Sex Offenders and the Law

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The thought of sexual predators in our community is difficult to accept.  Protecting the public from them is a priority of the Fresno County District Attorney's Office.  Citizens are able to identify sex offenders who may be living in their neighborhoods by using the California State Megan's Law website, but there are other steps which can be taken to protect families.  The reality is that 90% of sexual offenses against children are by offenders who are known to the child and his or her family.  So, while stranger-danger is real, these heart-wrenching assaults are more likely to come from those we least expect to harm our children.  We urge citizens to be very cautious about anyone included in their "Circle of Trust."  Here you will learn more about the characteristics of sex offenders, and how we can prevent future sexual crimes.  Together, we all can make a difference.

Who's watching sex offenders in Fresno County?

  • The Fresno County Sheriff's Office and the Fresno Police Department each have dedicated sex offender registration officers.
  • Every law enforcement officer can access criminal histories 24/7 when making contact with suspects in the field.
  • Outpatient Sexually Violent Predators (SVP's) are closely supervised by the Department of State Hospitals (DSH) and Liberty Healthcare, including the use of GPS and daily supervision contact.  Liberty is responsible for the day-to-day supervision of each SVP.  Liberty works closely with local law enforcement in this process.

Sex Offender Management within the Fresno County District Attorney's Office

  • Experienced prosecutors are assigned to the Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Unit.
  • Work with law enforcement countywide to ensure effective investigation and prosecution of sex offenders.
  • Work with law enforcement and Liberty Healthcare to closely monitor SVP's to determine changing behaviors which may increase risk.

How can I identify and protect my family from these offenders?

  • Sex offenders come from all walks of life, all professions, all races, and all socioeconomic groups.  Women can be predators, though it is statistically less common.  In short, they look just like you and me.
  • Registrants on the Megan's Law website are only those offenders who have been convicted of crimes . . . we need to rethink our approach to child protection to prevent future crimes.
  • Recognize that nearly 90% of offenses against children are by someone who is known to the child and his or her family.
  • Stranger-danger is real, but rare.  Focus on who is in your "circle of trust."
  • Offenders are often charming and charismatic; it can be part of the "grooming" process to gain your trust and the trust of your child.
  • Sex offenders can be well-educated, trusted, long-standing members of the community.
  • They can be married with families of their own.
  • If you have a gut instinct about a person and his or her behavior, act on it to protect your family.  Don't allow that person to have access to your child.
  • Report any suspicious behavior to law enforcement immediately.

Who has to register and for how long?

  • Lifetime registration for all sex crimes (whether committed in California or elsewhere).  A small class of persons with minor sex crimes (i.e. indecent exposure) can petition for removal from the registry after a period of crime-free life, but serious sex crimes excluded.
  • Certain classes of consenting sexual activity between persons close in age can result in registration, but it is not mandatory.  These are primarily statutory rape-type crimes.  Judges make the decision of whether or not to require registration at the time of sentencing.
  • Juveniles are subject to registration for certain crimes only if they are sentenced to the California Youth Authority or similar prison setting for youthful offenders.
  • All SVP's and Mentally Disordered Sex Offenders (MDSO's) must register for life.
  • No ability to remove registration requirement for the majority of crimes except in the event of a Governor's Pardon and Certificate of Rehabilitation.
  • Full address/photo available to the public since 2004 for most offenders.
  • Some events which require registration with law enforcement include:
    • On birthday,
    • When changing residences,
    • Upon release from custody (certain exceptions if returning to the same address),
    • When leaving the state or county to live elsewhere,
    • If at multiple addresses on a regular basis,
    • At college/university and home address if registrant is a student, volunteer, or employee there,
    • If working in state for more than 30 days per year but living elsewhere, and
    • If change name.

What information is on the web site?

