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California Legislature

California will soon end lifetime registration of some sex offenders under bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown

 (Eric Risberg / Associated Press)
(Eric Risberg / Associated Press)

Thousands of Californians will be allowed to take their names off the state’s registry of sex offenders as a result of action Friday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Brown signed legislation that will end lifetime listings for lower-level offenders judged to be at little risk of committing new crimes. Offenders can file petitions to be removed from the registry beginning in 2021.

The measure was introduced at the request of Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey and other law enforcement officials who said the registry, which has grown to more than 105,000 names, is less useful to detectives investigating new sex crimes because it is so bulky.

“California's sex offender registry is broken, which undermines public safety,”  said Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who introduced the bill. “SB 384 refocuses the sex offender registry on high-risk offenders and treats low-level offenders more fairly.”

The registry currently requires law enforcement officials to spend hours on paperwork for annual evaluations of every offender, including those who are low risk and have not committed a crime for decades, Wiener said.

Brown declined to comment Friday, but his office referred to a statement put out last month.

“SB 384 proposes thoughtful and balanced reforms that allow prosecutors and law enforcement to focus their resources on tracking sex offenders who pose a real risk to public safety, rather than burying officers in paperwork that has little public benefit,” said Ali Bay, a spokeswoman for the governor, last month.

The measure was opposed by many Republican lawmakers and Erin Runnion, who in 2002 founded the Joyful Child Foundation, an Orange County advocacy group for victims, after the abduction, molestation and murder of her 5-year-old daughter, Samantha.

Runnion said parents should be able to check a comprehensive registry to see if a potential teacher, youth league coach or babysitter for their children has ever been convicted of a sex crime.

California is one of only four states that require lifetime registration of sex offenders. The others are Alabama, South Carolina and Florida.

The new law signed by the governor creates a tiered registry, with high-risk offenders on the registry for life and others able to petition to be removed after either 10 or 20 years without re-offending, depending on the offense.

Offenses for which registrants can be removed from the list after 20 years include include rape by deception and lewd and lascivious behavior with a child under 14.

Offenders who petition for removal after 10 or 20 years will be assessed by a judge — with input from the local district attorney — who can grant or deny the petition.

The registry can be checked by members of the public, including people doing background checks on potential hires or tenants.

Wiener and gay rights activists said it is unfair that the registry includes the names of people caught having consensual sex in parks decades ago, when law enforcement often targeted gay men for enforcement.

Updated 11:33 am to include timing of when offenders can petition to be removed from registry.

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