In California, individuals convicted of specified sex crimes are required to register with local law enforcement in the city or municipality where they reside. This information is forwarded to the State Department of Justice (DOJ) for inclusion on a public database. Failing to comply with sex offender registration rules in California is itself a crime, sometimes punishable by serious fines and prison time.
The sex offender registry rules changed after the bi-partisan passage of California Senate Bill 384, which took effect on January 1, 2021. It created a new three-tiered approach to sex offender registration. Under the prior law, defendants convicted of certain sex-related crimes had to register as sex offenders for life under California Penal Code 290 PC.
There was widespread agreement that the prior sex registry system was highly inefficient and did not serve its original purpose. Law enforcement spent a significant amount of time on record keeping and monitoring low-risk and low-level offenders.
The new SB 384 further provides convicted defendants in tiers one and two an opportunity to petition the court for removal from the sex offender registry after certain periods if specific requirements are met. This removal process is described under the new California Penal Code 290.5 PC.
To be eligible, the petitioner must have completed the minimum mandated period of sex registration. After law enforcement receives the petition, they must report to the prosecuting agency within 60 days with their recommendation.
Next, prosecuting agency has 60 days to object to the petition if they believe public safety will be significantly enhanced by continued registration. If the court denies the petition, it has to set a period for the petitioner to re-apply for termination from the registry. Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys will review further below.
How Sex Offender Registration Works
Under the provisions of California Penal Code 290 PC, sex offenders are required to register with local law enforcement after being convicted of an offense that requires registration. A convicted sex offender must register within any of the applicable time frames:
- Within five business days of being released from custody;
- Within five business days of conviction, if no jail time is involved;
- Within five business days of moving to a city or municipality.
Registered offenders must renew their registration every year within five days of their birthday and every time they change residences for as long as they are required to remain on the registry. If the offender doesn't have a permanent home, they must re-register every 30 days as a transient offender.
By Megan's Law passed in 1996, this registration information is forwarded to the California Department of Justice for inclusion on a public database so the public can search to see if there are any registered sex offenders near where they live.
Who Must Register as a Sex Offender in California?
PC 290 provides an extensive list of sexual offenses that require registration if you are convicted. These include, but are not limited to:
- Sexual battery - Penal Code 243.4 PC;
- Indecent exposure – Penal Code 314 PC;
- Rape – Penal Code 261 PC;
- Incest - Penal Code 285 PC;
- Oral copulation with a minor – Penal Code 287 PC;
- Lewd conduct with a minor – Penal Code 288 PC;
- Penetration with a foreign object – Penal Code 289 PC;
- Pimping – Penal Code 266h PC;
- Pandering – Penal Code 266i PC;
- Child pornography – Penal Code 311.11 PC;
- Contacting a minor to commit a felony – Penal Code 288.3 PC;
- Sex trafficking of children – Penal Code 236.1 PC;
- Continuous sexual assault of a child – Penal Code 288.5.
- Spousal rape by use of force Penal Code 262 PC.
Registration is considered mandatory for all of these sex crimes and numerous others. However, judges also have discretionary authority to require you to register as a sex offender for other crimes committed as a result of sexual compulsion or for purposes of sexual gratification.
For example, suppose you're convicted of Penal Code 209 PC kidnapping someone to molest them sexually. In that case, you may be required to register as a sex offender even though kidnapping isn't a sex crime per se.
How Long Do You Have to Stay on the Registry?
Before 2021, anyone convicted of a qualifying sex crime was required to register for life. However, California Senate Bill 384 (SB 384) changed that requirement to a three-tiered system effective as of Jan. 1, 2021.
The new system varies the length of time required based on the severity and circumstances of the crime as listed below:
Tier 1 offenses: minimum ten years on the registry. These include low-level sexual crimes such as indecent exposure, sexual battery, and misdemeanor convictions for other types of sex crimes.
Tier 2 offenses: minimum 20 years on the registry. These include mid-level sexual crimes such as incest, sodomy, lewd acts with a minor, etc.
Tier 3 offenses: lifetime registration. This tier is for severe sexual violations, multiple offenders, and sex crimes involving violent acts, such as rape, forced sodomy, child pornography, sex trafficking, etc.
Tier three registration also applies to anyone sentenced to life in prison, those deemed a habitual sex offender under Penal Code 667.71 PC, and defendants whose Static-99 scores place them at well-above-average risk for being a danger to society.
Is Removal from the Sex Offender Registry Automatic?
No. As noted above, if you're convicted on Tier 1 or Tier 2 offense, you may petition the court to have your name removed from the registry on your first birthday after the period expires, and the court will decide whether to remove you. For Tier 3 offenses, the only way to be removed from the sex offender registry is by having the charges dismissed, the conviction expunged, or a governor's pardon.
SB 384 provides opportunities for reduction in registration time or outright removal from the sex offender registry, but again, removal from the sex registry is not an automatic process. As of July 2020, you can petition the court for removal.
What are the Penalties for Failing to Register?
If you fail to register with local law enforcement within the required amount of time, whether the initial registration or any required update, you may face criminal charges. As a rule of thumb, the severity of the charge will match the seriousness of the offense for which you were convicted.
For example, if your sex crime were a misdemeanor offense, you'd be charged with a misdemeanor and face up to 1 year in jail if convicted. If your initial crime were a felony, failing to register would count as a felony offense with a possible three years in prison if convicted.
What are the Defenses for Failing to Register?
To convict you of failing to register as a sex offender, the prosecutors must demonstrate that:
- You were previously convicted of a qualifying sex crime that required you to register;
- You resided in California at the time you failed to register;
- You knew you were supposed to register; and
- You willfully failed to register or to keep your registration current.
Thus, if you're charged with failing to register as a sex offender, your attorney may defend you against the charge based on one or more of the points above.
Every sexual-related case is unique and needs to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to determine eligibility. If you are required to register as a sex offender in the state of California and seek an initial consultation, reach out to our law firm to review the details.
Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles County, and we serve people throughout Southern California, including Orange County, Ventura County, Riverside, and San Bernardino. Call us for an initial case review at (877) 781-1570 or fill out our contact form.