February 17, 2012

Sex offender bill awaits governor's signature

2-17-2012 Utah:

A limited number of sex offenders may be able to petition a judge to have their names removed from the Utah Sex Offender Registry in the future.

During the current legislative session, Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan, is sponsoring House Bill 13, which has now been approved by both the House and the Senate.

Sex offenders who have been convicted of unlawful sexual contact with a 16- or 17-year-old or unlawful sexual contact with a minor will be able to make an application to have their name removed from the list after five years.

There is a total of 26 different punishable sex offenses in Utah.

In Cache County, there is a total of 158 people registered on the State of Utah’s Sex Offender Registry. Of those, three were convicted of unlawful sexual contact with a 16- or 17-year-old. To be charged with this crime, the offender must be 10 or more years older than the victim.

Nineteen of Cache County’s offenders were convicted of unlawful sexual contact with a minor. County Attorney James Swink said this offense can be a misdemeanor if there are less than four years difference in age between the offender and the victim. If there is more than five years difference, the crime becomes a felony offense.

Approval will not be automatic. Provisions in the bill require that the sex offender seek a certificate of eligibility from the Utah Bureau of Criminal Investigations certifying that the individual has completed all terms of sentencing and remained crime-free.

Their investigation will include a search of nationwide databases.

The certificate of eligibility is good for 90 days from the date it is issued. During that time, the offender must deliver a copy of the application to the prosecuting attorney, who is tasked with notifying the victim or the victim’s family.

The family will have 30 days to object to an offender’s application for removal before the judge can conduct a hearing to consider removing a name from the sex offender list.

Swink acts as the legislative committee chairman for the Utah Council on Victims of Crime. He said the council was opposed to the bill when it was first drafted. However, Swink said Draxler was very open to concerns and made every effort to address any issues with the bill that might have had a derogatory effect.

“Our primary concern is for the victims who want closure in their lives,” said Swink. “Hopefully the door isn’t opened so wide as to be overly traumatizing to the victims.”

Swink said each criminal proceeding can be a stressor to victims.

“You want finality for them, and any time you open up new proceedings for them, it causes anxiety,” he said.

However, Swink does not believe this bill will affect very many offenders.

“We need a good, effective offender registry,” Draxler said. “We need to protect the public, but right now … its meaning is diluted by having people on there who actually may not belong there.”

Draxler said he is aware of a man who had sex with a 15-year-old girl when the man was 19 years old. He was prosecuted, convicted, sentenced and served jail time, according to Draxler. The man also completed required counseling. He later married the girl, and the two now have four children.

“He has not been able to take his kids to the park. He has not been able to go to their parent-teacher conference,” said Draxler. “He has not been able to live where he wants to live because of the registry, and it’s affected his employment because of the registry.”

Swink calls this type of case a “Romeo and Juliet” case. According to Swink, there are about 200 people either in state custody or on parole for the two sex crimes affected by this bill. Of those, only two fit the “Romeo and Juliet” description, Swink said. ..Source.. by Amy Macavinta

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