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Law Review: Sex offender data for protection only

Jim Porter

The Megan’s Law CD-ROM lists all of California’s serious and high risk sex offenders organized by ZIP code based on last registration of residence. It is available for viewing in the local sheriff’s offices in Truckee and Tahoe City by appointment.

You must be at least 18 years old, provide identification, sign a statement you are not a registered sex offender and an acknowledgement it is illegal to use the information to harass, discriminate or commit a crime against any registrant. (I understand the statement that you are not a registered sex offender is required to prevent networking among sex offenders).

Megan’s Law is a bit unclear on what you may do with the information. The Code states that a person is authorized to use the information “only to protect a person at risk” – whatever that means. Certainly you may not post a list or harass a Penal Code “290 Registrant.”

The public is best served when registered sex offenders are not concealing their location to avoid harassment. The information is released as a means of assuring public protection and not to punish the offender. You may not take pictures or download information from the CD-ROM.

The CD-ROM provides photographs of the registrants, their names, aliases, sex, physical description, registered sex offenses, county of residence and zip code. Apparently law enforcement personnel have street addresses.

I counted 10 serious sex offenders in the Truckee Donner area and no high risk offenders. All males. Apparently there are 125 registered serious sex offenders in Nevada County.

There were approximately 20 serious sex offenders and no high risk offenders in the Squaw Valley/North Tahoe area. All males. I was told Placer County has 336 registered serious sex offenders.

I did not recognize any of the photographs or names (and was thankful for that). The felonies were for molesting children, oral copulation with a child under 16, crimes against children, lewd acts with a child under 16 (and 14), and incest or molestation of a child.

I had mixed feelings about reviewing the list. My purpose was to gather information for this column, but my curiosity was piqued as was my concern that I would know one of the registrants.

A lifetime 290 Registrant is branded with a Puritan Scarlet Letter, not an A for Adulterer, but S for Sex Offender. Megan’s Law is well-intended, but like so many initiatives and laws passed in response to an inflammatory issue, it can have unintended consequences-a term I find myself using a lot as of late. Do all sex offenders deserve to be registered for life? Should they have an opportunity to be rehabilitated and removed from the list?

Even so, a sex offender recidivism rate among sex offenders of 16 percent to 25 percent (Department of Justice figures) seems high and worthy of registration and dissemination.

If you would like a two-page printout from the Department of Justice on Megan’s Law – How to Obtain and Use Sex Offender Information – please call the office.

Next week we will discuss the disclosure obligations of a seller of property regarding a sex offender in the neighborhood, an area of the law which has conflicting duties of disclosure.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon, with offices in Truckee and Reno. He is a mediator and the governor’s appointee on the California Fair Political Practices.

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