Sex Offender Registry

A Sex Offender Registry is a system used by countries around the world in order for government and law enforcement authorities to track individuals convicted of sex-related crimes. Such registries track offenders’ current residences, as well as personal identifying information, regardless of whether they have completed their sentences. In the United States, each state maintains a separate sex offender registry, which is made available to the general public. To explore this concept, consider the following sex offender registry definition.

Definition of Sex Offender Registry


  1. A database used by state and federal authorities to track individuals convicted of sex-related offenses.


1947     State of California first to implement a sex offender registry

What is a Sex Offender Registry

A sex offender registry is a database that contains information about convicted sex offenders in the United States. Each state maintains a separate registry system, all of which are used by law enforcement to monitor sex offenders living in the community. The information that each offender must provide when registering varies by state, and only certain information is made available for the public to view. What the public may view when searching a sex offender registry generally includes:

  • Name and Aliases
  • Date of Birth
  • Offense
  • Current Address
  • Photograph
  • Physical Description, including height, weight, hair and eye color, etc.

History of the Sex Offender Registry

California was the first state to implement a sex offender registration program in 1947, though the information gathered was not made available to the public. In 1990, the state of Washington became the first to begin notifying communities when dangerous sex offenders were released from prison. In 1994, federal legislation was passed, in the Jacob Wetterling Act, mandating each state to establish a sex offender registry.

Two years later, in 1996, the federal government made it mandatory for states to make certain personal information regarding sex offenders available to the public. This is based on a set of laws initiated in New Jersey, referred to as “Megan’s Laws.”

Today, searching the state and federal sex offender registries is as easy as logging into a computer or other electronic device, as each state hosts its sex offender registry online.

The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act

In 2007, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, referred to as the “Adam Walsh Act” (“AWA”), implemented uniform registration requirements across all 50 states, and established a national sex offender registry. The AWA also instituted some new criminal offenses with enhanced sentencing for sex offenders.

The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act

Title I of the Adam Walsh Act established the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, also referred to as “SORNA,” which addresses potential loopholes and gaps in previous sex offender registry rules. In addition to specifying which offenders, and which sex offenses, must register, SORNA requires registered sex offenders to report in person periodically to verify their registration information.

SORNA categorizes sex offenses into three tiers, according to the severity of the crimes. Factors considered in categorizing a sex offender include the length of prison term, the age of the victim, and any aggravating circumstances. Each tier imposes certain requirements on the sex offender after release from prison.

Tier III Sex Offenses

Tier III sex offenses are the most serious, as they include crimes punishable by at least one year in prison, and entails sexual abuse committed against a child under the age of 13, or kidnapping of a minor who is not accompanied by an adult. Tier III offenders are required to report for the rest of his life, and to notify local authorities every time he moves.

Tier II Sex Offenses

Tier II sex offenses also include crimes punishable by one year in prison, but involves sex trafficking, transporting an individual with the intent to engage in illegal sexual activities, coercion, and enticement, as well as abusive sexual activity with a minor age 13 or older. Tier II offenses also include soliciting a minor to participate in prostitution, producing or distributing child pornography, or using a minor in a sexual performance. Tier II offenders are required to report for 25 years.

Tier I Sex Offenses

Tier I sex offenses include all sex-related crimes that do not fall into Tier II and III. Tier I offenders are required to register for 10 years, but must maintain a clean record during that time. If the offender commits another sexual offense, or any other crime that is punishable by a year or more in prison, he must register for 15 years after release from prison.

National Sex Offender Registry

While each state maintains its own registry, the AWA saw the creation of a National Sex Offender Registry, a national database that is maintained by the U.S. Department of Justice. Anyone may search sex offender records on the agency’s National Sex Offender Public Website. The National Sex Offender Registry compiles registered sex offender information provided by all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Territories, and Native American communities, and updates the information regularly.

Registering as a Sex Offender

Commonly, an individual convicted of a sex crime must register with law enforcement in his or her jurisdiction immediately after being released from jail or prison, or immediately following conviction, if sentenced to probation rather than incarceration. Each individual must provide certain personal information when registering as a sex offender, including:

  • Name
  • Date of Birth
  • Social Security Number
  • Recent Photograph
  • Address
  • Vehicle Information
  • Driver’s License Number
  • Offense Convicted, Date of Conviction, Sentence Imposed
  • Fingerprints
  • DNA Sample

Failure to Register as a Sex Offender

Failing to register as a sex offender, or to update personal and residential information on the registry, is a criminal act that can result in new criminal charges and prosecution. Penalties for failure to register as a sex offender may include fines, and up to 10 years in prison. Failing to register, or update registration, followed by a conviction for another felony crime, subjects the offender to a prison sentence of up to 30 years.

Can Names be Removed from the Sex Offender Registry

In most cases, the only way a name may be removed from a sex offender registry is to have the conviction reversed, set aside, or vacated. Some people, however, were placed on the sex offender registry years ago for engaging in acts that are no longer illegal, such as certain sex acts between consenting adults.

To get a name removed from the registry in this circumstance, a form must be sent to the department of justice in the state in which the offender currently registers. The offender must show that the act took place between two consenting adults, and that the act is no longer against the law. In any case, having a name removed from the sex offender registry is a difficult task that may require the assistance of an experienced attorney.

Connecticut Department of Public Safety v. Doe

In 2003, a sex offender convicted in the state of Connecticut, challenged the state’s right to publicize his information on their sex offender registry website. Suing under the name John Doe, the offender argued that his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process had been violated by the publication, as he was not allowed a hearing prior to the public disclosure. The District Court issued an injunction against the state’s public disclosure of the registry. The Court of Appeals then heard the case, and agreed that the offender’s due process rights had been violated.

The matter of Connecticut Department of Public Safety v. Doe went to the U.S. Supreme Court which, in a unanimous opinion, reversed the lower courts’ decisions, on the basis that due process does not require that each offender be given an opportunity to prove any fact that is not relevant to the state’s laws. The Court further ruled that harm to the offender’s reputation does not amount to deprivation of liberty.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Coercion – The act of using force or intimidation to ensure compliance.
  • Consent – To approve, permit, or agree
  • Criminal Act – An act committed by an individual that is in violation of the law, or that poses a threat to the public.
  • Felony – A criminal offense punishable by a year or more in jail.
  • Hearing – A proceeding before the court at which an issue of fact or law is heard, evidence presented, and a decision made.
  • Injunction – An order from the court restraining a person or entity from starting or continuing an action.
  • Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
  • Offense – A violation of law or rule, the committing of an illegal act.
  • Sex Offender – A person convicted of a crime involving sex, including rape, molestation, and production or distribution of child pornography.
  • Victim – A person who is injured, killed, or otherwise harmed as a result of a criminal act, accident, or other event.
  •  Warrant A writ issued by a court or other legal official authorizing law enforcement or other agency to make an arrest, search a premises, or take some other action related to the administration of justice.