How Reliable are Sex Offender Registries?
Imagine you come home from work and turn on the local news. The station runs a story on a new mobile application that gives users information about registered sex offenders in the area. So, you download the app and search your area. To your shock, the app lists your address as the home of a sex offender.
That is exactly what happened to Donald Montgomery. After seeing a story on the news, he checked his address on the app Ping4. He was stunned to find his own address listed as the home of a registered sex offender. He contacted the company that developed the app, which admitted the information they had was outdated. A registered sex offender previously occupied that address before Montgomery began living in the home.1
The Unreliability of “Volunteered” Information
Montgomery’s story illustrates one of the many issues regarding the California sex offender registry. Many sex offenders are unaware that they must register every time they move, while others simply disobey the law. A 2002 study by Dr. Richard Tewksbury, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Louisville, found that at least 25% of registered sex offenders in Kentucky reported false addresses to local law enforcement. In another study, Tewksbury found that only 38.1% of sex offenders in Kentucky use the state’s online system to verify their information is correct.2
Though these studies focus on Kentucky, it is by no means a problem unique to that states. Many states do not have anyone assigned to verify the accuracy of the information that is provided by sex offenders. In California, an estimated 44% of sex offenders have not registered. In fact, California’s Megan’s Law website has the following disclaimer: “Because information can change quickly, and there may be gaps in data received, the California Department of Justice makes no representation, either express or implied, that the information on this site is complete or accurate. Neither the Department of Justice nor the State of California shall be held responsible for any errors or omissions on this web site or produced by secondary dissemination of this information.”3
What Inaccuracies Suggest about Sex Offender Registries
While the registration system’s goals are laudable, its execution is flawed. It is probably unfair to suggest that the large gap between complete registration and actual registration is a product of the state not making registration a priority, but what this gap actually suggests is that the registration system cannot possibly accomplish its goal of keeping the public informed about the presence of past offenders when so many people who are required to register simply have not.
It is clear that if the registration system is to be an effective device in protecting public safety, an overhaul of the system must be undertaken to address the problem of missing and inaccurate information.
Still, the failure of the registry to keep pace with its targets is not even its most fatal flaw. The registry exists to protect the public in California, but the majority of sex crimes are committed not by strangers whose names and addresses can be found on a list, but by a family member, friend or other acquaintance of the victim, and, in many of these cases, by a perpetrator who has no previous criminal history. In cases involving a child, it is estimated that 90% of sexual abuse is committed by a family member.4
Contact the Sex Crime Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich
Having your name on the sex offender registry could have a devastating impact on your life. If you wish to be removed from the registry, you need to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. At Wallin & Klarich, we have been successfully defending our clients with post-conviction matters for over 30 years. We can help you now.
With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich sex crimes attorney available to help you no matter where you work or live.
Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free, no obligation phone consultation. We will be there when you call.
1. Malcolm Johnson, “App wrongfully labeled Cape Coral man’s home as sex offender residence,” Fox4Now.com, November 3, 2015, available at http://www.fox4now.com/news/4-in-your-corner/app-wrongfully-labeled-cape-coral-mans-home-as-sex-offender-residence. href=”#ref1″>↩
2. Tara Marhefka, “How Accurate are Sex Offender Registries?” Examiner.com, November 29, 2011, available at http://www.examiner.com/article/how-accurate-are-sex-offender-registries. href=”#ref2″>↩
3. “Megan’s Law Disclaimer,” State of California Department of Justice, available at http://www.meganslaw.ca.gov/disclaimer.aspx?lang=ENGLISH. href=”#ref3″>↩
4. Leon Neyfakh, “California’s Sane New Approach to Sex Offenders,’ Slate, April 2, 2015, available at http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/crime/2015/04/california_s_sane_new_approach_to_sex_offenders_and_why_no_one_is_following.html – lf_comment=290021676. href=”#ref4″>↩