What Happens if I Fail to Register as a Sex Offender?
If you fail to register as a sex offender, you could face criminal charges. If convicted, you could face fines and prison time.
If you failed to register as a sex offender (or face a sex crime charge), speak with a lawyer. Your Phoenix sex crimes attorney can defend you against the charges and work to reduce any penalties you face for failing to register as a sex offender.
Penalties for Failing to Register as a Sex Offender
State and federal laws require some people who commit sexual offenses to register their personal information and address on a state-wide registry. This is a part of Megan’s Law, passed in 1996 as a part of the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offenders Act. This law required each state to develop a registry so the public can access information about known sex offenders in their community.
Generally, offenders must register after their conviction and release from prison, update when they move, and regularly double-check that their address and other information are correct. Some states also have additional rules they must follow regarding registry and ensuring those in law enforcement and their community can identify them. Failure to do so can lead to a subsequent arrest, conviction, and penalties.
The court systems in every state take these charges seriously. Under Arizona law, for example, failure to comply with sex offender registration could be a Class 4 felony.
This could result in the following:
- Up to 2.75 years in prison if your previous offense was a misdemeanor
- Up to 7.5 years in prison if you already have a felony conviction
- Up to 15 years in prison if you already have more than one felony conviction stemming from your original offense
Even if you fail to update your driver’s license or other required information, you could face a Class 6 felony charge.
This could lead to penalties that include:
- Up to a year in prison if your original offense was a misdemeanor
- A minimum prison sentence if your previous offense was a felony
These penalties vary per state—and repeat offenders could face harsher penalties. If one fails to register as a sex offender, the court may assume that the offender intends to endanger others.
What Crimes Require Sex Offender Registration?
Federal law requires each state to maintain a registry of violent sex offenders and others deemed potentially dangerous to the public. The rules for registering and maintaining their entry on the list vary somewhat from state to state. However, those convicted of certain crimes are almost always required to register with local law enforcement or an equivalent agency in their area.
Many states require sex offenders to register after being convicted of:
- Sexual assault
- Sexual abuse of a minor
- Sex with a minor (or related acts)
- Child prostitution
- Unlawful imprisonment (sex trafficking)
- Indecent exposure when the victim was a minor, especially if habitual
- Public sexual indecency when the victim was a minor
- Possession of child pornography
In some cases, it is left to the judge’s discretion if an offender needs to register. When the offender is under 18, the judge could rule they only need to register until they reach a certain age. Some states have codes about this, but most leave it to the judges to decide.
When Does a Sex Offender Need to Update Their Information?
In general, registration begins when the offender gets out of prison if they serve a sentence. Some areas offer a grace period, giving the offender anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to register. This usually requires a visit to the local sheriff’s department and paying a fee.
Offenders need to re-register when they:
- Relocate to another location for an extended period
- Enroll in school
- Temporarily relocate
Many states also have rules about how often offenders need to re-register or update their file, how often officers will visit their residence, and the requirements for keeping a state-issued photo ID.
What Does the Sheriff’s Office Require to Register as a Sex Offender?
In some situations, you might only have to register as a sex offender for a few years. Many sex offenders must register for life. Initially, when registering, you must provide a lot of information about yourself, your home, and the means of contacting you. There is also a fee in most places.
Once on the registry, updating your entry is easier when you move elsewhere within the same county. If you move to another county or state, you might need to pay the fee and provide all the necessary information again.
You Must Provide Identifying Information
When registering as a sex offender, many counties require you to disclose:
- Your full name and age
- Your current address
- A current photograph
- The date you got out of prison or began probation
This is public information. Anyone searching the sex offender registry in your state can find this information about you. This information can also come up on background checks when applying for jobs, enrolling in school, or applying for housing.
Your Risk Assessment Level May Determine What Information You Must Share
When registering, the agency may ask for information regarding your risk assessment level.
In general, the courts break sex offenders into three groups:
- Level 1, low risk of committing another offense
- Level 2, moderate risk of committing another offense
- Level 3, high risk of committing another offense
The level assigned based on your risk assessment can affect how often you receive visits from the agency, how often you need to update your registry entry, and even where you can live. Many states do not allow Level 3 offenders to live near a school, church, or daycare, for example.
The agency could also ask for additional information, such as any social media account handles. While many courts rule that sex offenders should not use social media sites where children could be present, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a state law limiting Facebook and Instagram accounts for convicted sex offenders. The rules for this continue to vary widely depending on when and where the conviction occurred.
