Failure to Register as a Sex Offender
Failure to register as a sex offender is one of the few crimes which penalizes a person for not doing something. For those who are required by law to register as a sex offender because of a prior conviction or deferred adjudication for a sex offense, there are serious legal consequences for failing to register.
The punishment range for failing to register depends upon how long and how often the person was required to register. For those who are required to register for 10 years, failing to do so is a state jail felony punishable by between 6 months and 2 years in state jail and a possible fine of up to $10,000. Those who are required to register as a sex offender for life and verify or re-register each year can be charged with a third degree felony for failing to register, punishable by between 2 and 10 years in prison and a possible fine of up to $10,000. For those who are required to register every 90 days for life, failing to register is a second degree felony punishable by between 2 and 20 years in prison and a possible fine of up to $10,000.
A person who is required to register as a sex offender can be in a precarious position, subject to being charged with a crime as a result of a minor misunderstanding of the requirement or even a clerical error. These cases often hinge on some technicality and many are completely defensible. Each case is determined on its own facts. Here are a few examples of circumstances where a person has a valid defense:
- Out of state convictions. In cases where the person has an out-of-state conviction for a sex offense, he may be charged if he fails to register after moving to Texas. However, DPS must make a determination that the out-of-state offense is substantially similar to an offense requiring registration in Texas. Without that determination, the government cannot convict a person for failing to register.
- Change of Address. The law requires that a person give DPS notice at least seven days prior to an intended move to a new address. The government has to prove both the date of the move and that the person had plans or intentions to move before that date. However, sometimes things happen which cause a person to be displaced or have to move abruptly. In these circumstances, the defendant who had an unexpected move also has a defense.
- Mistake as to unreported move. Under some circumstances, as with a person who works odd hours, the government may attempt to infer that a person no longer lives at the address at which he is registered. In such a case, that person can successfully defend by proving that he regularly pays rent, receives mail, maintains, and keeps his belongings in the registered address.
- Mistake as to law enforcement agency jurisdiction. People who are required to register as sex offenders are required to do so with their local police agencies. However, in metropolitan areas with various precincts, unincorporated districts, townships, and suburbs, it can be somewhat confusing. Sometimes, a person who has reported to his local agency can be accused of failing to comply where the government argues that it was the wrong agency. It is the government’s burden to prove this seemingly minor bureaucratic distinction beyond a reasonable doubt. An experienced defense attorney like Paul Darrow will hold the government to its burden.
Duty to Register as a Sex Offender
Once a person has been convicted of a sexual offense, that person is required to register with the Texas Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) as a sex offender, disclosing his name, address, and other personal information such as his social security number.
Depending on the offense, a person convicted of a sexual offense has to register either for life or for 10 years.
A person who is either convicted or sentenced to deferred adjudication (also referred to as a “reportable adjudication”) for one of the following offenses is required to register for life as a sex offender:
- Human trafficking;
- Violent sexual offenses, e.g. Sexual Assault, Aggravated Sexual Assault, Indecency with a Child by Contact or Touching;
- Compelling prostitution;
- Possession or promotion of child pornography;
- Indecency with a child by contact if the person was previously required to register as a sex offender;
- Where the trial court makes a finding that the victim was under the age of 17, kidnapping, aggravated kidnapping, or unlawful restraint; or
- Obscenity by wholesale distribution of material depicting a child under 18 in a sexual act.
For all other sexual offenses, a person is required to register for 10 years.
The law requires people registered as sex offenders to verify their registration at various intervals, depending on each offender’s individual circumstances. For those with only one, non-violent, conviction or reportable adjudication for a sex offense, the requirement to re-register is every year within 30 days of the person’s birthday. For people who have multiple convictions or reportable adjudications, or who have been convicted of a sexually violent offense, the requirement to re-register is every 90 days.