What Does It Mean to be a Registered Sex Offender?

If you’ve been accused of a sex offense, you’re probably frightened by the possible consequences affecting your future. One of the possible consequences is that you would be required to register as a sex offender.

Becoming a registered sex offender means you would be confronting a complex set of laws that would restrict your life choices. Placement on a sex offender registry can create major challenges that cause lifelong struggles with a person’s ability to seek work, housing, and friends. Some crimes may require you to register as a sex offender for life, and failing to follow registration rules can result in a new felony prosecution.

In accordance with Washington State law, any adult or juvenile who has been convicted of any sex offense (or has been found not guilty by reason of insanity), must register with the sheriff of the county they live in. If the individual is not a resident of Washington, they must register with the county of their school or place of employment or vocation in the state.

Sex offenders sentenced to jail or prison time must register upon release from custody. Others convicted of sex offenses must register with the sheriff within three business days of being sentenced.

If you have been accused of a sex crime in Washington, The Marshall Defense Firm can help you. It’s critical that you understand your rights and options for the decisions you must make. In this post you will learn more about Washington’s sex offender registration laws and the three different sex offender levels. For analysis tailored to your particular situation, one of our attorneys with deep experience defending persons in situations like yours can consult with you confidentially.

Having to register as a sex offender is the modern form of wearing the scarlet letter. It can be one of the worst consequences of a sex offense conviction. That is why we at The Marshall Defense Firm work to spare our clients the registration requirement. Even for a client who does not take his or her case to trial, we can often negotiate a plea bargain that avoids sex offender registration. In situations where we cannot completely avoid registration, we can often negotiate a plea bargain that reduces the duration of the registration requirement.


What does it mean to be published on a sex offender registry?

Washington law requires law enforcement to create and maintain a statewide registered kidnapping and sex offender website that is available to the public. These websites often allow visitors to search for all sex offenders based on their location or to search for specific individuals by name to check if they’re included in the sex offender registry kept by their state. All Level II and II registered sex offenders are automatically listed for a period of time, but databases also include Level I registered sex offenders during the time they are out of compliance with registration requirements or they lack a fixed residence. (See below for an explanation of sex offender levels.)

Having your name published on a sex offender registry means having your personal details made available to the public, such as your picture, notations about your appearance, home address, a description of the crime you were sentenced for, whether you’re in compliance with registration requirements, and potentially other details about the crime or reason for non-compliance with the law. Databases enable members of the public to update themselves on offenders’ whereabouts and to report to law enforcement when they think they see offenders breaking the law.

The United States Department of Justice also maintains a National Sex Offender Public Website that allows the public to search sex offender registries for all 50 states and territories. Beyond publicly maintained sex offender registries, some private individuals have gone so far as to create their own Google databases with offender information. In 2018, the Washington State Patrol granted a request to release about 21,000 names in their database under a request for public records; this included many Level 1 offenders who would have otherwise not had their information made available through standard sex offender registries kept by Washington law enforcement. 


What are the registration levels?

Washington State sex offender laws are complicated and contain distinctions based on the perception of an individual’s risk level to the community. There are distinctions in both how long a sex offender must register and in the publicity given to a registered offender.

Washington classifies registered sex offenders in three categories:  Levels I, II, and III. Law enforcement determines an offender’s level by considering several factors, such as the person’s likelihood to reoffend and the nature of their crime.

Level I offenders are those whose risk assessment indicates they are least likely to sexually reoffend once released. Level I offenders are not published on the Washington State Sex Offender Registry unless they are non-compliant or transient. Most registered sex offenders in Washington are classified as Level I offenders.

Sexual offenders are classified as Level II offenders if their risk assessment and other factors indicate they are at moderate risk to sexually reoffend. Offenders may receive this classification based on the nature of the crime, previous criminal activity, and lifestyle factors such as drug use. Unlike Level I offenders, Level II offenders are published on the Washington Sex Offender Public Registry.

Finally, those who are determined by law enforcement to have the highest risk to sexually reoffend are considered Level III offenders. Level III offenders are also published on the state registry.


How does registering as a sex offender work?

In Washington, sex offender registration is primarily handled at the county level. The offender goes in person to the sheriff’s office in the county where they reside, or the county where they work or go to school (if different). If the person resides in another state but attends school or works in Washington, they must register in the county where they work or attend school. 

When registering, a sex offender provides their name, home address, date and place of birth, place of employment, crime for which convicted, date and place of conviction, Social Security number, photograph, and fingerprints.

When a registered offender moves—even to a new address in the same county–they must notify the sheriff.

Failing to register as a sex offender is itself a crime, with serious additional penalties. In our experience at the Marshall Defense Firm, this crime is most often committed when someone who initially did register changes address and does not notify the sheriff of the change.

Registered offenders who attend or work at schools have special duties under sex offender registration. Any such adult or juvenile must notify the sheriff within three business days (i.e., not including Saturday, Sunday, or a holiday) prior to arriving at a school or institution of higher education to attend or to start work; or after ending enrollment or employment at a school or institution of higher education.


When can a person stop registering?

The requirements for how long an offender will be required to register depend on the offense for which they were convicted. More serious sex-related criminal convictions require that a person register indefinitely. 

Some people mistakenly believe the requirement to register as a sex offender generally goes away after staying out of trouble for a period of time. In Washington, the registration requirement ends automatically for only the least serious sex offenses,  Class C felonies and gross misdemeanors, and even then it ends only after ten years of good behavior (ten years, that is, without committing one of the offenses that would disqualify the person from obtaining relief from the registration requirement). 

For many offenses, registration is indefinite, but a court has the power, after a certain number of years, to relieve a person of the requirement. Once a person is eligible, they may file a petition with the court to be relieved of the duty to register as a sex offender. The petition is filed with the superior court where the person was convicted (or the county of residence if the person was convicted in a different state). The law that explains these requirements can be found here.

Since the court is permitted to deny a petition for relief from sex offender registration, it is wise to engage an attorney to prepare the petition and make it as persuasive as possible. At the Marshall Defense Firm, we have helped many persons obtain this relief.

For many juvenile offenders, relief from sex offender registration is obtained much more easily than for adults. 


Get help now.

Nobody wants to wear the scarlet letter of sex offender registration. If you aren’t yet required to register but face a sex offense investigation or charge, you should engage an attorney to defend you.

The Marshall Defense Firm is here to help. Our experienced, skilled defense attorneys are ready to discuss the matter with you. Please contact us at 206.826.1400 or solutions@marshalldefense.com to schedule a consultation.

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