Federal legislation relating to individuals convicted of sex crimes dates from 1994, with the enactment of the Jacob Wetterling Crimes against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act (the “Jacob Wetterling Act”), which was part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, (the “Crime Act”), the largest crime bill in United States history. This legislation required states to create registries of sexual offenders and created baseline standards for these registries. It created the classification of “sexually violent predators” and enacted special provisions for those individuals. Finally, the legislation created a federal public notification procedure. But because the federal government cannot enact state laws, the Jacob Wetterling Act created financial incentives for states to implement these standards and a 1997 deadline for doing so.
Just two years later, Congress amended the Crime Act by creating the so-called Megan’s Law and the Pam Lychner Sexual Offender Tracking and Identification Act of 1996 (the “Tracking Act”). Megan’s Law was relatively concise, allowing certain disclosures of information contained in state registries. The Tracking Act was much more extensive, expanding the requirements of the Jacob Wetterling Act for state registries and establishing a law enforcement-only national database (the National Sex Offender Registry or NSOR) at the FBI to house information about registrants. States were required to transmit offender registration to NSOR and allowed the FBI to disseminate that information to law enforcement purposes and background checks.
In 2006, Congress largely replaced the Jacob Wetterling Act with the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 (the “Adam Walsh Act”). The portion of the Adam Walsh Act that relates to Sex Offender Registration is the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, commonly known as “SORNA.” SORNA expanded sex offender registration requirements and increased compliance requirements for states. States continue to risk losing federal funds if they don’t comply with SORNA. The Department of Justice has implemented SORNA through a set of 2008 federal guidelines that interpret Title 1 of the Adam Walsh Act.
SORNA mandates that, at a minimum, states must require registration for the following crimes:
- child pornography
- unlawful sexual touching (of a minor or an adult)
- unlawful genital, oral, or anal penetration (of a minor or an 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
Certain federal sex crimes also lead to registration. These 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.
SORNA’s approach to registration is wholly based on the nature of the offense and the criminal history of the offender, without consideration of any other information about the offender. SORNA classifies offenders into three “tiers” with respect to the period of registration and how frequently a registrant must report to authorities.
|Tier of Registrant||Term of Registration||Frequency of Registration|
|Tier I||15 years||Annually|
|Tier II||25 years||Every six months|
|Tier III||lifetime||Every three months|
Over the years, Congress has consistently expanded the scope of registration. In 2016, Congress expanded SORNA’s scope by enacting the International Megan’s Law. As a result, Oregon registrants must provide advance notice of any intended international travel since jurisdictions submit international travel information to the federal government.
The Campus Sex Crimes Prevention Act was tucked into an extensive bill primarily addressing victims’ rights and sex trafficking. This bill required registrants to notify the state of each higher education institution where the registrant was enrolled or worked, and required every higher education institution to provide notice to students and employees of how to obtain information about registrants. It also clarified that providing information about student registrants did not violate the federal privacy protections for students. Two years after enactment of this legislation, the Department of Justice published federal guidelines interpreting it. Today, almost every college and university has published guidance for students, employees and parents on this issue.
Congress expanded registration to include military convictions in the Military Sex Offender Reporting Act, which amended SORNA by requiring the Department of Defense to submit information on any person convicted of a sex crime via court martial to the Department of Justice.
Congress has ensured that registration obligations keep track with the expansion of the internet and social media. Early on, Congress enacted the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today Act (the “PROTECT Act”). While the PROTECT Act was focused toward strengthening law enforcement’s authority to investigate and prosecute violent crimes against children, it also required states to maintain websites containing registry information. It required the U.S. Department of Justice to maintain a website with links to each state’s website. More recently, Congress enacted the Keeping the Internet Devoid of Predators Act (the “KIDS Act”), which required jurisdictions to collect registrants’ internet identifiers during the registration process, but barred widespread disclosure of this information.
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SORNA should not be enacted in Oregon. It will cost too much money. Oregon cannot afford this legislation.
SORNA, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, is a badly written and cost-ineffective piece of legislation. If you think you’ve never heard of SORNA, you may be mistaken. The media (and everyone else) named SORNA the “Adam Walsh Act” after the son of John Walsh, best known as the crime fighting host of TV’s Americas Most Wanted. While the goals of SORNA may have been genuine, the law that ultimately emerged was a poorly drafted, non-evidence based, one-size-fits-all approach that Oregon would do well to avoid.
SORNA is a federal bill, meaning the Oregon state legislature can vote on whether or not to put it in place in Oregon.
It works like this, if Oregon were to enact SORNA, then Oregon would have to change the way it deals with sex offender registration. This would cost a tremendous amount of money, and decrease the ability of law enforcement to track and hold people accountable who truly do constitute a risk. This is because SORNA mandates frequent, in-person registration for former offenders many of whom committed offenses long ago, and have proven they constitute little or no risk. SORNA also mandates lengthy mandatory state prison sentences for a myriad of minor technical violations of SORNA.
Additional Federal money provided for complying with SORNA does not begin to cover the cost of implementation and enforcement, requiring the diversion of scarce resources away from programs that actually do help protect the public.
In some states, the grant money that the federal government provides for complying with SORNA has been touted as a justification for implementing SORNA. However, when calculating the real costs of implementing SORNA and comparing that to the federal money that would come in for doing so, SORNA will COST Oregon MORE that it will SAVE.
By enacting SORNA, Oregon will push itself further into debt.