In 1989, a 19-year-old man was caught having sex with his 17-year-old girlfriend. It was entirely voluntary and consensual, and indeed the couple married and have been man and wife for 24 years now. Strictly speaking, however, the sex was statutory rape. He agreed to plead guilty to a count of oral copulation with a minor, thinking to minimize the consequences. It didn’t work.
Unhappily for this man, a conviction for oral copulation with a minor carries a second penalty: mandatory registration as a sex offender for life — while a conviction for statutory rape does not. This disparity has been noticed before. In 2006, the California Supreme Court ruled that, considering that statutory rape is the more serious of the two crimes, the fact that only the lesser crime required mandatory sex offender registration violated the state constitution. If the man had filed a writ with the court, he would probably have had his name taken off the registry.
Unfortunately, it came to light in 2012 that, while he had registered initially, he hadn’t complied with the technical requirement to proactively re-register every year. He was arraigned in October for failure to re-register. It’s not clear from news reports whether he was charged with a misdemeanor or felony, but more than one failure to re-register would result in a felony charge, and he failed to comply for 10 years.
If he had just filed that writ, it would have been up to a trial court to decide whether to remove his name. It might have done so, although it could decide not to if it considered him a potential sexual predator.
That seems doubtful. Beyond being married to the putative victim, has never been arrested, charged or convicted with any other such offense.
In response to being charged with the registry violation, he has asked the court to rule that requiring him to register for life is unconstitutional. If the goal of Megan’s Law was to protect people from dangerous sexual predators, he probably shouldn’t have been put on the registry at all.
Are we any safer when people who pose absolutely no threat are included on the sex offender registry? As we discussed in October, their presence may reduce any value the registry has. Nevertheless, California prosecutors won’t hesitate to file failure to re-register charges against anyone who violates Megan’s Law.
Source: Courthouse News Service, “He’s Not a Sex Offender, Married Man Says,” William Dotinga, Dec. 23, 2013