Among the most interesting debates that will occur during this year’s session of the Minnesota Legislature, is a perennial one; namely, should Minnesota adjust its sex offender registry laws so as to provide exceptions for cases in which there is non-forcible sexual contact with a minor, by a perpetrator who is close in age to the victim?
Stated more simply: Is Romeo Montague a predator, who should register as a sex offender, because he stayed the night with a 15-year old Juliet Capulet?
Teams in the Senate and House this week introduced bills that would relax the state’s regime of sex offender registration for younger offenders (accessible here
The quintessential example of how registration data is used is the Dru Sjodin case. Shortly after it was suspected that Ms. Sjodin was abducted, law enforcement officials queried the BCA registry as to local sex offenders – and, quite literally, Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr. was at the top of this list. Because the registry was a robust “pointer” for investigators, the Sjodin case quickly focused on Mr. Rodriguez.
The debate of over registration exceptions for younger offenders is a difficult and recurring one; principally because the key stakeholders see the world from very different perspectives. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, for example, views the sex offender registry (which it operates), from a “macro” system-wide perspective. It hopes to maintain a robust registry, with clear and uniform procedures, so as to effectively draw court-related data from every county in the state. From this macro perspective, BCA officials worry that individualized exceptions to the registry requirements will degrade the effectiveness of the state’s registry as a source of leads in future investigations.
At the opposite pole, from a “micro” perspective, are equally passionate prosecutors who balk at the prospect of insisting that teenage boys who have had sex with a minor peer, register as “predatory offenders.” These prosecutors argue that as to many of the individuals who appear in local courthouses, a 10-year registry requirement is debilitating, stigmatizing and disproportionate to the underlying misconduct.
The gulf between the macro perspective and the micro perspective is very large indeed.
A key stumbling block to compromise are differences over who should bear the burden of any over-breadth in the sex offender registry. Implicit in the agency’s argument is that if an otherwise repentent Romeo Montague is obliged to register, so as to have requirements that will reach offenders who begin to commit crimes as juveniles, and continue to re-offend, the burdens of registration on Romeo are justified. As BCA officials explain, many dangerous offenders have sex offense histories that began when the offenders were teenagers. For their part, the prosecutors urging changes explain that the current system already contains ad hoc
exceptions to registration – they are informally created by judges who blanche at the registry requirements and who dispose of cases so as to not trigger a later registration.
So, what light through yonder window breaks? It is an important debate.