Written by attorney Brad Allen Meryhew

Ending the Duty to Register as a Sex Offender in Washington State for Juvenile Offenders

Getting the Monkey Off The Backs of Juveniles Convicted of Sex Offenses in Washington State.

Sex and kidnapping offender registration can have life changing consequences and pose serious challenges to a person’s effort to obtain housing, employment or an education. This burden can be especially tough for juveniles convicted of sex offenses. The law in Washington has allowed those convicted of sex and kidnapping offenses to be relieved of that duty under certain circumstances since sex offender registration was first imposed in the Community Protection Act of 1991. Washington law currently provides for a hybrid approach to ending the duty to register as a sex or kidnapping offender, with some offenses resulting in the automatic termination of the duty after a specified period of time in the community without any new serious criminal convictions, while other offenses require the person to petition the Court for a discretionary ruling on their request. Only a relatively few offenses have lifetime registration without any mechanism to be relieved of that duty. The duty to register in Washington, and its length and terms for ending the duty, are based upon the date and the offense of conviction, and the person’s age at the time they committed the offense.

For offenses committed while the person was a juvenile (and prosecuted in juvenile court), RCW 9A.44.143 can offer a rather quick method to obtain relief from registration. But that path requires that the person file a petition with the court seeking to have a discretionary request for relief granted by an elected official. This isn’t always easy, and carefully preparing your petition to fully tell you client’s story is often the key to success in these petitions.

A. Who Can Petition under the Juvenile Statute for Relief from the Duty to Register as a Sex or Kidnapping Offender?

Under 9A.44.143, which governs relief from registration for offenses committed while the person was a juvenile and prosecuted in juvenile court, any offender who makes it for the requisite period of time with no new sex or kidnapping offenses, and no failure to register convictions, can petition for relief from the registration duty.

1. Offenders over 15 years old with Class A Offenses—Five-Year Wait.

9A.44.143 was amended again in 2011 to increase the waiting period for a juvenile offender who is 15 years or older at the time the offense was committed from two years to five years, (five years being the waiting period to seal a Class A sex offense as well). Under SB 5204 adopted in 2011 the law now provides for the longer waiting period for older kids in 9A.44.143.

  1. All other juvenile sex offenders—Two-Year Wait.

All other juvenile offenders continue to have the relatively short waiting period that has been the law in Washington since sex offender registration was first adopted-just two years after adjudication. Many juvenile offenders report that law enforcement and others tell them that they have to register for life, but the fact is that they have typically been eligible to petition the court for many years without this knowledge.

  1. Out of State and Federal Juvenile Convictions—Same as WA convictions.

RCW 9A.44.143 governing petitions to strike registration for offenses committed while the offender was a juvenile apply to juvenile offenses committed in Washington, and any other state or in federal court.

4. Juveniles With Prior Sex Offenses—What About Repeat Offenders?

A person who has two or more separate adjudications for a sex offense or kidnapping offense committed while they were a juvenile is barred from bringing a petition to seek relief under 9A.44.143, which requires that the petitioner have no adjudications for sex or kidnapping offenses. These petitioners are not entitled to the shorter waiting periods and a more favorable burden of proof in 9A.44.143. However, they are not barred from bringing a petition under 9A.44.142, which pertains to all convictions for offenses prosecuted in Washington and requiring registration, and which clearly prohibits petitions only for SVPs and those offenses committed with forcible compulsion after July 22, 2001. Those with subsequent sex or kidnapping offenses have indefinite registration under 9A.44.140, but they do not have lifelong registration.

  1. Offenses committed while a Juvenile but Prosecuted in Adult Court.

Unfortunately the shorter waiting periods and lower burden or proof available to juvenile petitioners do not apply if the offense is prosecuted when the person is an adult or in adult court based on a decline by Juvenile Court.

C. What Does a Juvenile Have to Prove to Get off Registration?

  1. What is the Burden of Proof for Juvenile Petitions?

Prior to 2001 the law in Washington made a distinction between offenses committed by juveniles 15 years or older at the time of the offense, and those under 15. The younger kids only had to show that they had been sufficiently rehabilitated by a preponderance of the evidence, while the older kids had to meet the standard applied to adult offenders of clear and convincing evidence.

In 2011 the Legislature changed this in SB 5204 to make the burden of proof a preponderance of the evidence for all petitions to strike registration for striking registration for offenses committed while a juvenile. (The burden of proof for petitions under the “adult" statute is still clear and convincing evidence.

  1. What are the Factors the Court Considers in Deciding the Petition?

Prior to 2010 the statute provided very little guidance regarding what the petitioner had to demonstrate in order to prove they did not belong on the sex offender registry. In 2010 the Legislature adopted a rather exhaustive list of illustrative but not mandatory factors that the Court could consider, which focus on how well the offender has reintegrated into society. The Sex Offender Policy Board recommended these criteria based upon the literature regarding static and dynamic risk factors, and the precept that offenders who successfully reintegrate into the community are at generally low risk to reoffend.

RCW 9A.44.143 provides:

(4) In determining whether the petitioner is sufficiently rehabilitated to warrant removal from the registry, the following factors are provided as guidance to assist the court in making its determination: (a) The nature of the registrable offense committed including the number of victims and the length of the offense history; (b) Any subsequent criminal history; (c) The petitioner's compliance with supervision requirements; (d) The length of time since the charged incident(s) occurred; (e) Any input from community corrections officers, law enforcement, or treatment providers;

(f) Participation in sex offender treatment;

(g) Participation in other treatment and rehabilitative programs; (h) The offender's stability in employment and housing; (i) The offender's community and personal support system;

(j) Any risk assessments or evaluations prepared by a qualified professional; (k) Any updated polygraph examination; (l) Any input of the victim; (m) Any other factors the court may consider relevant.

Additional resources provided by the author

The Washington State Sex Offender Policy Board:

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