Depending on the laws of their state, people who have been convicted of a sex crime may need to register in a sex offender database. If they move to a new state, they will be required to register in that state. Since these databases are available for public view, people who appear in them may suffer severe damage to their reputation. Being a registered sex offender can affect your ability to pursue higher education, get a job, or find a place to live in your area of choice. However, you may be able to remove your name from the database if you were convicted of an act that is no longer a crime, or in certain other situations defined by state law.
Historically, sex offender databases were available only to law enforcement. The tragic rape and murder of a seven-year-old girl in New Jersey spurred a national movement to make these databases public, allowing people to see the names and residences of sex offenders. As instructed by Congress, the federal Department of Justice developed rules that require states to maintain public websites with information on sex offenders. (Technically, states do not need to comply with these regulations, but they would lose critical federal funding for crime prevention efforts.) These websites include a photograph of each sex offender, their criminal record, and their address. The Department of Justice also maintains its own database.
Getting Off the Database
Many sex offenders have committed truly egregious crimes, and sex offender databases often serve a useful purpose. For example, nobody questions the interest of the general public in knowing if a child rapist or serial molester lives in their area so that they can keep their children safe. Not everyone who was required to register as a sex offender has committed a serious felony, though.
In many cases, a defendant will be required to register if they are convicted of a relatively minor crime, such as indecent exposure, which might have resulted from public nudity while they were intoxicated. Consensual relationships between teenagers can lead to statutory rape charges and sex offender registration. Until the later part of the 20th century, some states made gay sex illegal. Gay men who engaged in consensual sex with their partners thus could be convicted of a crime and required to register as sex offenders. In these and other situations, permanent and public display in a database may be an excessive penalty.
If you were convicted of a crime based on conduct that is no longer criminal, you can ask the justice department in your state to have your name taken out of the database. If your application is denied, you may be able to appeal that decision to a state court. Many states also have changed their laws regarding sex offender databases to exempt people who have been convicted of victimless crimes. “Romeo and Juliet” laws often allow teenagers who have been convicted of statutory rape to avoid registration or get their names off the database after a certain time has passed.