A couple of centuries ago, an adulterous woman would be forced to wear a scarlet "A" around her neck. Later, small-town newspapers told who was arrested for all kinds of crimes. Today, sex offenders are subject to harsh limits on where they can live. Many city and state laws prohibit sex offenders from living within 2000 feet of places where children gather.

Sex Offender Registration Requirements

Each state has its own specific requirements for who, when, how often and where sex offenders must report their addresses. Some states, such as Ohio, have various classifications according to the seriousness of the sex offense they were convicted of. Those in the higher classes must register every 90 days, but those lower only need to register once a year.

Usually, an offender must report his address to the probation department in the court where he was convicted. Many other requirements may also be in place depending on the sentence. Some offenders are required to undergo therapy, counseling, or other mental health treatment. Often, they must check in with their probation officer in regular intervals.

If an offender fails to keep up with these requirements, a separate criminal charge can be brought against them for failing to register as a sex offender. So, a person who moves and doesn't report the move will likely be tracked down and charged with failing to register.

This is the reality for one Michigan sex offender who faces life in prison because he failed to register his current address. Michigan law requires offenders to register at the local police station every three months.

Sex Offender Residency Limits

People were saddened to learn of the recent arrest of a sex offender in connection with the disappearance of a teenager. Nearly all states have passed laws which limit the distance sex offenders are allowed to live from schools and day care centers. Some cities have their own rules too.

Several challenges to the constitutionality of these strict laws were filed in courts across the country. An offender filed suit in Ohio claiming it was unconstitutional to impose newer, stricter residence requirements on him which weren't in place when he was convicted. The Ohio court rejected his argument.

The California Supreme Court recently ruled a 2006 state law prohibiting sex offenders from living within 2000 feet of a school or park applies to thousands of inmates who were in jail before the law went into effect but paroled afterward.

Advocacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have battled the residency rules, claiming they're unconstitutional and force offenders into homelessness. These groups argue that the end result is instability which actually increases safety risks to the public.

They also argue this is an unfair punishment to those who completed their sentences decades ago. Numerous offenders have been dropped off underneath highway overpasses after their release from prison because they had nowhere to live that was within the allowed distance.

Keep Informed

Almost all court systems have case information available for public viewing online. All court records are by law open for public viewing, except for certain cases such as adoption and matters involving juveniles.

Check with your local courthouse, in person or online, if you want to see the status of criminal cases. Ask your local police station if you have concerns about a specific person in your neighborhood, or if you have other safety concerns.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I think my next door neighbor is a pedophile. Is there a way I can find out? What about sex offenders who happen to be minors?
  • Can I be forced to live near a sex offender?
  • I just bought a house and a registered sex offender lives a few doors away. Should such information been on the property disclosure form?
  • Do schools have to provide bus service to students within walking distance if a sex offender lives on the designated walking route?

Tagged as: Criminal Law, residency rule, offender registry