Most would agree that requiring those convicted of molesting and abusing young children to register with local authorities has resulted in safer communities. Likewise, laws dictating where convicted child molesters may live and work have likely prevented numerous crimes against children. That being the case, some would argue that tighter regulation and stricter laws would yield even better results. But the truth of the matter is that the sex offender laws in Florida and other states go much further than just punishing those who have been deemed the most dangerous offenders. These laws equally punish and stigmatize those who made a one-time mistake, as in the case of an 18-year-old who had consensual sex with his underage girlfriend.
Recently, there has been some backlash against the reach of these laws as more members of the public and government become aware of how overbroad sex offender registration regulations have become. For example, State Attorney General Bill McCollum has expressed his concerns that some of the county ordinances restricting where convicted sex offenders may live have gone too far.
But for every person who raises a concern about the fairness and justness of current sex offender registration requirements, there are many more calling for the state to pass even harsher penalties. This is especially true at the local level in Florida, where counties and municipalities have been taking steps to expand the scope of their local sex offender ordinances.
Florida has some of the most restrictive sex offender registration and sentencing laws in the nation. Under state law, there are two separate designations for those convicted of crimes mandating sex offender registration: sexual predators and sexual offenders.
The state reserves the sexual predator designation for the most dangerous offenders who have been convicted of a capital, life or first-degree felony sex crime or two or more second-degree felony sex crimes. The court must issue a written finding designating a person as a sexual predator.
Current law requires life-time registration for those who have been convicted of certain crimes. These crimes include:
If the sex offender has been released from incarceration, then he or she is required to register in-person with the local sheriff's department within 48 hours of establishing residency in the state. If the offender is still in the custody of a Florida prison or jail, then the institution will handle the registration.
Some of the information the offender is required to provide includes:
Those who have been convicted of an offense mandating registration as a sex offender in another state also must register with the Florida sex offender registry upon moving to Florida. In some cases, those who keep a permanent residence in another state but work or go to school in Florida also must register as a sex offender.
The information provided by the sex offender, including his or her picture, is made available to the public in an on-line database. Those who fail to register, provide incomplete or false information, or fail to meet any of the other legal requirements imposed upon them will be charged with a third-degree felony and may be sentenced to additional jail time and other penalties.
State and local law impose restrictions on where certain convicted sex offenders may live after serving their sentence. Florida state law prohibits those convicted of certain sex crimes against a child under 16 years of age from living within 1,000 feet of a school, day care center, playground, park or other place frequented by children.
Some county and municipal ordinances impose even more restrictive residency requirements. For example, in Miami-Dade County, certain registered sex offenders are prohibited from living within 2,500 feet of a school, day care center, park or playground. The county also recently added "child safety zones" to its ordinance, which prohibits sex offenders from loitering within the 300 feet extending from schools, day cares, parks and school bus stops.
The Miami-Dade ordinance has received national attention for effectively forcing sex offenders into homelessness with over 70 offenders living underneath the Julia Tuttle Causeway Bridge. Currently, there more than 160 municipalities in Florida that impose greater residency restrictions on convicted sex offenders than required by state law.
State law also places restrictions on where certain registered sex offenders may work. In cases where the victim was a minor, sex offenders cannot volunteer or work at any business, school, day care, park, playground or other place where children regularly are present.
Sex offenders are treated uniquely under state and federal law as the only offenders whose punishment does not end once they have completed their court-imposed sentence. For many, the punishments they suffer after finishing their sentences are much harsher than those they received from a judge.
While the state's interest in monitoring the activities and limiting the contact with children of the most dangerous offenders is understandable, the law also makes it difficult for those who do not pose a risk of reoffending to re-enter society and attempt to re-establish their lives. Florida and other states need to recognize that not everyone who has been labeled as a sex offender poses the same risk to society and treating them all the same is a grave injustice.
For more information on defending against a sex offense charge, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney today.