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EDITORIAL: Registering sex offenders

There’s been no shortage of news lately on sex offender registries, highlighted nationally by former Stanford University student Brock Turner’s sexual assault conviction, and here in Nevada by the state Supreme Court’s move to temporarily block a law that imposes new registration requirements on sex offenders.

Turner’s case is cut and dried. He was found guilty of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, and as such had to register as a sex offender upon his release earlier this month.

Many cases, however, aren’t nearly as obvious. And that ties into concerns across the country about state registries as well as issues with Nevada’s law, passed in 2007 to comply with the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act that went into effect in 2006.

As reported by the Review-Journal’s Kimber Laux, new requirements were to go into effect in Nevada on July 1, before the state Supreme Court that same day stopped implementation of the statute in response to a lawsuit brought on behalf of 17 unnamed plaintiffs. The Nevada law revamps sex offender classification. Previously, people convicted of sex crimes were assessed by specially trained mental health professionals and rated on their risk of re-offending. Offenders deemed low risk, or Tier 1, were not subject to community notification.

Under the new law, tier levels are based on the conviction and age of the victim without regard to circumstances. Thousands of Tier 1 offenders were notified by letter in June that they were re-assessed to a Tier 3 — the highest risk level — and would be subject to reporting every three months for life. Some offenses occurred decades ago, and some are no longer considered crimes under state law.

The number of Tier 3 offenders jumped from around 300 to more than 3,000 with the change. Now, even Tier 1 offenders will be publicly identified.

While well-intentioned, this is where the Nevada law and others like it run off the rails due to an often overly broad definition of a sex offense. Stupid and often youthful indiscretions such as public urination or mooning could theoretically land a people on sex offender registries for decades or even for life, jeopardizing their ability to find jobs or places to live.

Yes, these databases can serve an important purpose. But is it really fair to stigmatize for life those who committed minor and even petty offenses? The registries should be for true predators and repeat offenders.

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