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Sex offender registry to see dramatic change in 2021

Two convicted child molesters were sentenced last week for failing to register as sex offenders, a consequence that could jeopardize their chances of getting off California’s lifetime registry when a new law goes into effect on Jan. 1.

Colusa County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey A. Thompson, on Sept. 23, sentenced Virgil Gonzales Sr., 73, of Colusa, to a 1-year stayed sentence (due to poor health) in County Jail, dependent on 36 months successful probation, for failing to register as a sex offender or update his registration as required by law. Steven Schantz, 54, of Arbuckle, was sentenced to 90 days in Colusa County Jail and 36 months probation for failing to register and DUI.

Gonzales was convicted in Colusa County in 2004 after pleading guilty to lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14, in a plea deal with prosecutors that reduced other felony child molestation charges.

Schantz was convicted of lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14 in 1989. Both, under existing law, are required to be lifetime registered sex offenders, but that may soon change.

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2021, California will use a new tiered system that eliminates lifetime registration for the majority of California’s sex offenders and grants them relief from police and public access registries after 10 or 20 years.

Having to register as a sex offender for life after being convicted of a sex crime and notifying local law enforcement of any change in residence or employment has been the cornerstone of Megan’s Law for more than a quarter century.

The federal law – and state and international laws by the same name – was created in response to the 1994 rape and murder of Megan Kanka by a man who lived across the street who had two prior convictions for sex crimes against children.

Kanka’s parents believed their 7-year-old daughter would still be alive if they had known a pedophile lived in their neighborhood.  Megan’s Law not only requires sex offenders to register with law enforcement, but also requires law enforcement to make that information available to the public.

Colusa County has 33 registered sex offenders; about 20 who are child molesters who could have their names and photos removed from the public access site after 20 years.

Senate Bill 384 was authored by San Francisco Democrat, Sen. Scott Weiner, and singed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017, allowing convicted sex offenders to petition the state for removal from the lifetime registration after 10 years for Tier 1 sex offenses, such as indecent exposure, peeping, minor sexual battery, arranging to meet a minor for lewd purposes, having sex without force with a minor age 15 or over, and misdemeanor possession or distribution of child pornography.

Tier 2 offenders, including those convicted of lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14, forced oral copulation (with or without a minor), forced penetration with a foreign object (with or without a minor), incest, and rape, sodomy, or oral copulation of a mentally or physically disabled adult who is incapable of giving consent can seek registration relief after 20 years if they have not been convicted of a subsequent sex crime and have maintained their registration requirements.

Only Tier 3 offenders who are high-risk, sexually violent, and repeat sex offenders, along with those convicted of raping a child 10 and under will be required to register for life after Dec. 31.

About 90 percent of all sex offenders in California are Tier 2 offenders, according to the state’s website.

Those who championed SB 384, including Los Angeles and San Francisco police unions, said it would reduce the burden on law enforcement to track sex offenders who “pose little risk to communities.”

Many people opposed. The Crime Victims Center said sex offenders who commit crimes against children have a high rate of recidivism, even if they do not have a second arrest and conviction.

The CVC reports that offenders who target girls have a 16 percent re-offense rate and offenders who target boys have a 35 percent re-offense rate.

The most common offense on California’s sex offender registry pertains to lewd conduct with children under 14, typically reached in plea deals with prosecutors that dismissed other felony or misdemeanor charges, said Colusa County Chief Deputy District Attorney Brendan Farrell, who prosecuted the two registration cases last week.

While Farrell said there are many offenders who deserve to have their names removed from the Megan’s Law registry after 10 years, including old statutory rape convictions where the offender was only a few years older than the minor in question, SB 384 is yet another example of California’s solution to a problem with a “one-size fits all” approach.

Farrell said a better solution to reduce the burden on law enforcement would have been to establish just a two tiered system that distinguishes between minor sex offenses that could be removed from the registry after a statutory period of time, provided there are no repeat offenses, but keeps all sex crimes against children and other serious offenses in the same tier as sexually violent crimes.

“They took out a lot of things that should require lifetime registration,” Farrell said. ♣

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