Labyrinth. In a word, that is how I would describe Michigan’s Public Sex Offender Registration statute. In Michigan, more than 40,000 convicted offenders are required to register or verify certain personal information with local law enforcement agencies on a quarterly or bi-annual basis. Although the Michigan Legislature recently enacted legislation to allow or earlier removal from the registry in “Romeo and Juliet” scenarios, the likelihood for older adults being removed from the registry is far less promising.
On October 1, 1995, the Michigan Sex Offender Registration Act became law. Since its inception, the registry has been amended several times, and definitions of “listed offenses” (offenses which require registration) have been modified slightly. Currently, Michigan law categorizes various criminal sexual offenses into three tiers: Tier I, the least severe, which requires registration for 10 years; Tier II, which requires registration for 25 years; and Tier III, the most severe, which requires registration for life.
Although there are no statistics available regarding how many offenders are incorrectly categorized on the registry, I would surmise that many individuals who are notified of their particular “Tier” classification are classified incorrectly. Recently, I had a client come to me inquiring whether he could be removed from the registry. After digging up court records from 20 years ago, one of the first things I noticed was that he was incorrectly classified as a “Tier III” offender. It would appear after reviewing his court file that this classification was made–unbeknownst to him–by the Michigan State Police (MSP). There was nothing intentional or malevolent on the part of MSP. It was simply their process of looking at the particular offense for which the person was convicted and placing them in a category which they saw most fit. In other words, when an individual is convicted of a particular offense, the MSP is notified and the offender is classified without an opportunity to be heard. This process is not decided by the judge. It’s decided by a government employee who knows essentially nothing about the case. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that if you are charged with a particular sexual offense, you need to discuss with your lawyer the collateral consequences of your conviction. Far too often, persons who plead guilty or are found guilty of sex offenses do not understand their convictions have lifetime consequences. Further, many of them fail to realize that there are recourses (such as filing a motion in circuit court) available to enable them to be re-classified in a lower stratus on the registry.
In conclusion, it is essential to review all the direct and collateral consequences of the sex offender registry with an experienced, board certified criminal defense attorney to decide whether your rights have been adequately protected. Removal from the registry may be more possible than you once thought.