At long last, Michigan appears to be on its way to changing the rules of the State’s Sex Offender Registration Act – and with these changes bring some much needed sanity to a law much in need of it.
Currently, Michigan’s Sex Offender Registration Act, MCLA 28.721 et. seq., is a “one tier” system. This means that anyone convicted of a “listed” sex offense in Michigan is put on the same registry. The act makes no distinctions between dangerous child predators convicted of molesting young children, and teenagers accused “statutory rape” (MCLA 750.520d(1)(a)) for having sex with their underage boyfriend or girlfriend (so called “Romeo and Juliet” offenders). If you are convicted of a listed offense, you are on the registry – the same registry for all.
The Michigan State Senate passed a series of bills Thursday sponsored by Sen. Rick Jones, that would make sweeping, and critically needed, changes to Michigan’s Sex Offenders Registration Act.
First, Michigan would become a “Three tier” registration state, bringing the state into compliance with the Federal Adam Walsh Act requirements (Pub. L. 109-248, 120 Stat. 587). First tier offenders would be those convicted of lesser sex offenses such as indecent exposure, certain simple possession of child pornography crimes, and most 4th degree criminal sexual conduct convictions. They would not be listed on the public registry at all; rather they would register with the State Police once per year for 15 years, and their names and information would be available only to law enforcement. First tier offenders could petition a judge to have their name removed after 10 years. Second tier registration would be for those convicted of offenses such as date rape, 2nd degree (MCLA 750.520c) and 3rd degree (MCLA 750.520d) criminal sexual conduct offenses against adults, and most internet and child pornography offenses. Second tier offenders would have to register twice per year with the State Police, and would be on the registry for 25 years.
The most serious offenders would be on the Third Tier, which would be reserved for those persons convicted of crimes such as 1stdegree criminal sexual conduct (MCLA 750.520b), and any conviction for sexually molesting a child under the age of 13. Tier Three offenders would be forced to register four times per year, and would be on the registry for life.
The new law would not re-define what constitutes a sexual offense (or any other crime) in Michigan – the age of consent for sex would remain 16, and various internet and child pornography statutes would be applicable at 18. However, the law would keep “Romeo and Juliet” offenders off the sex offender registry if they had consensual sex with a partner between 13 and 16 years old, provided there is no more than four years between their ages. In addition, offenders could not be placed on the registry until they reached at least 14 years old. Finally, the law would allow any person that was currently on the registry for crimes that fit these parameters to petition their judge to be removed from the list.
These are desperately needed, and long overdue changes to a registry system in Michigan that was over reaching and broken. As stated by Shelli Weisberg, legislative director for ACLU Michigan, “This is a fabulous first step for at least one group of individuals on that registry that probably gets treated overly harsh.”Mark A. Satawa practices in the area of criminal defense, specializing in sex crimes. He is a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (www.NACDL.org), and is a frequent continuing legal education speaker on sex offenses, most recently at the Institute for Continuing Legal Education seminar on Proven Defense Strategies for Challenging Criminal Sexual Conduct Cases.