December 29, 2011

Bill may let some sex offenders off registry 5 years early

12-29-2011 Utah:

SALT LAKE CITY — About 10 years ago, a 19-year-old man had sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend was convicted of unlawful sexual activity with a minor. The couple has since married and has four children. And he has otherwise been a law abiding citizen.

But, he is still required to be listed on the Utah Sex Offender and Kidnap Offender Registry, and banned from going to a public park with his children. His family may not live in certain areas, and his employment has been also been affected.

The man, whose name has been kept confidential, contacted his Utah state legislator about the problem. HB13, sponsored by Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan, is the result. If passed during the 2012 legislative session, the change would allow people convicted of unlawful sexual conduct with a 16- or 17-year-old, or unlawful sexual activity with a minor, or misdemeanor voyeurism to petition a judge to be removed from the registry after five years.

"They are the three least egregious offenses," that require registration, Draxler said. "We're trying to bring some sense to it. We need a registry, but we need the people on it who are truly threats, not those that are no longer a threat to society."

Offenders who've committed the three crimes listed are currently required to be on the registry for 10 years after conviction. Other offenses require a lifelong listing.

As well, the bill requires the offender to have no convictions for other crimes, other than certain traffic offenses, and gives the court the discretion to decide each case.

"They have to really show that they've changed their lives," Draxler said.

The married father of four is only one example of several constituents Draxler said he has heard from who face similar circumstances — and he's heard other lawmakers tell similar stories from people in their districts.

"Frankly, I've been surprised at the lack of opposition (to the bill) and overwhelmed by the support it's gotten," he said. More than 100 people — offenders and their family members — have emailed him to thank him, he said.

The bill passed the Legislature's Interim Judiciary Committee unanimously in September, so it now goes directly to the House floor after the general session convenes Jan. 23.

As of July 15, the sex offender registry listed 47 offenders who've been convicted of unlawful sexual conduct with a 16- or 17-year-old, and 218 convicted of unlawful sexual activity with a minor (ages 14 or 15). For all offenses, around 2,900 offenders were registered in July, according to Department of Corrections statistics.

Not all would qualify under Draxler's proposal. Eligible offenders must have completed any treatment the court may have ordered and must have no subsequent convictions, except for traffic offenses.

To be eligible, offenders also must have complied with all registration requirements. And the bill provides that the victim or victim's parents, as well as the prosecutor in the case, must receive a copy of the petition, so that they may object to the court considering the petition. The judge must find that the offender is no longer a threat to society.

The offender also would have to pay an application fee and a $125 court fee, the bill states, and the state Bureau of Criminal Identification must certify the petitioner's eligibility.

"It has lots of safeguards," Draxler said.

The lawmaker who sponsored legislation creating the original sex offender registry supports the bill, as well as the Utah court system, he added.

According to Utah law, a person commits "unlawful sexual conduct with a 16- or 17-year-old" if they are not more than 10 years older than the victim, and the offense does not constitute rape, forcible sexual abuse, aggravated sexual assault or similar crimes.

"Unlawful sexual activity with a minor" refers to similar activity, but when the victim is 14 or 15 years old. ..Source.. by Ladd Brubaker, Deseret News

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