Duty to Register: The Requirements and Limitations of a Sex Offender

 

Every year, some 360 individuals in Tom Green County are required to report to local offices and fill out forms listing their addresses, places of employment and vehicles. Some are required to submit DNA samples and contact information for their nearest relatives. Others complete the process every 30 or 90 days. Three hundred thirty-two of them live in five San Angelo zip codes, ranging from 76901-76905. They’re registered sex offenders, and the majority will remain so for the rest of their lives.

At the local DPS office, a Criminal Investigations Division agent is tasked with keeping track of offenders in 13 counties. Their crimes range from indecent exposure and groping minors in area bars to child crimes and aggravated sexual offenses. Once a month the agent visits each county, confirming that the individuals comply with registration requirements and certifying that the information reported is accurate and up-to-date. If an offender fails to comply, the agent or other law enforcement officer may file on them, resulting in a felony charge.

Qualifiers

“There are several different things that you can be put on as a sex offender, but it’s all sexually-related,” the agent explains. “You either have to assault a juvenile, a young kid, or even if you assault anybody that’s an adult, but it’s a sexual assault case, you can also be…placed on the sex offender registry.”

“All it takes is an accusation,” TXDPS Public Information Officer Shawn Baxter adds. “There’s even categories of somebody just inappropriately touching somebody that could get them on that list…or exposing themselves in public, stuff like that. You have the minor ones to the actual sexual assault, felony-level criminal intent-type stuff.”

Statistically, the most prevalent type of violation is crimes against children, Baxter said, however the stats are not necessarily representative of the offenders in Tom Green County. Due to the complexity and circumstances surrounding each individual offender, officers handle each instance on a case-by-case basis.  That doesn’t mean that law enforcement officers take certain perpetrators less seriously, he said, but that some are legally subject to more extensive monitoring than others.

“There’s instances where the person was 18, the individual was 15, they love each other, they’re too young…he gets filed on for a sex offender, but she gets old enough and they still get married, the kids are his,” the agent cites as example.

But there are also cases where explicit evidence of malicious wrongdoing seems insurmountable. Recently, a DPS investigation led to the arrest of a local man named John Edward Sullivan, who was charged with online solicitation of a minor and child pornography. Sullivan died before he could be tried in court, however if he had been convicted of the charges against him, the requirements of the state would have posed many more stringent limitations on him than the individual in the previous example.

Duties and Limitations

Depending on the degree of the crime, a convicted sex offender must meet different registration requirements. The minimum registration period for sex offenders is 10 years, however the majority must register for life.

“What happens is, you end up getting convicted of the crime and you get sent to the pen or you get put on probation,” the agent explains. “When you’re in the pen, on probation or parole, that means you’re being supervised. When that’s happening…when you originally get charged…you have to meet a lot more criteria than the paperwork [for registry]. It tells you, you can’t be within so many feet from a school, you can’t go to an amusement park. Once you come off supervision—a lot of times it’s a 10-year deal—they’ll be sex offenders for life, but they’ll be allowed to go to those types of places.”

The duty to register begins immediately after release from the penitentiary or after conviction if the individual is put on probation and is renewed on an annual basis within seven days of the offender’s birthday. Violent offenders may be required to register more frequently, either every 30 days or every 90 days.

Offenders convicted of crimes such as indecency with a child sexual contact or aggravated sexual assault are further prohibited from holding occupations in public transportation, in private homes and operating rides in amusement parks and carnivals.

“Being restricted on where they can go is a lot different than what occupations they can do,” Baxter said. “They’ll never be a coach; they’ll never be able to coach kids. The restrictions and limitations on them would mainly be the employment and volunteer side. They could still go watch their kid play soccer games or go watch games, but as far as being an active participant where they’re interacting and training and mentoring kids or even young people, then that’s where they restrict them. That’s like putting the fox back in the hen house.”

If a sex offender wants to leave town for more than seven days or for three 48-hour periods in a month, he or she must first notify their local authority and the community he or she is visiting.

“If they leave town, there are so many different requirements,” the agent said. “Say you’re an oilfield worker. If you leave town on a site somewhere and you’re going to be gone more than seven days, you have to notify the…community that you’re leaving from and the community that you arrive at. You have to let them know that you’re going to be there more than seven days.”

