One big reason we have such harsh sex-offender registry laws in this country is because there are some shady people out there trying to make a buck by telling sex offenders how to “legally” avoid the sex-offender registry. In response, the states have created law upon law to make sure no sex offender ever falls through the cracks. It`s become such a convoluted mess that even the most diligent sex offenders can overlook something and get caught in a technical violation, winding up in jail.
While most sex offenders have no problem following the sex-offender registration laws of their state, the fact that services exist promising ways to avoid the sex-offender registry shows there`s a market out there for this stuff. If you or someone you know is considering following this bad advice, take a look at this.
Bad Advice No. 1: Go into hiding and change your identity
Sure, the sex-offender registry is a pain. But is it bad enough to cut off your friends and family to assume a new identity? Look how hard it is for those in the witness protection program — and they have the support of the entire federal government! This is such an extreme measure to avoid the sex-offender registry, and it`s rarely successful for even those with lots of resources.
Bad Advice No. 2: The sex-offender registry is completely voluntary, so don`t bother
This isn`t just bad advice, it`s legally wrong. I`ve read a lot of state sex-offender registry laws, and every single one of them says that someone with a qualifying sex-offense conviction must register under the state`s sex-offender registry. Failure to do so is a “failure to register” crime that usually requires jail or prison time. Cross state lines and fail to register and it`s a federal failure-to-register offense, with up to 10 years in prison.
Bad Advice No. 3: Travel constantly from state to state so you don`t have to register
One service actually suggested that a person required to register as a sex offender should simply “travel constantly from state to state, not calling any one state your residence.” After all, they say, “homeless people do it all the time.”
First, let`s address the easy part. Homeless people who are also sex offenders must still register, usually every 30 days, until they find a permanent residence.
The more disturbing thing about this advice is that it`s why we have crazy laws like in Florida and Illinois, where if you set foot in the state as a sex offender on three separate days within a year, you have to register. In Florida it`s lifetime registration, even if you never go back there again. This “state hopping” created such harsh laws for sex offenders that some can`t even visit family for a weekend in certain states, without going through the hassle of registering as a sex offender. And even if you can manage to hop from one address to another within the state to avoid registering the address, you still have to register your vehicle and cell phone after just a few days, no matter what address you`re at. Failure to do so is a new charge for each incidence.
Bad Advice No. 4: Tell your current state you`re moving out of state but don`t
One service says, and I`m not making this up, that you can tell your current state sex-offender registry people that you`re moving out of state but then stay put. They say that you can get a PO Box but keep all your property and even continue living in your house. I`d always wondered why some states have a law prohibiting sex offenders from having a PO Box. Now I know why.
Bad Advice No. 5: Move frequently to avoid the registry
To avoid the sex-offender registry, one service says you can “move to a place that does not have the public sex-offender registry.” That`s won`t be the U.S., however, because every state and U.S. territory has a sex-offender registry. If they`re saying you can move to a foreign country that doesn`t have a sex-offender registry, some states still require notification before you leave the state, even if you`re not coming back.
Note: The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), prior to 2016, did not require notification before leaving the country, so it was not a federal crime. But the Court also recognized that under the International Megan`s Law, enacted Feb. 2016, notification of international travel is now required under SORNA. See Nichols v. United States, 578 U.S. 104 (2016).
I have to admit that Bad Advice No. 5 isn`t so bad, if you can find a country that`ll take you as a sex offender, and if you`ve got the means to survive there. Since most people required to register as a sex-offender don`t have the means to do this, or can`t do so legally for other reasons, it remains bad advice for most people.
Dale Chappell is the author of hundreds of published articles on the federal criminal justice system, and the Insider`s Guide series of federal post-conviction books. He is a consultant in federal post-conviction procedure and an authority on federal sex offense issues.