cannot live within 1,000 feet of a student safety zone and in some smaller communities that can make it difficult to find a living space.

Further, rental property managers can ask if an applicant is a registrant and can deny housing based on it. Registrants are banned from Section Eight housing.

“It’s almost impossible for registrants to get a job. McDonald’s corporate handbook states that the company shall not hire registrants.”

She noted a client who was working at Burger King and the company wanted to promote him.

“He avoided the promotion because he knew they would look more closely. They found him on the registry and he was fired. If they can’t get jobs at Burger King or McDonald’s, where are they going to work?”

“I can’t tell you how many of my clients do not have a job do to placement on the registry.”

Things get even more bizarre when a Romeo and Juliet registrant goes on to marry and then have children.

Carpenter said they are unable to attend school activities with their children due to their registry placement which continued for decades under the old law.

“One local registrant was unable to attend his eight-year-old daughter’s daddy-daughter dance. Can you imagine trying to explain why you couldn’t go to that activity?”

Registrants find it difficult to date if a woman has children from a prior relationship. Child endangerment petitions can be brought by state child welfare authorities or by non-custodial parents since the children have been put into proximity of a registrant.

“Many registrants just give up. They don’t date, they struggle to find work and a place to live. The are ineligible for education grants and many schools simply won’t admit them or kick them out when they find them on the registry.

“They become isolated. People don’t think about this when they have to register. They don’t think long term.”

At least some of the Romeo and Juliet consequences will be resolved by the Adam Walsh Act implementation while in other ways, the act imposes more complications.

“The good news, the best part of the act, is that anyone now on the registry who was 13 or younger when the offense occurred, can be automatically removed.

“So call your old juvenile clients today and you will not only make their day but you’ll make their life. As of July 1, they are off the registry.”

SORA uses a tier system based on the conviction offense Carpenter said, with three tiers included. Under the changes, registration can be avoided in cases of consent between the defendant and victim when the victim is aged 13-15 and there is no more than a four-year age difference.

Consent also can avoid registration when the victim is aged 16-17.

In other ways, the new act is a step backward, in the opinion of the Coalition.

Lynn D’Orio noted that the act requires a significant expansion of reporting and failure to verify is now a felony. “And you have three days now to verify your information, down from 10.”

Carpenter added that “there are many more duties to report. If you change your residence, employment changes, enrollment in college or stopping going, name changes.

“If you reside anywhere else for more than seven days, you have to report that. So if you go to Florida for an eight-day vacation, you have to tell the Michigan State Police that or you’ve committed a felony.

“If you get a new email address or instant messaging account, you have to report that within three days. If you buy a new car or sell an old one, you have to report that in three days.”

In another change that often turns up on the front pages of newspapers, a conviction for knowingly possessing child sexually abusive material is now a Tier I offense and requires a reduced 15-year registration.

Like all other Tier I offenses, the registration will be on a private list only visible to law enforcement and registration is required just once a year. After 10 years, a petition for removal can be filed.

D’Orio summarized that under the new scheme, all offenders who committed their offense while 13 years old or younger will be automatically deleted from the registry as long as the Michgan State Police can confirm the person's age at the time of the offense.

A person may have to file a petition in cases where the MSP cannot confirm the age of the offender at the time of the offense.

“A juvenile who was 14 or older at the time of the offense, and was adjudicated with a Tier III offense, will have to register on the non-public registry for life,” D’Orio said. “That person may get relief if he or she falls into the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ exception or the ‘Consent’ exception.”

Ann Arbor criminal defense attorney John Shea, who also attended, noted that the ACLU is likely to challenge various portions of the new act.

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