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Untitled Document

Cited from The Background Investigator
The Background Investigator February 2009 Issue

New Mexico Explains Sex Offender Registration Guidelines
by Julia M. Dendinger

With the turn of a calendar page comes new federal guidelines for the registration of convicted sex offenders in the form of the Adam Walsh Child Safety and Protection Act.

The federal act was passed in 2007, and the final guidelines were issued in 2008, Regina Chacon of the State Department of Public Safety (DPS) said. Now it's New Mexico's turn to come into compliance with the federal statute.

Compliancy with the act includes juvenile registration, retroactive registration and technology enhancements that include mapping of registrants, e-mail notifications of their locations and a link to a national database.

Chacon said during the January legislative session, the act will be introduced to the legislature and the governor will have to sign the bill into effect.

"We have tried to come up with something that will comply with the Adam Walsh bill. We are already compliant with the requirements for our Web site and database," Chacon said. "We will have to start the juvenile and retroactive registrations."

An example of when retroactive registry would happen is if someone is convicted on a burglary charge in 2009, after the act goes into effect, and was convicted of criminal sexual penetration in the first degree in 1975. "They were not required to register then, but they would be now," Chacon said.

She went on to say that with the retroactive registration in place, registered sex offender numbers would increase as well as the research it takes to put them in the state's database.

"We do in-depth research of conviction and court documents," Chacon said. "We will not put someone on the registry until we have absolutely verified the conviction. We will have to get that information from court documents, which, with the older records, those documents are the sole source. That will probably be one of the hardest tasks."

Currently, the state will place a juvenile on the sex offender registry if they are convicted and sentenced under adult sanctions. "A 17-year-old convicted as an adult would have to register," Chacon said. "Under the Adam Walsh Act, they will be registered even if the juvenile is simply adjudicated."

Criticism and concern
Both the retroactive and juvenile registration aspects of the federal law have been criticized, and Chacon says she understands the conflicting feelings.

"You have someone who committed a sex crime 30-some years ago and hasn't been in trouble since. Is that fair, to register them now?" she asked. "But we also see studies and research that shows with the majority of predators, for every crime they are caught for, there are several others they aren't ever caught for."

In regards to juvenile registration, Chacon questions if it is fair for an 18-year-old to have to register for the rest of his or her life because of a mistake or mental illness.

"But we have seen a situation where a foster child in Texas molested his sister and brother. Nobody knew because the matter was adjudicated," Chacon said. "He then comes to New Mexico and is seeking treatment, which is admirable, but he molested again. He had been molesting children since he was 12 but the matter was always adjudicated.

"We know the bullying that can happen because of something like this, the psychological impact of registration. We are trying to come up with an alternative that will meet our needs as a state, but we have to err on the side of caution and believe in the registry."

Chacon went on to call the registration an "excellent tool" saying the purpose of the new federal legislation is to enhance the registry.

"There is the possibility that there will be ramifications from state to state that were not anticipated," she said. "It's up to us to create something that will benefit us as a state."

The federal act also establishes three tiers of registration time periods - 15 years, 25 years and a lifetime. A Tier 3 crime such as aggravated sexual abuse, abusive sexual contact or the kidnapping of a minor by someone other than a parent or guardian would warrant a lifetime registration and a renewal visit to the local sheriff's department every three months.

A 15-year registration is for Tier 2 crimes such as sex trafficking, coercion and enticement or transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. A Tier 2 sex offender must renew their registration every six months.

A Tier 1 offender is anything that is less severe than a Tier 2 or 3 crime. Their registration lasts 15 years, and they must renew their information with the sheriff's department annually.

Det. Sgt. John Gordon of the Valencia County Sheriff's Department is the officer tasked with tracking and monitoring the sex offenders living in Valencia County. He is hopeful the new federal law will streamline the various state registration systems.

Gordon said, for example, if a sex offender moves to New Mexico, he or she has 10 days to notify the department of public safety. However, in Las Vegas, Nev., offenders have 72 hours to notify authorities.

"If you are convicted in Wisconsin, you have to register there even if you are living in New Mexico," Gordon said.

Chacon said DPS felt that the 10 days allowed in New Mexico was reasonable. "They have to establish a residence, make an appointment with the sheriff's department and go register," she said. "The federal act says three days, so we'll put that in and see what the final decision is."

New Mexico isn't alone in registering sex offenders. According to Chacon, federal law requires all 50 states to have a sex offender registry.

