Sex Offender Registration Charges
North Carolina, like all other states, has a registry with identifying information of individuals convicted of certain sex offenses, known as a sex offender registry. The purpose of these registries is to restrict the activities of sex offenders so that they would not reoffend, and the restrictions and requirements vary somewhat from state to state.
Not all sex offenses in North Carolina require registration, so when a defendant faces a sex offense conviction it is up to their lawyer to argue in favor of possibly reducing the conviction to a non-registrable offense. In many cases this does not work, particularly for offenses involving children or use of force, and the defendant is required to register as a sex offender. North Carolina’s registry is maintained by law enforcement and available to the public, including neighbors, employers, schools and more. Law enforcement does not treat sex offense registration lightly, and any failure to notify them of changes for registration purposes or follow the required restrictions can and will be met with criminal charges.
If you are facing such charges, you should seek representation of a skilled defense attorney immediately. A conviction of any sex offender registry crime is punished as a felony, regardless of whether the underlying sex offense registered for was a felony or misdemeanor.
North Carolina has established that people convicted of sex offenses against minors or sexually violent offenses must be placed on the “Sex Offender and Public Protection Registration Program”, for 30 years. If the conviction is of a repeat sex offense or involves “aggravating circumstances” such as use of violence or a deadly weapon, the court may even consider a lifetime placement on the “Sexually Violent Predator Registration Program”. These two sex offender registries are similar, but the latter has some additional restrictions and registration requirements.
In addition to sex offense registration, the judge may consider whether there is a need to track a registrant’s location with a satellite monitored ankle bracelet. In essence, if a person is convicted of a sex offense that requires registration then the judge is required to enforce it, but the judge does have some discretion based on other factors to enforce further restrictions.
The Registration Process
Certain aspects of the registration process is done on the convicted felon’s behalf by law enforcement, but it is the registrant’s duty to report any relevant changes to the sheriff of the county they reside in, such as moving to a new address. Timeframes for registering are short and strict, as follows:
- If the person is convicted of a reportable offense where no active imprisonment term is imposed, they are required to register immediately.
- If the person moves to North Carolina from outside the state, they are required to register within three business days of establishing residence, or within 15 days of being present in the state, whichever comes first.
- If the person moves to North Carolina but is a non-resident (i.e. not establishing residency as a student or worker), they are required to register within 15 days of being present in the state, as well as provide information regarding their school or place of employment.
- If the person finds employed outside the county they are registered in and establishes temporary residence there (e.g. in a hotel), they have 3 business days to register with the sheriff of the second county. This is only required if their temporary residence is either more than 10 business days in any 30-day period, or a combined period exceeding 30 days within a year.
Information Made Available to the Public
When a sex offender registers with the county sheriff, that information is given to the Department of Public Safety. There is a sex-offender registry for each county and state, as well as a national sex offender registry that includes data from all states and U.S territories. In North Carolina, the state registry and county registries make the following information freely available to the public:
- Physical Description
- Conviction date
- Offense for which registration was required (or offense history for repeat offenders)
- Sentence imposed resulting from the conviction
- Registration status.
The sheriff can release other relevant information as he or she deems necessary to protect the public but may not release the complete identity of the victim or any private medical or psychiatric records.
Reporting Changes in Registration Information
In addition to requirements to notify the sheriff in the county the registrant moves to, the registrant must notify changes of any information that the sheriff was required to collect for registration purposes. This includes changes to any of the following:
- Address (even if the change is within the same county)
- Academic status (e.g. if they enrolled or terminated enrollment as a student)
- Online Identifiers (e.g. changing or creating new email addresses, social media accounts, etc)
For all the above except online identifiers, the registrant must report the changes to the county sheriff in person within three business days. Online identifier changes require reporting within 10 business days.
Additionally, the county registry will request that each registrant verify that the information is correct every 6 months from the date of initial registration for standard sexual offenders, or every 90 days for repeat or violent sex offenders. The verification forms must then be returned in person within three business days. The sheriff may also request a new photograph if he or she deems the one on record to no longer provide an accurate likeness of the offender.
