What is a Registered Sex Offender?

A registered sex offender is a person, male or female, who has been convicted of a crime involving a sexual act where the federal, state or local laws require them to be placed on the Sexual Offender Registry after they have served their criminal sentences or when they have been released on parole. These acts can range anywhere from misdemeanors to felonies, and the definition of a sex crime can differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States all have created laws pertaining to registration on a national registry of sex offenders.

What are the “Levels” of a Registered Sex Offender?

The level of the offense depends on the crime committed, the nature of the crime, the age of the parties involved, and the propensity to recommit the offense. The federal government has enacted laws that define the terms and outline the tier of offense based on certain criteria. Each state is free to enact laws that are more strict than those enacted by the federal government. However, the states laws must be at least as stringent as those set by the federal government.

The Adam Walsh Act passed into law in 2007 set down standard criteria for classifying sexual offenders. Title I of that law established the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (“SORNA”) required all U.S. jurisdictions to conform their registration laws to the federal guidelines set forth under the new law or face a penalty. However, the tier to which an offender is assigned only corresponds to the plea or conviction to which the offender was sentenced, which, due to plea bargaining or lack of evidence, may or may not be the whole of the crime committed. It also does not reflect the risk of a repeat offense.

Tier I Offenses (Level 1 Sex Offender) are typically of a non-violent nature with persons of the age of majority. Tier I offenses include registration on the Sexual Offender Registry for a minimum of 15 years, with verification on a yearly basis.

Tier II Offenses (Level 2 Sex Offender) are typically also of a non-violent nature, but involve minors. Tier II offenses require being registered on the Sexual Offender Registry for no less than 25 years, with verification of the information twice a year.

Tier III Offenses (Level 2 Sex Offender) is the most serious designated sex offender. It includes those convicted of violent and non-violent acts, with minors or adults. Tier III offenses require being registered on the Sexual Offender Registry for the duration of the offender’s lifetime, with verification of the information on a quarterly basis.

What Criminal Charges can result in becoming a Registered Sex Offender?

According to U.S. federal law:

  • Sexual Act constitutes sexual penetration between the perpetrator and the victim.
  • Sexual Contact constitutes touching in a sexual nature.

Tier I Sex Offenses include misdemeanors and felonies such as:

  • Public indecency (lewdness);
  • Voyeurism;
  • Possession of child pornography (could include teen sexting).
  • Sexual contact without consent.

Tier II Sex Offenses include:

  • Any new offense perpetrated by a Tier I sexual offender;
  • Trafficking of minors for the purposes of sexual activity;
  • Transportation of minors for the purposes of sexual activity;
  • Using intimidation to elicit sexual activity;
  • Using bribery to elicit sexual activity;
  • Any sexual acts with persons between the ages of 12-15;
  • Any sexual contact with persons between the ages of 12-15;
  • Any sexual offenses where the offender has a position of authority over the victim, such as a parent or guardian, or those with temporary custody of the child, such as a babysitter or teacher;
  • Prostitution of minors;
  • Production or distribution of pornography that includes minors;
  • Any plans to commit or attempt to commit any of the above.

Tier Sex III Offenses include:

  • Any new offense perpetrated by a Tier II sexual offender;
  • Most sexual assaults.
  • Sexual acts where force was used on the victim or the victim was under duress;
  • Sexual acts where the victim is rendered unconscious or impaired through the use of drugs or alcohol;
  • Sexual acts where the victim is under the age of 12;
  • Sexual acts where the victim is unable of consenting to the act due to mental impairment or disability;
  • Sexual acts where the victim is unable to physically decline the act;
  • Sexual acts where the victim communicates their unwillingness to participate in the sexual act; and/or
  • Any plans to commit or attempt to commit any of the above.

What Restrictions Does a Registered Sex Offender Face with Regard to Employment, Residence, etc.?

There are different restrictions for different areas and offenses. Some areas only require sex offenders to register their name, while others hold restrictions on residency. For crimes involving minors, some convicts are restricted from living within a certain radius of a school, day care center, or children’s park. Some convicted of crimes against minors are restricted from being in the general presence of minors, including family members.

In terms of employment, persons convicted of crimes cannot be discriminated against for employment purposes. However, a prospective employer must take into account the restrictions placed on the offender. For instance, if the registered sex offender is prohibited from situations where they will be in direct contact with children, the offender should not expect to be successful in obtaining employment at a place such as a zoo or amusement park where they will likely have direct contact with children on a daily basis. However, they could reasonably expect to be successful in applying for a position in an office where contact with children is unlikely.

Canada and the United Kingdom only allow law enforcement agencies access to the sexual offender registries, but the United States Sex Offender Registry is open to the public. There is a national website that has links to the registry in each state and territory associated with the United States.

The public accessibility is limited by each state, so some states may give the name, address, and have a picture of the convicted sex offender while others give greater detail as to the nature of the crime. By allowing this public access to names, addresses and pictures of registered sex offenders, offenders on the registry are likely to encounter societal prejudice that can make it difficult to obtain residence or employment.

Sex Offender Information & Resources