  • Public information for certain offenders has been available to the public in California since 2004 via the Department of Justice Megan's Law website.  Prior to that time, this information was available only to law enforcement or if a citizen did an individual public court record search.  Go to meganslaw.ca.gov for more information.
  • Website shows photo/description and a full or partial address, depending on the type of crime.  The most serious offenders will have a full address.  The records are updated regularly via the local law enforcement registration process.
  • Approximately 25% of offenders are not on the public website but are known to law enforcement.  This is a legal determination made by the Department of Justice.  By law, no information, except that available in public court records, can be disclosed concerning those registrants.
  • Registrants whose only registrable sex offenses are for the following offenses may apply to the state Department of Justice for exclusion from the public website:
    • sexual battery by restraint;
    • misdemeanor child molestation (also known as "annoying and molesting a child"); or
    • any offense which (1) did not involve penetration or oral copulation, (2) the victim of which was a child, stepchild, grandchild, or sibling of the offender, and (3) for which the offender successfully completed or is successfully completing probation.
  • This means that a one-time offender, who molests a child family member, and who successfully completes probation, could potentially be excluded from the public website by operation of law.  This is why proactive prevention is so important, as discussed above.
  • Registered sex offenders who are granted exclusion from the Internet web site must still register as sex offenders for life.
  • National sex offender registry covers all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, the District of Columbia, and participating tribes.  The website is a search tool allowing a user to submit a single national query to obtain information about sex offenders nationwide.  It is a compilation of all state and regional registration public databases.  Go to nsopw.gov for more information.

What can I do with website information?

  • Knowledge is power.  Use this information to reasonably protect yourself and your family.
  • Be cautious in reprinting and distributing information because there are criminal penalties for misuse of the information.
  • Refer others to the website to share what you have learned.

Why aren't these offenders in prison for life?

  • Criminal penalties for sexual offenses have been dramatically strengthened since the early 90's, however many registrant's crimes preceded these changes and they avoided these strong penalties.
  • In 1994 the "Three Strikes" law was passed allowing for doubled or lifetime sentences for criminals with prior convictions for serious or violent felonies.
  • Also in 1994, the "One Strike" law for sexual offenses was passed that provided for either 15 or 25 years to life, for first time sex offenses, provided certain special circumstances were pled and proved.  Those special circumstances include:
    •  kidnapping,
    • burglary,
    • tying and binding,
    • personal use of a dangerous weapon,
    • infliction of great bodily injury (broken bones or extensive suturing),
    • multiple victims, or
    • offenses committed in concert with another, to name a few.
  • In 2007, Proposition 83 (Jessica's Law) and in 2010, AB 1844 (Chelsea's Law), further strengthened California statutes and provided even more stringent sentences for sexual offenders.

Why are offenders still living in my neighborhood?

  • Penal Code section 3003.5(b) enacted under Jessica's Law in 2006 prohibited any sex offender from living within 2000 feet of school or "park where children regularly gather."
  • No criminal punishment is currently included in the statute, so it is impossible to enforce at this time.  There have been on-going constitutional challenges to these kinds of residency restrictions in California and nationwide.
  • There is disagreement among experts about whether residency restrictions are of any value in preventing future offenses, with most saying they do little to protect the public.
  • Jessica's Law residency restrictions are only being enforced by State Parole at this time.  So, no parolee will be permitted to live near a school.
  • Constitutional challenges to parolee residency restrictions have been partially rejected by the California Supreme Court in February 2010, but left open the possibility that individual challenges to restrictions could be examined on a case-by-case basis.
  • In short, a registered sex offender, who is no longer on probation or parole, is free to live wherever he or she chooses at this time.
  • Parolees must find their own housing and have it approved.  Some have found housing in sober living facilities or group-type homes.  When that occurs, the law forbids more than 6 parolees living at the same address.  If you are concerned about a group home in your neighborhood, contact law enforcement.
  • If you have a known offender or anyone else in your neighborhood who is engaging in suspicious activities such as lingering near a school yard, report this to law enforcement immediately.

Can offenders be around schools or volunteer to work with children?