Removal from the Sex Offender Registry
The standard sex offender registry is supposed to be maintained for 30 years, but after 10 years the registrant may request terminating their registration. This option is not available to anybody who is convicted of a n additional sex offense within those 10 years that would require registration. It is also not available to anybody on the Sexually Violent Predatory Registration Program, which requires lifetime registration unless the underlying sex offense conviction is reversed, vacated, set-aside or granted unconditional pardon of innocence.
The registrant must first file a petition, which the court and judge will consider based on whether the registrant appears to no longer be a current or potential threat to public safety. The district attorney will likely present a strong case against terminating registration, so it is essentially that any registrant interested in filing a petition does so with the aid of an experienced attorney. In general, judges and the public tend to be afraid of releasing sex offenders from their restrictions, especially in cases involving children.
Types of Sex Offense Registration Crimes
North Carolina law has several criminal charges related to sex offense registration. These crimes are either tied to issues in registration itself, or failure to abide by the restrictions imposed on certain registrants. Generally, registration requirements are the same for most sex offenders, with some additional requirements for repeat or violent offenders. Violations related to registration or restrictions are both punished as felony convictions.
Failure to Register as a Sex Offender
A sex offender who is required to register is guilty of this offense if they willfully do any of the following:
- Fail to register
- Fail to notify the last registering sheriff of a change of address
- Fail to return a verification notice or fails to report in person to the sheriff’s office
- Fails to inform the registering sheriff of enrollment or termination of enrollment as a student
- Fails to inform the registering sheriff of employment at any institution of higher education or termination of employment as any institution of higher education.
- Fails to notify the registering sheriff
- Fails to notify the registering sheriff of out-of-county employment if temporary residence is established
- Fails to inform the registering sheriff of any new online identifiers or changes to existing ones that they use or intend to use.
- Forges or submits verification information under false pretenses
- Reports their intent to reside in another state but remains in North Carolina without reporting to the sheriff.
A conviction of this offense is punished as a class F felony.
While prosecution must prove that the act was done “willfully”, this does not mean that the act must have been done on purpose to violate the law. An act of wrongdoing that does not have a legal excuse or justification can also be considered “willful”. In general, a competent registrant is expected to know the terms of their registration, and the sheriff will do his or her due diligence to request verification, so forgetting is often an invalid excuse. A valid legal excuse will typically include evidence of good faith, where the registrant tried to offer the information, or evidence that the registrant faced a real impediment to visiting the sheriff’s office in person, such as illness at the time of a verification request.
Assisting a Violator of Registration Obligations in Eluding Arrest
While most sex offender registry crimes are against the actual registrant, this crime exists for people who assist known sex offenders in eluding arrest. A person is guilty of this offense if they do all the following:
- Have reason to believe that an offender is in violation of the sex offender registration law.
- Intend to assist the offender in eluding arrest.
- Withhold relevant information from law enforcement, knowingly present false information to law enforcement harbor or attempt to harbor the offender or conceal or attempt to conceal the offender.
A conviction of this offense is punished as a class H felony.
Knowingly Residing Near a School or Childcare Center
A sex offender who is required to register is guilty of this offense if they knowingly reside within 1,000 feet of a property on which any school or childcare center is located. A conviction of this offense is punished as a class G felony.
A “school” under this law refers to public or private schools, but not home schools or institutions of higher education. The law does offer exceptions where charges cannot be pressed in cases where the school or childcare center property is established after the registrant had established residency. A person establishes residency when they do any of the following:
- Purchase the residence or enter an enforceable contract to purchase the residence.
- Sign a written lease contract for the residence.
- Reside with an immediate family member who established the residence previously.
Working or Volunteering in Activities Involving Responsibility for Minors
A sex offender who is required to register is guilty of this offense if they work or volunteer at any place where a minor is present and are responsible for activities instructing, supervising, or taking care of minors. A conviction of this offense is punished as a class F felony.
