Getting off the sex offender list

The law provides a way for some to end the ill effects of Oregon registry

By Sheila G. Miller / The Bulletin

Danny got some good news in September.

He no longer has to register as a sex offender.

Danny is one of a handful of people each year in Central Oregon who petition for — and receive — relief from sex offender reporting each year.

In the wake of child sex abuse accusations against former Penn State offensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, sex abuse has moved to the forefront of the public mind.

But one size does not fit all when it comes to sex offenders, and in Oregon there is a little-known — and little-used — way for low-level offenders to get off the state’s registry.

In Oregon, people convicted of sex crimes must register with the state and update their information annually or when they move. Some offenders considered dangerous or predatory, as well as those who committed higher-level felonies like rape or sodomy, will remain on the registry for life. But some, who have only one sex offense conviction — a Class C felony or some type of misdemeanor — can apply to get off the registry 10 years after their supervisions end. Those convicted of sex offenses as juveniles can apply for relief from registration just two years after they’re done with supervision.

Danny was convicted in 1992 of second-degree sexual abuse. Originally indicted on three counts of second-degree sexual abuse, one count of first-degree sex abuse, and one count of attempted first-degree rape, he pleaded guilty to the second-degree sex abuse charge and was sentenced to seven days in jail, 23 days of work release and 30 months’ probation.

He completed sex offender treatment and was released from parole and probation supervision in 1995. The Bulletin is not fully identifying Danny because he has not been in trouble with the law since, and he is concerned it could ruin the reputation he has rebuilt.

In his affidavit asking for relief from registration, he told the court he was not a predatory sex offender “since there was no violence involved in the commission of the crime, meaning that the victim was not hit, kicked or physically attacked.”

His probation officer, Charity Hobold, wrote a letter in support of his relief petition. She cited remarkable changes that he made over the three-year probation period and said he did excellent work on his sex offender treatment homework.

According to Deschutes County Circuit Court Clerk Ernest Mazorol, only three other sex offenders have applied for relief from their reporting requirements in the past three years. Of those, two were accepted and one was denied.

Another man, convicted of sexual delinquency of a minor in 2003, was released from reporting requirements in 2010.

And a man who was 22 when he touched the breasts of a girl under 16 in 1996 was also granted relief.

Not everyone who petitions the court, though, is successful.

The Deschutes County District Attorney’s Office opposed one woman’s application, pointing out that she’d sexually abused her son for six years and had other run-ins with the law in the years after her 1997 conviction of third-degree sexual abuse, a misdemeanor. Her petition was denied by the court in February 2011.

Deputy District Attorney Kandy Gies estimated her office gets about a dozen petitions a year.

“More than half of the requests don’t fit the criteria,” she said.

Attorney Angela Lee said she handles about six petitions each year. She thinks she’d have a larger load if people knew they were eligible for relief.

Being in the sex offender registry, Lee said, is not easy.

“The effect is huge. You have to register every time you move, every year within 10 days of your birthday, when you change jobs or school you have to register,” she said.

According to a 2007 Human Rights Watch report, federal laws and laws in all 50 states require some sex offenders to register with local law enforcement - some for life, others for a set period of time.

Some states also require sex offenders to stay away from places where kids gather, like schools and day care centers.

The result, the report states, is often that registration laws require people who pose “no safety risk” to register; that online sex offender registries open to the public result in harassment and violence against registered sex offenders; and that residency restrictions can mean registered sex offenders must live far from their homes and families.

“They just get lumped into this category. People automatically think they’re a felon,” Lee said.

For many of her clients, not having to register anymore is what she calls a “mental thing.”

“People want to get rid of the stigma.”

Her average client committed the crime a long time ago, hasn’t been in trouble since, and has completed all the terms of probation.

The hardest part, Lee said, is sometimes tracking down proof of successful treatment and completed probation.

“The records are so old they’re gone or archived,” she said.

Once the petition is filed with the court, the offender is entitled to a hearing within 60 days.

When Gies gets a petition, her office tries to contact the victim, although that can be challenging when the cases are so old. If the victim is opposed to removing the offender from the registry, or if there are other concerns, the DA’s office will file an objection and the hearing will determine the outcome.

There are criteria a person must meet to qualify for relief, among them that the petitioner cannot have been five years or more older than the victim and the petitioner can’t have committed certain prior offenses.

“I would think there’s a lot of people who don’t know that they could apply, and I’m thinking of somebody who was 20 or 22 and had an underage girlfriend,” she said. “We don’t see that many coming back in.”

Gies said it’s important to remember that predatory or sexually dangerous offenders will never be removed from the registry.

“In my mind, a sex offender is somebody who the public needs to be aware of and who should not be working in locations where children are,” Gies said. “I see a distinction between that person and the person with a girlfriend who was underage, who has done the treatment and whose probation officer says, ‘They’re not a threat to the community,’ and the victim says they don’t care (if they’re removed from the registry). I see a big distinction in who should be listed on the registry.”