Society and policy makers have long struggled with finding effective ways to protect the public from sex offenders. A sex offender is a person who’s been convicted of certain sex crimes, such as sexual assault or sexual conduct with a minor. Because of the seriousness of sex offenses, a number of factors come into play when it comes to sentencing and penalties for sex offenders at both the state and federal levels. The definition of a sex crime differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. However, there are core offenses that are common to most jurisdictions, but some states outlaw additional particular acts. The common sex offenses fall into the following categories:
• Crimes against adults: rape, sexual assault and marital rape
• Crimes against relatives: incest
• Crimes against children: pornography, exploitation, molestation, abduction
• Crimes against nature: indecent exposure, sodomy, bestiality
• Crimes against sex for sale: prostitution
Most states have a long list of items that are considered sex offenses. Some of the included items are intuitive and others have been included to address particular problems. More recently, states have begun to define certain behaviors in conjunction with the internet or the electronic transfer of data. In addition to explicit acts, states now make the failure to register as a sex offender or violations of the sex register statutes as sex offenses.
Sex Offenses: State vs. Federal Law
Most offenses involving criminal sexual conduct fall within the jurisdiction of state law, but federal law also includes a number of sexual offenses. The offenses are found in Title 18 of the United States Code. Some of the federal offenses specifically apply to sexual offenses committed within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States or in a federal prison. Other crimes involve offenders who cross state or international borders to commit, or in the commission, of a sexual offense. Federal sexual offenses focus on offenses involving children, production of prohibited pornography and interstate travel for the purposes of prohibited sexual activity. Some of these statutes include:
• Selling or buying of children
• Certain activities relating to material involving the sexual exploitation of minors, including both distribution and receipt of visual depictions in books, magazines, periodicals, films, and videotapes
• Certain activities relating to material constituting or containing child pornography
• Transporting an individual in interstate or foreign commerce with the intent that the individual engage in prostitution or other illegal sexual activity
• Interstate or foreign travel with intent to engage in a sexual act with a juvenile
• Use of interstate facilities to transmit information about an individual under the age of 16, with “the intent to entice, encourage, offer, or solicit that minor to engage in any sexual activity that can be charged as a criminal offense.”
Sex Offense Penalties and Sentencing
As with any criminal offense, the nature, circumstances, and the parties involved control the seriousness of the sentences and penalties that may be imposed. The states vary widely in the length of sentence terms. Any sexual offense involving children or violence will have a harsh sentence. For instance, violations of the federal statutes involving sexual exploitation of children have a minimum sentence of 15 years. Charges of first degree rape or sexual assault will be punished by 15 years to life imprisonment, depending on the state and the circumstances of the crime.
Sexual Offender Registry
States and the Federal government have both established sex offender registries. These are databases of information about convicted sex offenders. They require persons convicted of sex crimes to list themselves on the registry, failing to do so is considered a sex offense. The statutes establishing the registries also have compliance requirements about not living too close to schools and notifying officials when they move. Again, failure to abide by the registry requirements is a sex offense.
Who Must Register as a Sex Offender?
Typically, an individual who has been convicted of specified sex offenses and offenses against children must register as a sex offender. This registration is done at the law enforcement agency in the city or town where he lives immediately after being released into the community. He usually must re-register every year (sometimes more frequently) and whenever he moves. Failure to register is generally considered its own criminal offense. The information an offender must provide at registration can vary, but may include his name, date of birth, social security number, addresses, photograph, vehicle information, offense information, fingerprints, DNA sample, and more. Some of this information will appear on the sex offender website, but not all will be made available to the public. In some cases, depending on the offense and the jurisdiction, an offender may be required to register with law enforcement, but be able to prevent any information about him from being publicly posted. Similarly, it’s possible in certain circumstances to petition to have one’s name entirely removed from the registry. Registering as a sex offender, typically makes certain information publicly available. The information that is available to view by the public will vary by jurisdiction, but typically includes the following:
• Name and aliases
• Current address
The website may also provide a physical description (height, weight, etc.), date of birth, additional information about the offense including statutes violated and date of offense, and more. If you’ve been convicted of an offense requiring registration with your state’s database, you’ll need to make sure that you’re meeting all of your obligations under the law. As mentioned above, failure to do so could constitute a separate criminal violation and maybe land you back in prison.
Risk Levels for Sex Offenders in Utah
In Utah, sex offenders that are required to register with the state are assigned to one of these three primary levels of risk:
• Level One: Is mostly assigned to the people who have the lowest risk of reoffending.
• Level Two: This is for people who have a moderate risk of reoffending.
• Level Three: These people are deemed the highest risk of reoffending and of being a potential threat to public safety in their community.
