When the federal government stepped into the sex registration business, it doubled the number of Oklahoma’s sex offenders who must register for life. In 2007, Oklahoma adopted a classification system to comply with the federal Adam Walsh Act., more formally known as the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. Adam Walsh, of course, is the murdered son of John Walsh, creator of the television show, “America’s Most Wanted.” Since his young son was kidnaped and murdered in 1981, John Walsh has been a leading advocate to increase punishment and monitoring of sex offenders. He helped found the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
In 2007, Oklahoma adopted a new three-tier system of registration for those living in Oklahoma who have been convicted of a sex offense. The intent of the system is to prevent any re-offending by those registered. Failure to register is punishable by prison time.
But critics point out that the registration system assumes every person is the worst possible offender. They say the system uses a sledge hammer to crush a flea. Oklahoma has about 6,000 registered sex offenders. Of these, 5,026 are required for life. Another 228 of them are required to register only for 25 years, and in the lowest tier, 840 registrants in tier one are required to register for only 15 years. Those required to register for life have been classified as aggravated or habitual.
This three-tier system did not exist before 2007. The new law required the state to evaluate and reevaluate every sex offender for placement in the new classification system. While only 40% of the total registration population used to be assigned to the aggravated or habitual category, now more than 80% are in that category, earning the requirement for lifetime registration.
The classifications are determined by a committee comprised of prosecutors, counselors and “victim advocates.”. It is rumored that no one wants to be the one on the committee who appears “soft’ on classifications, perhaps out of fear that the committee might classify someone in a lower category and then that person re-offend. It’s always safer to classify everyone in the maximum category, especially when the only ones who might complain are sex offenders, no big voting block.
However, Randy Lopp, head of the Oklahoma Coalition for Sex Offender Management, says offenders should be classified according to their risk level rather than their offense of record, as they are now. He says “accepted research” in the field indicates that seventy-five percent of sexual offenders are not re-arrested in a fifteen-year period.
An even more understanding approach is offered by Richard Kishur, Ph.D., an Oklahoma City counselor who specializes in treating sex offenders. He suggests that ideally sex offenders should be evaluated before they are sentenced to determine if they are a risk to re-offend. This assumes that such evaluation can be accurately done, and Dr. Kishur and other experts would say it can be. This approach would allow important resources to be aimed at those few individuals who are a significant risk to society, persons from whom society needs protection, while allowing other sex offenders to live their lives without such maximum, unnecessary intrusion as now required by life registration.
For instance, doesn’t it seem overly harsh to require lifetime registration for an individual who, when somewhat inebriated, urinated against the side of his truck, while being seen by some women? When someone is required to register as a sex offender, they are governed by many restrictions, such as where he can live. Furthermore, there are reports of family members of the convicted sex offender having authorities periodically show up at their homes, barge into the home without providing any information identifying themselves, and proceed to look through the entire home to make sure the “sex offender” is not living there (in a restricted neighborhood). This kind of situation where even relatives are harassed points out the potential dangers of a system that assigns never ending penalties for minor offenses.
For all of these reasons, even a relatively minor sex charge can cause severe repercussions for an individual and therefore, it’s critical someone charged with a sex offense seek an experienced and competent criminal defense lawyer. My site at http://www.oklahomacriminallawoffice.com provides advice on how to choose the right criminal attorney to protect your rights and I encourage you to visit it for more information on this important consideration.