Sunday, January 10, 2010

SD Plan To Trim Sex Offender List Plan would trim sex offender list.

As it is now, Tacy Chrispen's son probably will spend the rest of his life on South Dakota's sex offender registry. The then-18-year-old high school senior's crime: Having consensual sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend, who was 3 years, 23 days younger. Because of that age difference, and the fact that she was younger than 16, he was convicted of statutory rape, spent a year and a half in prison and now is classified as a sex offender. It is this kind of situation - described by some as a "Romeo and Juliet" story, that has spurred state Sen. Gene Abdallah to push for a change in the law.

He and others, including prosecutors, think it's unfair to treat people convicted of less serious crimes - such as Chrispen's son - the same as people convicted of rape and other heinous crimes. Currently, both types of convicts appear side-by-side on the registry of sex offenders on the Internet, and most stay on the list for life.

But under the plan being proposed by Abdallah and a legislative committee, the state would move to a three-tier system to classify sex offenders, and those convicted of lesser crimes would have a better opportunity to get their names removed from the list. An Argus Leader analysis of the sex offender registry data shows that 18 percent of the 2,600 people on the list in December were convicted of less severe crimes and could qualify to be placed on the lowest level.

The state's current system, in which all offenders are required to register for life and all are placed on the same list online is a broad-brush approach that is ineffective in letting people know which offenders are truly dangerous, said Ryan Kolbeck, president of the South Dakota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "I think the sex offender registry gives us a false sense of security because we cannot determine who is or is not a real threat," he said.

The proposed three-tier system, as outlined in Senate Bill 12, would address that problem and has gained widespread support among lawmakers. A recent Associated Press survey shows that two-thirds of all lawmakers support the legislation.

The bill now reads that all current offenders will be placed on Tier III and will have to petition the courts be placed on a lower tier, in addition to petitioning the court for removal from the list at the appropriate time.

There is a provision in the law that a sex offender convicted of statutory rape can petition the court to be removed after 10 years on the registry if they meet certain criteria, such as compliance with registration. To date, no one has gotten off the registry through this provision. The restrictions are too limited and too costly for offenders to petition, Kolbeck said. Adjudicated juveniles also can petition the courts to be removed from the registration if they think they do not qualify and if their sentence was discharged. The proposed legislation would loosen the requirements and give offenders such as Delgado an opportunity to petition for removal.