The Missouri House of Representatives recently passed a bill that could significantly decrease the number of listed registered sex offenders in the state. The bill is House Bill 1700 and it received unprecedented support from both sides of the aisle. It removes mandatory registration for some sex offenses and it creates an avenue for offenders to come off of the list early depending on the severity of their convicted offense.
Proponents of the bill believe that it is an attempt to reign in the state’s severe sex offender registry laws. There are currently more than 12,000 people on Missouri’s sex offender registry list. The convicted offenses of the registered offenders range in severity. Some have been convicted of extreme and heinous rape crimes while others are on the registry because of a teenage indiscretion, such as consensual sex between minors. Proponents believe that as many as 5000 names could be trimmed from the registry.
Part of the rationale for the new legislation comes from the proliferation of the registry. People are no longer afraid of the registry because overactive lawmakers and prosecutors are placing people on the registry who are not a threat to society. As such, the registry is no longer an effective deterrent. Rep. Rodney Schad, R-Versailles, said, “The public has become numb to the registry.”
Another purpose of the bill is to allow those who are required to register to have a chance at being productive members of society. After 10 years of being on the registry an offender can petition the court to have his or her name removed. For more severe offenses, an offender is required to wait 20 years before petitioning for removal. The process requires the offender to petition the prosecuting attorney first and then prove that all of the requirements for removal have been met and that he or she has not committed any new offenses that would require the offender to register. If the offender is able to meet the requirements for removal, proponents of the bill are confident that he or she no longer poses a threat to society and can be removed from the registry.
The likely target of the new legislation are the “Romeo and Juliet” cases. Those are cases in which one teen is engaged in a consensual sexual relationship with another teenager. In those cases, one of the teenagers’ parents may have become angry about the relationship and accuses the older teenager of sexual misconduct. In many states, charges like statutory rape are strict liability crimes, meaning that there is no intent requirement. If both parties are in the right age range, the older one is automatically guilty of statutory rape, which could require the convicted offender be listed on the sex offender registry. Allowing these offenders to petition to be removed from the registry would improve their quality of life and remove the stigma of being labeled a sex offender.
Missouri criminal defense attorneys will likely be getting calls from many of these offenders requesting their assistance with petitioning the court for removal. If you’ve had a run in with the law and find yourself in need of a Missouri criminal defense lawyer capable of fighting for your freedom, don’t hesitate to contact our St. Louis criminal law firm today at (314) 863-0500.