What is California's SB 384 & How Will It Change the Lifetime Sex Offender Registration System?

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What is California’s SB 384, and How Will It Change the Lifetime Sex Offender Registration System?

What is California’s SB 384, and How Will It Change the Lifetime Sex Offender Registration System?

Apr 24, 2020

**Dordulian Law Group does not provide legal advice or represent anyone accused or convicted of a sex crime.  We strictly represent survivors of sexual assault and abuse.

California Senate Bill 384 was passed in October 2017 and is set to take effect on January 1, 2021. In short, the bill changes the current lifelong registry system mandated for all sex offenders to a tier-based system where certain offenders who file a petition and meet specific criteria can be eligible to be removed from the list. Below we will examine what the bill entails as well as the ramifications for Californians.

What are basic rules under the current sex offender registration system?

In 1947, California became the first state in the nation to enact a sex offender registration law requiring individuals convicted of sex crimesto register with their local law enforcement agency. Currently California is one of four states to have a mandatory lifetime sex offender registration system in place (the additional states being Florida, Alabama, and South Carolina). Under the current system, a conviction for any sex crime mandates lifetime registration as a sex offender. 

A convicted sex offender must register with local law enforcement annually within five days of his or her birthday. Sex offenders are also required to update their information upon moving residences. After sex offenders register with local law enforcement, their information is then added to the California Sex and Arson Registry (CSAR) database. CSAR serves as the private, statewide repository for information on registered sex offenders. 

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CSAR is the main database that serves as a tool to help law enforcement officials monitor sex offenders. According to the California Department of Justice website, CSAR currently includes information on over 120,000 registered sex offenders in the state. Under Megan’s Law, select information from that main database is extracted and made accessible to the public in a separate database. The Megan’s Law database is intended to help members of the public better protect themselves and their families by providing searchable information on sex offenders. Every convicted sex offender’s name is included in the private CSAR database that is available to law enforcement officials. However, not every sex offender in the CSAR database is included in the Megan’s Law database that is accessible to the public. 

How does the current system change under SB 384?

On January 1, 2021, SB 384 replaces California’s existing universal lifetime-based registration system requirement for sex offenders with a tier-based system. Under the new system, three tiers of registration are established for adult sex offenders for periods or 10 years (tier one), 20 years (tier two), and life (tier three). Any juvenile convicted of a sex crime will be required to register as a sex offender for a minimum of either five or 10 years. 

The primary change enacted through the bill entails the potential for a tier one or tier two criminal to be removed from the sex offender registration database once the correlating 10 or 20-year term has been completed.

While sex offenders will still be required to register with local law enforcement agencies following a conviction, SB 384 essentially provides an opportunity for lower-level sex offenders to apply to have their names potentially removed from the local law enforcement registry (and therefore removed from the CSAR database and the Megan’s Law database as well). However, it’s important to note that under SB 384 offenders are not automatically removed from the registry once their new tier-based term has been completed. Moreover, there is never a guarantee that a name will be removed, as a petition process is required for removal to even be considered.

The new bill requires the sex offender to petition the superior court or juvenile court for termination of their registration requirement upon the expiration of their mandated minimum registration period. It is up to the court whether to grant or deny the petition to be removed from the sex offender registry.

Once a petition is received, the state has 60 days to review the request. A petition can be approved if the offender in question has not been convicted of another crime and has successfully complied with all sex offender registration requirements.

How is the three-tier system established and defined?

The three-tier system is established based on specific criteria including the severity of the crime, the potential risk of recidivism, and the totality of the individual’s criminal history/background. 

Tiers increase according to severity, meaning the higher the number of the tier, the greater the severity of the conviction (i.e. the most severe crimes will fall into tier three). As an example:

  • TIER ONE, the least severe category, might include crimes such as misdemeanor sexual battery. Offenders in tier one can petition to be removed after 10 years.
  • TIER TWO is reserved for mid-level convictions, which might result from crimes such as lewd and lascivious acts with a minor. Offenders in tier two can petition to be removed after 20 years.
  • TIER THREE is reserved for the most severe convictions resulting from crimes such as human trafficking. Offenders in tier three are subject to registration for life. Essentially, for tier three offenders, SB 384 does not enact any changes or new options, and the lifetime-based registration system remains in effect. 

Why are these changes being made to the sex offender registry?

Proponents of SB 384 believe that, in its current form, the sex offender registry is inefficient, unwieldy, and “basically useless to law enforcement” because it places equal priority on low-level offenders and violent, high-risk offenders. 

At the time of SB 384’s approval by the California State Legislature, it received bi-partisan support. The bill was authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and co-authored by Senators Joel Anderson (R- Alpine), Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), and Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley). It was signed into legislation in October 2017 by then-Governor Jerry Brown. 

Shortly after the bill was passed, Senator Wiener stated, “Law enforcement responsible for policing sex offenders estimates that 60% of officers’ time is spent on monthly or annual paperwork for low-risk offenders, which is time spent at the expense of being active in the community monitoring high-risk offenders.”

Proponents of the bill also argue that the current blanket lifetime registration system is unfair, as it fails to take into consideration the severity of the crime or any mitigating circumstances. 

“The sex offender registry is meant to be an investigative tool to assist law enforcement in crime solving and prevention of additional sexual assaults,” said Bradley McCartt, Deputy in Charge of the Family Violence Division in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, when SB 384 was passed. “The current overly populated system is incapable of serving that purpose. A tiered system, which gives low risk/low level offenders with old offenses the ability to be removed from the registry, will restore the registry to the purpose for which it was originally created. This bill is not only aimed at requiring the most dangerous offenders to continue to have lifetime registration, but also to allow law enforcement to focus their resources on the supervision of these high risk individuals to better protect the public.”

“SB 384 takes an antiquated, ineffective 70 year old system and replaces it with an evidence-based and updated method to monitor sex offenders,” according to Alameda County District Attorney, Nancy E. O’Malley. “This proposed law will better protect the public from sexual predators by enabling law enforcement to focus on those who have committed the most serious sexual assault crimes and who pose the greatest danger of recidivism. [SB 384] stems from five years of research and drafting with the goal of ensuring that all Californians are protected from those most at risk of reoffending.” 

Will SB 384 make me or my family less safe?

The goal of legislation such as SB 384 is to make everyone safer, but there is of course no substitute for remaining vigilant and reporting sex abuse crimes to authorities. Senate Bill 384, along with California’s landmark AB 218 law, are two recent examples of sincere efforts to significantly reduce incidents of sexual abuse throughout the state, while also aiding law enforcement officials in apprehending and prosecuting perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law. 

If you need to report a sex crime or have questions regarding SB 384, please do not hesitate to contact Dordulian Law Group today for a free consultation. 

*The SB 384 tier-based sex offender registration system officially takes effect on January 1, 2021. However, state officials will not evaluate petitions from registrants before July 1, 2021. 

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