Non-Compliance

Despite the limitations and requirements placed on sex offenders, the agent says that less than 10 percent of those he deals with fail to comply. The ones that do, he says, typically know what they’re supposed to do, but fail to commit to the hassle.

“There’s a lot of restrictions that they have to follow and that’s where they get themselves in trouble,” he said. “A lot of these sex offenders, they turn around and ‘I’m not going to notify anybody. I’ll be back in seven days or whatever,’ and they get themselves in trouble. That’s where I come into the picture. We turn around and we file on them.”

Every time an offender is filed on, it’s a felony offense regardless of the initial crime. However, depending on what the perpetrator was convicted of, the duty to register charge is typically either a third or second-degree felony, the agent said.

District Attorney Allison Palmer explains how the sentencing for the non-compliance felony is assessed: “They could be eligible for probation or subject to penitentiary time,” she said. “Either one of those would be punishment options. In any instance, when we make a punishment recommendation we would take into consideration the nature and circumstances of the offense, as well as the criminal history of the defendant.

“The sentence would be for the crime they’re charged with, so it would be for the failure to register in the appropriate manner,” she continued. “Failure to register is a kind of crime that could be a different level of felony depending on the registration requirements. The registration requirements would depend on the underlying conviction.”

Second and third-degree felonies begin at a minimum of two years and go as high as 20. Due to the three strike rule in Texas, if an offender has been convicted of two previous subsequent felonies, the third is enhanced to a punishment range beginning at 25 years and extending to 99 years or life.

When law enforcement officers receive information or investigate a sex crime, their duty is to report the offense, write an affidavit for a warrant if applicable, and arrest the individual on probable cause. The case is then handed to the DA, who chooses whether or not to prosecute based on the sufficiency of the evidence.

Awareness

The Texas Department of Public Safety maintains an online registry of all sex offenders in the state. The information is open to the public and searchable by county, zip code, address, institute of higher education or last name, and provides detailed information on each registered perpetrator.

In San Angelo, 332 sex offenders are registered in five zip codes, including 105 in 76901; 1 in 76902; 171 in 76903; 24 in 76904; and 31 in 76905. The vast majority of the offenders listed on the website are men, most of which are Caucasian or Hispanic.

Those searching the registry in their area may view the results in list form or on map, and read information pertaining to the crime or crimes the individual was convicted of, the sentence served, as well as a photo and physical address.

“I would recommend that everybody get on that website and at least know who their neighbors are,” the agent said. ”If you’re able to know your surroundings as a citizen and you know the individuals that are there, then you know better than to let your children around this individual.”

District Attorney Allison Palmer added, “The registration requirements help us keep track of offenders who are in a category to most of us in the community of the most concern. I think it brings some measure of confidence to those of us in law enforcement and those of us that are just members of the community that we are able to keep track of them in a formal way.”

The majority of good tips that lead officers to making criminal arrests stem from tips from the public, Baxter added, and when people are more aware of their surroundings and the people living there, they’re more apt to notice when something is out of place.

“If you see him running a lemonade stand in his front yard, that’s the time you call law enforcement,” Baxter says as example. As law enforcement, a lot of the good stuff that we get comes from the everyday citizen reporting it. We can’t do our job if they’re not helping us do our job. We can’t be everywhere. It never hurts to call somebody and report something. We’re not looking for ‘Big Brother’ state or report everybody and everything, but if you’ve got somebody that’s been supervised for a specific reason…and you see something that’s odd or out of place…that’s usually a good time to go ahead and call somebody.”

While they promote awareness, law enforcement officers state that individuals should use tools such as the sex offender registry for the right reasons. So far, neither Baxter nor the agent have witnessed instances of harassment typical of dramatic films and Hollywood, however stressed that such harassment can be a criminal act in itself.

“Just because he happens to be the red dot on that block and they don’t want him on that block doesn’t mean they have the right to harass the man,” Baxter said. “There’s legal action he can take against them. Anything that’s unfounded you can be filed on…there’s avenues both ways to protect both individuals. Just because he’s a sex offender doesn’t mean he doesn’t have rights under the constitution.”

For more information on an offender’s duty to register or to search for those listed in your neighborhood, visit the DPS website here. 

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