Criminal Law

What Does Sex Offender Registration Entail?

By John McCurley, Attorney
The details and requirements of sex offender registration.

All states and the District of Columbia have sex offender registration laws. And while each jurisdiction is free to create its own system, federal law imposes minimum standards. States that don’t comply risk losing federal funding for law enforcement. The article gives an overview of the minimum sex offender registration requirements.

(Also, read about who must register as a sex offender.)

Where to Register

Sex offenders must register with local law enforcement in each jurisdiction in which they reside, work, or go to school. For many registrants, this means registering in more than one place. For instance, a person who lives in one county but works in another will have to register in both locations. Initially, sex offenders must also register in the jurisdictions of conviction and incarceration.

When to Register

Initial registration. Sex offenders who serve jail time on their sex conviction must register for the first time prior to getting out of jail. After release, these offenders have three days to register in any additional jurisdiction where they are required to do so (see above). Defendants who aren’t incarcerated on their sex conviction initially must register within three days of the sentencing hearing.

Changes of status. All offenders must notify at least one jurisdiction where they’re required to register of each change to the offender’s:

  • name
  • residence
  • employment, or
  • student status.

The offender must do this by appearing in person within three business days of the change. For a number of other changes—including those related to vehicle information, email, and social media accounts—the offender must give notice within three business days; but appearing in person isn’t necessary.

Periodic check-ins. After initial registration, registrants must appear every so often at their registration locations. The purpose of these check-ins is to allow law enforcement to update the registrant’s photograph and personal information. All registrants must do these check-ins at least once per year. And repeat sex offenders are required to check in a minimum of two or four times each year, depending on the situation.

How Long the Duty Register Lasts

The minimum duration of the sex offender registration requirement—set by federal law—depends on whether the offender is a first-time or repeat offender. First offenders generally must register for at least 15 years. For repeat offenders, the minimum duration of the registration duty is 25 years or for life, depending on the circumstances. (In limited circumstances, the federal minimums can be reduced for good behavior.)

However, many states go beyond the federally required minimums. For instance, in California, sex offender registration is a lifetime requirement, regardless of the circumstances. And in New York, most first offenders have to register for 20 years; for New York’s repeat and more serious sex offenders, registration is for life. (Cal. Penal Code § 290(b) (2017); N.Y. Correct. Law § 168-h (McKinney) (2017).)

Offender Information

Federal law requires states to keep extensive information about registrants. For each offender, state registries must include 20 categories of information, including:

  • name
  • addresses
  • date of birth
  • criminal history
  • physical description
  • finger and palm prints
  • DNA sample
  • phone numbers
  • employment information
  • internet identifiers (emails and social media accounts)
  • photograph, and
  • social security number.

Though state registries have to include all this information, it doesn’t mean that all of it is available to the public (see below).

Sex Offender Websites

Federal law requires all states to maintain a public sex offender registry website. State websites must be searchable by:

  • offender name
  • county, city and/or town, and
  • zip code and/or geographic radius.

With these search capabilities, the public can look for a specific offender or see if there are any offenders in a selected geographic area.

Registry websites provide information about each offender who’s required to register, including:

  • name (including aliases)
  • residential address
  • a photograph
  • sex offense criminal history, and
  • physical description.

State websites are also supposed to indicate when an offender has absconded or is in violation of registration requirements.

Go to the main sex offender registration FAQ page.
Have a sex crimes question?
Get answers from local attorneys.
It's free and easy.
Ask a Lawyer

Get Professional Help

Find a Sex Crimes lawyer
Practice Area:
Zip Code:
 
How It Works
  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Connect with local attorneys
NEED PROFESSIONAL HELP ?

Talk to a Sex Crime Attorney.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you