"Federal law requires the 'sending' state to notify the 'receiving' state of a move by a sex offender," Chacon said. "The state the offender was convicted in notifies New Mexico, and we notify the sheriff's department of the county the offender is moving to. In New Mexico, offenders currently have 10 days to register with the county sheriff's department.

"If they do not register within that timeframe, the department will go out and try to locate the offender."

When an offender registers with a sheriff's department, he must provide his legal name and any aliases, date of birth, Social Security number, current address, place of employment, the sex offense convicted of and the date and place of the conviction.

With little exception, that information, plus a physical description including scars and tattoos, is put into the online database the state maintains of all the registered offenders living in the state.

Chacon said Social Security numbers aren't put on the Web site, and it is up to the department as to whether the sex offender's place of employment is listed.

"We report the offender's workplace if we feel that they will come in contact with children, and there are very few places where they won't," she said. "They would literally have to be on an oil rig in the middle of the ocean. A plumber, a handyman, working at a fast-food restaurant - they probably will."

Chacon went on to say that if a sex offender is retired, unemployed or is on disability or Social Security, they don't post that because there is no need. The department does post the residential address of the registered offenders.

"We review every single registration, and the final determination is up to us," she said. "We also rely a lot on the local sheriff's department to let us know what kind of business it is the offender works at. If it isn't a recognizable name, we don't know if it's a tire shop or a pizza place."

Gordon said each time an offender renews his registration, he signs a form acknowledging the New Mexico sex offender registration and notification statute.

According to Chacon, New Mexico is unique and special in that it registers all offenses against a minor or adult.

"The act focuses on violence against children," she said. "It includes kidnapping and false imprisonment of a child by someone other than a parent or guardian."

According to the state's registration and notification act, an offender must also disclose his status as a sex offender in writing when he begins employment, begins a vocation or enrolls as a student at an institution of higher education in New Mexico to the county sheriff for the county in which the school is located and to the law enforcement entity and registrar for the institution of higher education.

Offenders must also disclose their status in writing when enrolling as a student in a private or public school in New Mexico to the county sheriff for the county in which the school is located and to the principal of the school.

The act stipulates that an offender must "disclose his status as a sex offender in writing to his employer, supervisor or other person similarly situated, when he begins employment, begins a vocation or volunteers his services, regardless of whether the sex offender receives payment or other compensation ..."

If an offender's employment or enrollment status changes, he must again notify those same people in writing of the changes.

When an offender notifies the local sheriff's department about a change either in their residence, job or school location, Chacon said the department notifies the state.

"We update our database no later than 24 hour after they give us the information," she said. "The database automatically updates the Web site every six hours."

In order to change an offender's information, be it a new home address or change of employment, there has to be an authorized document with the changes, Chacon said.

"The sheriff's department can't just call us. There has to be written notification from the offender with their new address," she said. "There is a process in place for verification."

If the offender notifies the sheriff's department and state that they are moving out of state, Chacon says DPS gives the offender all the information about the new state's requirements.

"We then notify the new state that they are coming. We give them a couple of weeks and do a follow-up to make sure they registered," she said. "It is a fourth-degree felony to not register. If we find out they lied to us and didn't register, we have a warrant issued."

To further protect the population, Chacon said DPS could conduct a background check of a person's criminal history in New Mexico for a $10 fee.

"In New Mexico, conviction records are open records," Chacon said. "As a good place to start, we recommend checking To do a criminal background check, Chacon says DPS needs an authorization for release. "An employer asks a prospective employee to sign what is basically a waiver," she said. "DPS is the central depository for criminal records, so first we do a name comparison. If there is no record, then that's that. If there is a hit, then we run the name, date of birth and Social Security number."

Chacon goes on to say that, if there is a record, the employer can see arrests and convictions for the individual requested. "We only release the records if all the information matches," she said. "If the person believes we are wrong, we will do an identification fingerprint for verification purposes only. In the nine years I've been with DPS, I've only seen one time when it was the completely wrong person."

In the case of many non-profit groups, such as YAFL and Little League, Chacon said DPS would usually waive the fee.

The state's sex offender database is also available for people to check for free via the Internet. "Business owners should be doing that anyway," Chacon said. "They should know who are the offenders around their business especially if they have a business aimed at children."

Roberta Scott, the director of the county's Small Business Development Center at the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus, also recommends utilizing the state's database. If you are unsure, check the state's sex offender database," she said. "It's the least you should be doing. Plus it's free and public knowledge."


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