Missouri House considering reform of state’s sex offender registry

A bill that would give some sex offenders an opportunity to be removed from the sex offender registry is being considered by the Missouri House.

      The legislation would mirror the federal system which classifies offenders into three tiers based on their offenses:  less-serious offenses result in an offender being on the first tier, with those on the third tier having committed the most serious offenses.  Those on the first tier could petition the courts to be removed from the registry ten years after being placed on it.  Those on the second tier could petition after 25 years; those on tier three would remain on the registry for life.  Those who commit additional sex crimes or felonies while on the registry also cannot be removed.

The sponsor of House Bill 2042, St. Charles Republican Kurt Bahr, said providing a way for those guilty of less serious crimes to come off the registry would improve its quality.

“If you have someone in your neighborhood who’s on the list, you don’t know if they are a rapist or if they were drunk and they were peeing in public and now they’re a tier one offender,” said Bahr.  “If we can clean the list off of those people who have minor offenses then the list becomes more helpful because now you can say if this person’s on the list then they’re likely to be more worrisome.”

Bahr said offering some offenders a way off of the registry will also afford them a better chance of building a life and not committing more crimes.

“The signs of somebody likely to reoffend – not just in a sexual offense – but any criminal to reoffend is an issue of if they do not have a job, if they do not have housing, and if they do not have social interaction with others … and this list makes it harder for people to have a job, harder to have housing and harder to interact in society,” said Bahr.  “The public list makes it harder, especially for guys who are not likely to be reoffenders.”

Supporters of the legislation include the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Litigation Darrell Moore told the House Committee on the Judiciary that creating this petition process would ensure that the Highway Patrol and the Attorney General’s Office know when someone is trying to get off the registry.

He said with no mechanism in place for getting off the registry offenders who haven’t reached the federal 10- or 25-year thresholds are suing to be removed.  When that happens the Patrol and Attorney General’s Office aren’t notified until cases have been resolved, at which time the Attorney General must file motions to re-litigate the case.

Representative Kurt Bahr (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“Right now we have prosecutors unfortunately, and judges, entering judgments letting people off the registry that should not be off the registry,” Moore said.

Bahr said he became familiar with the issue and filed the legislation because he has a family member who is on the registry for what would be considered a tier one offense.

“I really didn’t know about the issue before that and then after that occurred I looked into it and saw that this particular person was going to be on the list for life, and what he did was wrong and stupid but not something that anybody would think should be a lifetime punishment,” said Bahr.  “Because of that I learned about the issue and saw the lack of justice in the fact that you have a growing number of people on these tier one or tier two who have no hope of having a more meaningful life because they are barred from polite society.  Because of that – because this list continues to grow and more and more people know somebody on the list – the effectiveness of the list decreases.”

Another provision of the bill creates a second trial stage to determine whether an individual convicted of a sex crime should be considered a predatory sexual offender.  The bill specifies that such offenders would be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

The process laid out by HB 2042 specifies that the family of any victim of an offender would be notified when that offender petitions for removal from the registry.  That family would have an opportunity to respond to the petition.  The bill is also written so that people who committed crimes outside the state could not petition in Missouri to be removed from the registry.

Attempts in past years to make changes to Missouri’s registry include one that reached the desk of then-governor Nixon, who vetoed it.  Bahr notes his bill is substantially different from that one.

The committee is expected to vote next week on HB 2042.  From there it faces another committee who could vote to send it to the full House for debate.

Additional audio:

Bahr said learning that he knows someone who is on the sex offender registry gave him a new perspective.

“Once you recognize that these offenders are real people too, and that while we can acknowledge what they did was wrong we can also acknowledge that they should not be punished to the same level as someone who committed a crime far more severe,” said Bahr.  “When it became more of a personal interest I looked into it and recognized the flaws in the system that we currently have and how we can make that system better both for the prosecutors and the public and those who have committed a crime but are working on being rehabilitated.”