Level one sex offenders must register with the sheriff in the county in which they live. The sheriff’s office keeps the offender’s records and may provide notice to the people who live with the sex offender. Level two offenders are deemed to be at risk of reoffending but do not have a high of a risk as level three sex offenders. If you are level two risk, you must register with the sheriff’s department of your county. The sheriff is then obligated to notify homes, schools, and community groups in your neighborhood as well as your employer. Level three sex offenders have the highest risk of reoffending. If you are a level three risk, your registration is mandatory. People who live in the neighborhoods that surround yours will be notified that you live in their area. Flyers also will be handed out to homes, schools, and community groups with your picture, name, address and criminal history. The sheriff will also send press releases to the local newspapers and television stations. Finally, your employer will be notified as well. According to federal law, sex offenders have to register with the state authorities and also update their registration at certain intervals. The duration of this will depend on the severity of the person’s offense. If the individual fails to register or to renew their registration, it can result in them having to go back to prison. The information about the sex offender is also typically made public in the community. In addition to the normal parole or probation requirements and behavioral restrictions, there may also be limitations on where a registered sex offender can live. In most case, this will relate to anywhere close to groups of children, such as recreation centers or schools. These residency restrictions may impact the decision to get married and possibly even the relationship if their partner has children.
Consequences of Being on the Sex Offender Registry
No matter what the cause of the sex offense charge, once you’re convicted you’re branded a sexual offender. You will be required to register and remain registered until the court states otherwise (in some cases you may be required to stay registered for life). However, even if your registration is temporary, the label, and consequences of that label, will remain.
Some of the consequences include:
• Registering requirements. Although the sex offender registry was initially created for federal use, each state now has its own database in which to keep track of registered citizens. This means that every time you relocate to a different state you’ll be required to re-register on their database as well as become subject to that state’s laws regarding sex offenders.
• Restricted residency. Most states prohibit sex offenders from living within a certain distance of gathering places for children such as parks, schools, daycare centers, and playgrounds. As a result, it may be difficult to find housing that meets all of your requirements while also taking your personal needs into account.
• Restricted employment. In addition to housing restrictions, most states also limit where a sex offender can work. For instance, anywhere near the following places may be restricted: schools, clothing stores (with changing rooms), salons or spas, as well as in positions of power over someone else (doctor, psychiatrist, etc.).
• Loss of child custody. No matter what your conviction was for, if registered as a sex offender your ex can use the registration as a reason to deny you custody of your children, stating that you may be a danger to your own child
• Decreased privacy. Since the registry is meant to keep tabs on past offenders, privacy is extremely limited.
• Bias, prejudice, and intolerance. Once convicted and registered, family, friends, and acquaintances may view you as a threat or at the very least an outcast. Some may even become withdrawn or abusive (mentally and physically).
The Criminal Appeals Process
On appeal, defendants are limited to presenting issues that were raised at trial. That means the appellant can argue on appeal only about issues that were presented at the trial. For example, if a defendant or defendant’s counsel argued unsuccessfully at trial that a witness’s identification should not be admitted because a police officer pressured the witness to identify the defendant, then the defendant can raise the same argument on appeal and ask the appellate court to review the trial judge’s ruling on that evidence. However, a defendant cannot argue in the appeal that he should have been able to present evidence that eyewitness identifications are unreliable if he did not ask the trial judge to allow him to present that kind of evidence.
Common issues raised on appeal
• rulings by the trial court to allow or not allow certain evidence to be presented
• rulings on other pre-trial motions
• who was allowed or not allowed to be on the jury
• the instructions given to the jury, and
• claims that the prosecutor’s arguments were inappropriate and unfair.
Even if an appellant is able to show that an error occurred at trial, the conviction will not be overturned unless the error impacts a “substantial right” of the defendant, such as the right to confront a witness who testified against the defendant. For example, even if the court finds that the prosecutor made some inappropriate remarks during closing argument that unfairly prejudiced the defendant, if there was enough evidence to prove the defendant was guilty, the verdict is not likely to be overturned. The rationale is that defendants are entitled to fair trials but not perfect trials. Lawyers call these errors “harmless errors,” because although they were mistakes, their impact was minor when compared with other, counterbalancing evidence of guilt
Sentencing Requirements & Required Registration For Sex Offenders
In most criminal matters, Utah employs an intermediate sentencing system, which means that judges and the Board of Pardons and Parole have discretion in determining a defendant’s sentence and release date. However, many sex offenses are subject to mandatory sentencing requirements. For example, aggravated sexual assault carries a mandatory prison sentence of six, 10, or 15 years to life. Even after serving a long sentence, the impact of a sex crime conviction will likely reverberate through a person’s life. Convicted sex offenders are required to register with the Utah State Police, which posts the names of certain sex offenders on a public website. If a person is convicted as a juvenile, he or she may also face sex offender registration upon turning 18. With this information readily available, convicted sex offenders have substantial difficulty obtaining employment and professional licensing, and are often scorned in their communities and avoided by their neighbors.
Sex Offender Lawyer in Utah
When you need legal help from a Sex Offender Lawyer, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506