Caring for a Minor When a Sex Offender Resides in the Same Location
This is another crime against non-sex offenders who allow sex offenders to break the law. A person is guilty of this offense when they host an activity at their residence that involves the care of a minor, while knowing that a registered sex offender resides at their home. A conviction of the offense is punished as a class F felony.
This, for example, prohibits baby sitting at a person’s home if another resident in the home is a registered sex offender.
Being Present at a Location Used by Minors
This crime is specific to sex offender registrants who were convicted for a sex offense involving children under the age of 16. Such a person is guilty of this offense when they knowingly are present on any of the following:
- In any place intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors. This includes schools, children’s museums, childcare centers, nurseries, and playgrounds.
- Within 300 feet of any location intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors, where the place is located on premises that are not primarily used for such a purpose. This includes malls, shopping centers or other places for the public which may have places within intended for children.
- Any place where minors gather for regularly scheduled educational, recreational, or social programs. This includes parks, libraries, museums, or any other location while they host scheduled events for children.
A conviction of this offense is punished as a class H felony.
There are exceptions for when the person is present at such a location for purposes related to medical treatment, voting, or school. Employment purposes are not explicitly exempt from this law.
Accessing a Social Networking Site
A sex offender who is required to register is guilty of this offense when they attempt or gain access to a “commercial social networking website” that they know permits minors to become members. A conviction of this offense is punished as a class I felony.
The term “commercial social networking website” is a website that must meet all the following requirements:
- Is operated by somebody who derives revenue from the site’s use, such as membership fees or advertising.
- Facilitates social networking between two or more people for the purpose of friendship, meeting others, or information exchange.
- Allows users to create web pages or personal profiles that contain personal information about the user.
- Provides users or visitors a method to communicate with other users, such as a message board, chat room, electronic mail or instant messenger.
This includes many social networking websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Some other websites may not as obviously satisfy the above requirements, so it may come down to reviewing cases as they appear before court.
Driving a Commercial Passenger Vehicle or School Bus
To drive a commercial passenger vehicle or school bus, one must acquire the passenger endorsement (“P-endorsement”) or school bus endorsement (“S-endorsement”), respectively. Receiving either endorsement not only requires passing driving and road knowledge test, but a review of criminal history as well. Anybody registered as a sex offender is barred from receiving either endorsement. Therefore, if a sex-offender who is required to register is found driving either type of vehicles, they will be guilty of this crime as they will not have a valid endorsement. A conviction of this offense is punished as a class F felony.
Satellite-Based Monitoring System Crimes
Not all sex offenders are required to use satellite-based monitoring, but those who are required to and fail to do so will be guilty of the crime of “Failing to enroll in a satellite-based monitoring system”. A conviction of this crime is punished as a class F felony.
If a person required to use a satellite-based monitoring system intentionally tampers, removes, vandalizes, or otherwise interferes with the functions of the device, they will be guilty of a class E felony.
Defending Against Sex Offense Registration Charges
Sex offense registry charges involve many complex factors that ought to be reviewed by an experienced attorney. For the crimes committed by an actual registrant, fighting these charges will be a tough battle as the courts and public tend to have little sympathy for sex offenders. Even for the crimes listed above that can be committed by non-offenders, prosecution can and will work hard to present the defendant as an enabler of sexual abuse.
If you are facing these charges, the defense strategy should depend on the specific charges and factors involved in the case. For example, if it is a crime of failing to register, your lawyer will review all evidence that shows that you acted in good faith and faced real excusable impediments to providing the required updates. If the charges are for any offenses related to being in a restricted location, your lawyer will review the evidence to support the claim that you did not know you were on the premises of a restricted location.
Additionally, your lawyer should review elements beyond the offense to highlight any positive history or evidence showing that do not impose a real risk or have worked to become a productive and supportive member of society.