Criminal Law

Who Must Register as a Sex Offender?

By John McCurley, Attorney
The crimes that lead to a duty to register as a sex offender.

The duty to register as a sex offender is triggered by certain criminal convictions. Basically, each state has a list of crimes that—if a person is convicted—require registration. (In California, for example, the list of registerable offense is in Penal Code section 290.) Federal law also imposes a registration requirement for defendants convicted of certain federal crimes.

State Crimes Leading to Duty to Register

States are free to go beyond federal standards by including additional offenses. But federal law (the "Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act" (SORNA)) specifies a number of crimes for which states must mandate registration, including offenses involving:

  • child pornography
  • unlawful sexual touching (of a minor or adult)
  • unlawful genital, oral, or anal penetration (of a minor or adult)
  • sexual abuse (including sexual assault and rape)
  • solicitation to engage a minor in sexual conduct or prostitution
  • sexual conduct with a minor using the internet
  • the kidnapping of a minor, and
  • false imprisonment of a minor.

States that don't require registration for these offenses risk losing federal funding. But again, these are the minimum requirements under federal laws. Lots of states require registration for offenses beyond those listed here. To find out which crimes mandate sex registration in your state, talk to a local criminal defense attorney.

(Also, read about how sex offender registration laws apply to juvenile sex offenders.)

Federal Crimes Leading to Duty to Register

Some of the federal crimes that require registration—which cover much of the same unlawful conduct as the state list—include:

  • sex trafficking of children
  • selling or buying of children
  • sexual abuse (of a minor or adult)
  • sexual exploitation of children
  • traveling (foreign or domestic) with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct
  • engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places, and
  • a number of offenses related to child pornography.

For the most part, a person convicted of a federal sex crime will face the same registration consequences as someone convicted of a registerable state offense. (Find out about what sex offender registration entails.)

Attempted Crimes and Conspiracy

Of course, a defendant who completes any of the above-listed offenses will need to register. But there are also instances where an incomplete offense can lead to registration: Anyone who attempts or conspires to commit a sex offense—even if the crime isn’t actually committed—must register as a sex offender.

(Read about the penalties for failing to register.)

Go to the main sex offender registration FAQ page.

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