Texas declines to join national sex offender database

Six years ago, the federal government passed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, a law designed to create a uniform sex offender registration system throughout the United States. Along with five other states, Texas officials have decided that the added costs of participating in the registry aren't worth the potential benefits it could bring.

Texas officials estimated that it would cost approximately $38 million to bring the state's sex offender registration system into compliance with the requirements of the federal law. The penalty for non-compliance is a 10 percent reduction in the crime prevention grants states receive from the federal government. Texas stands to lose approximately $1.4 million as a result of opting out of the federal registry.

In order to comply with the law, Texas would have to significantly expand the state registry, which already includes approximately 70,000 convicted sex offenders. This is because the federal law encompasses more offenses than the state law does.

In addition, compliance with the federal law would remove much of the discretion Texas judges currently have when it comes registration for individuals who commit sex crimes while they are juveniles. Though state law requires youthful sex offenders to register for 10 years after they leave the juvenile system, judges are free to waive that requirement or take a juvenile offender off the registry early. Judges also have the option of waiting until a juvenile offender completes treatment to decide whether to require registration. Under the federal law, these options would be taken away and juveniles convicted of some sexual assault crimes would be required to register for 25 years.

Participation in the federal registry would also have taken away Texas's ability to use its current assessment tool to determine each sex offender's potential risk to the community. In the Texas registry, offenders are classified in either low, moderate or high risk categories.

Texas sex offender registration requirements

Texas law requires every person convicted of a sex crime to register with the Texas Sex Offender Registration Program. Depending on the severity of the offense, the registration period may be as short as 10 years or may last for the duration of the offender's life.

At the time of registration, offenders must provide information including their full name, address, color photograph and the offenses for which they were convicted. They must update this information whenever it changes. In addition, registered sex offenders are required to periodically check in with their local law enforcement agency. Nearly all of the information provided to the sex offender registry is made available to the public, who can search the database online.

Failure to comply with sex offender registration is a felony offense. Convicted sex offenders in Texas who have questions about their registration requirements would be wise to discuss the issue with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help them avoid inadvertent noncompliance and additional legal troubles.