Criminal Law

Failure to Register as a Sex Offender

By John McCurley, Attorney
The consequences of violating sex offender registration laws.

Every state has laws that require persons convicted of certain sex crimes to register with law enforcement. Registration laws differ by state. However, the duty to register generally entails registering with local police in every jurisdiction where the offender lives, works, or goes to school. After the initial registration, sex offenders must also renew their registration periodically (typically, at least once a year). And registrants must promptly notify law enforcement of certain events—like changes of name, address, employment, or student status. (Read more about registration requirements.)

Sex offenders who don’t register or fail to abide by registration requirements can be prosecuted for “failure to register.” Failure to register is a crime in every state. And, under certain circumstances, failure to register can lead to federal charges.

State Laws

Elements of the Crime. Each state has its own laws defining “failure to register.” But generally, a conviction requires proof that the defendant:

  • had a duty to register as a sex offender (find out which adult and juvenile offenders must register)
  • knew or reasonably should have known of the duty to register, and
  • failed to register or comply with another registration requirement.

As with any other crime, the prosecution must prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt. Otherwise, the judge or jury is supposed to acquit the defendant.

Penalties. The consequences of failing to register vary by state. Here are some examples of how states punish failure to register:

  • California. In California, failure to register is a misdemeanor if the sex offense for which the person is required to register was a misdemeanor. A conviction carries up to a year in jail and/or a maximum $1,000 in fines. Failure to register is a felony if the offender is required to register because of a felony sex offense or has a prior failure-to-register conviction. Convicted defendants potentially face 16 months, two years, or three years in prison. (Cal. Penal Code §§ 18, 290.018 (2017).)
  • New York. New York law makes failure to register a class E felony for a first offense. A conviction carries one to four years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines. A second failure-to-register conviction is a class D felony. A convicted defendant is looking at one to seven years in prison and a maximum $5,000 in fines. (N.Y. Correct. Law § 168-t (McKinney) (2017).)
  • Florida. Most failure-to-register violations are third-degree felonies in Florida. However, when a registrant remains in a residence after notifying law enforcement of his or her intent to move—and doesn’t report the change of plans within 48 hours of the move-out date—it’s a second-degree felony. A third-degree felony carries up to five years in prison and a maximum $5,000 in fines. Defendants convicted a second-degree felony face up to 15 years in prison a maximum $10,000 in fines. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 943.0435 (2017).)

To find out what the failure-to-register penalties are in your state, talk to a local criminal defense attorney.

Federal Law

Elements of the Crime. To get a conviction for failure to register in federal court, the prosecution must prove the defendant:

Generally, federal jurisdiction exists when the defendant was either required to register because of a federal conviction or travels interstate or internationally. (18 U.S.C.A. § 2250 (2017).)

Penalties. Under federal law, failure to register is a class C felony. A conviction carries up to ten years in prison and/or a maximum $250,000 in fines. (18 U.S.C.A. §§ 2250, 3571 (2017).)

Talk to a Criminal Defense Attorney

Failure to register is a serious crime. If you’ve been arrested or charged for failing to register as a sex offender, get in touch with a criminal defense attorney. A qualified lawyer can explain how the law applies to the facts of your case and whether you have any viable defenses to the charge.

Go to the main sex offender registration FAQ page.
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