  • In most circumstances, registered offenders are restricted from being at schools and working with children, if they are going to have primary control and supervision of those children.
  • Registrants may not be in any school building or on school ground without "lawful business" and permission of the school.
  • Registrant may not volunteer or work with children directly and unaccompanied setting on more than an incidental and occasional basis without divulging his status to the person, group, or organization.
  • If registrant's underlying crime was against a child under the age of 16, they cannot volunteer or work with children directly and unaccompanied on more than an incidental basis, or have disciplinary or supervisory power over minor children, even if he discloses.
  • Violations of these restrictions are misdemeanor crimes.
  • This means a parent/offender could lawfully be at his/her child's school to drop off, participate in parent/child conferences, etc., but should generally have the permission of the school to be there.

Can registrants work wherever they want to?

  • There are prohibited professions i.e. medical professions, dentists, lawyers, but remember - this prohibition is in place only after a conviction.
  • Some licensing boards allow for reinstating a license after a period of time under certain circumstances.
  • Employers are responsible for background checks, and not all perform extensive reviews before hiring.
  • If you are concerned that a person is working in an area which threatens public safety, report that to law enforcement so that they can investigate and alert employers, if necessary.

How does a Global Positioning System (GPS) monitor known sex offenders?

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) tell law enforcement of an offender's location, but not what the offender is doing.  As such, it is a law enforcement tool, but not a guarantee that a monitored offender will not engage in illegal or violent behavior.

  • Monitoring of the Person
    • Although Jessica's Law included a provision for lifetime monitoring of sex offenders who have been to prison, only parole and certain probationers are personally monitored via GPS
    • All California registered sex offenders on parole have GPS supervision since 2007 (after Jessica's Law passed).
    • Supervision is generally passive - i.e. case "tracks" [the electronic trail of where a parolee has been] are reviewed at the end of the day to determine if parolee has gone into restricted areas.
    • Currently 40% are on active monitoring, 60% on passive
      • Active means parole agents are alerted almost immediately if offender goes into a restricted area.  Additionally, parolee "tracks" are reviewed daily.
      • Passive means that parolee tracks are available for review by law enforcement as requested.
    • Penal Code section 3004(b) requires lifetime monitoring of all sex offenders but did not assign responsibility for monitoring to any one agency, provide for funding, or discuss penalty for failure to provide the monitoring.
    • State parole sends letters to the local law enforcement when someone is released off of parole.  No local law enforcement is able to conduct GPS monitoring at this time on persons discharged from parole.
      
  • Monitoring via other GPS Methods
    • GPS is an on-going law enforcement tool in the investigation of registrant movements in the community when crimes are suspected (i.e. vehicle tracking).

Who are Sexually Violent Predators (SVP's)?

  • Certain violent sex offenders are identified in prison as posing an extreme risk to the community if they are released to the community.
  • Prison inmates who have violent sex crimes in their history are assessed for possible civil commitment before they are released to parole supervision.  To be assessed for an SVP commitment, an inmate must have a serious sex crime with at least one victim and a diagnosed mental disorder to go through the SVP evaluation process.
  • If a mental disorder is identified for these inmates, the District Attorney's Office files a petition for civil commitment under the Welfare & Institutions Code.
  • If found to be an SVP following a trial, the former prison inmate is involuntarily committed to the Department of State Hospitals for an indeterminate term.
    • This means that he may be hospitalized for life - but all patients have the legal right to petition for community release.
    • Community release could mean the former inmate, now a patient, would be supervised as a patient in the community under the Department of State Hospitals and Liberty Healthcare, or
    • It could also be with no supervision, that is, the patient could be released from all formal supervision but having more intense registration frequency.
    • Following the passage of Jessica's Law in California, many SVP's who might gain unsupervised community release will still have some parole time where the offender continues to be supervised for a period of time following release from the Department of State Hospitals.
  • Fresno County currently has no current or former SVP's in the community in the Conditional Release Program. (See "Fresno County SVP's" tab for information on current SVP's in the community)
  • All former SVP's are closely monitored by law enforcement in their registration regions.
  • Community notification is almost always done when an SVP comes into or moves around within the County.
  • Specially trained prosecutors are in court regularly on these matters representing the community through the Fresno County District Attorney's Office's Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Unit.