Defenses for Failing to Register as a Sex Offender
Failing to register as a sex offender is sometimes accidental. Yet, the law does not take these mistakes lightly. As noted, it assumes that because you didn’t register as a sex offender, you could target another individual. Still, failing to register as a sex offender doesn’t make you a bad person—and you have legal options.
Many legal professionals suggest partnering with an attorney in these situations. The consequences of failing to register can significantly affect your quality of life for years to come. A lawyer can explain to the court why you failed to register and protect you from jail time or other penalties.
Depending on your case’s facts, an attorney could allege:
- You misunderstood when you were supposed to enter or update your information.
- The court never convicted you of a crime, making registration unnecessary.
- A language barrier prevented you from understanding your obligations.
- You submitted all of the necessary information, but it didn’t go through.
- You didn’t relocate, making re-registration unnecessary.
- You’re still within the state’s grace period for entering your information.
- Ample time has passed between now and the alleged offense, making registration unnecessary.
It is possible to win these cases. Sometimes, a judge hears the case and understands. They could admonish you for not updating your information or urge you to be careful in the future, but they do not impose harsh penalties.
Frequently Asked Questions About Failing to Register as a Sex Offender
It’s understandable to have questions about registering as a sex offender. As you research your legal options, you may ask:
How Do I Register as a Sex Offender?
The steps for registering as a sex offender generally depend on where you live. If you partnered with an attorney during your initial criminal case, they can explain the steps for registering. You could also find this information on your county’s website. When registering as a sex offender, you generally need to include information about your name, address, and birthday.
How Long Do I Remain on a Sex Offender Registry?
How long you remain on a sex offender registry depends on the severity of the offense. Many states note that Level 1 sex offenders must register for 20 years. The timeframe increases for Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders.
What Can’t I Do as a Registered Sex Offender?
As a registered sex offender, your court-imposed restrictions depend largely on your situation.
Yet, many states prohibit sex offenders from:
- Living within a certain distance of schools or daycares
- Possessing pornography
- Communicating with minors under a certain age
- Changing their address without notifying the appropriate offices
- Communicating with the alleged survivors of sexual misconduct
- Changing jobs without notifying the appropriate offices
Despite your personal beliefs on the matter, if the court prohibits you from engaging in a certain activity, avoid it. The court could find you in contempt if you violate the terms of your sex offender registry, sentence, parole, or probation.
What Can I Do as a Registered Sex Offender?
Although being a registered sex offender touches every corner of your life, the state does not prohibit you from:
- Engaging in romantic relationships with a consenting adult
- Work a fulfilling job
- Pursuing educational opportunities
- Maintaining relationships with your friends and family
- Pursuing creative projects or other related ventures
You have the right to live a long, fulfilling life despite your designation as a registered sex offender. Still, you must follow the legal protocols for registering.
An Attorney’s Role in Your Defense After Failing to Register as a Sex Offender
An attorney can help no matter what situation you’re in. If you’re currently facing charges for a sex crime, an attorney can fight for an outcome that doesn’t require you to register as a sex offender. These outcomes could include a reduction in the charges against you, a dismissal of your case, or an acquittal.
Still, you could have already done your time after a sex crime conviction. This doesn’t mean that you have nothing to lose and should face the legal process alone. You should still consider the benefit of having legal aid. Working with a professional versus representing yourself could mean the difference between your freedom and several years in prison.
A Lawyer Advocates for Your Best Interests
After failing to register as a sex offender, you deserve to share your side of the story. A lawyer can help you with that.
They can also:
- Ensure the police, courts, and others involved respect your constitutional rights
- Investigate what happened to develop a defense strategy
- Gather all the necessary information to support your case
- Negotiate with prosecutors for a favorable outcome
- Answer the client’s questions and help them know what to expect
Attorneys must be familiar with the applicable laws and the circumstances that led to their client’s failure to register as a sex offender. This is a good way to determine their legal options and build a case on their behalf.
They offer advice and guidance to help their clients make the best possible choices, including ensuring they register properly now and can avoid similar issues in the future.
Talk to a Criminal Defense Law Firm About Your Options
If you failed to register as a sex offender and have concerns about the consequences, a criminal defense lawyer can benefit your situation. This is often a much more serious offense than people realize. Facing the legal process alone could seriously affect your life and freedom.
Many criminal defense firms offer no-obligation evaluations where prospective clients can learn about their legal options. In such an evaluation, you could explore your legal rights and protections under the law.