I received in the mail a court document—signed and stamped by the clerk of courts, receipt attached... it's legit. The document outlines an individual's conviction and sentence for pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of "attempted sexual imposition." (Not rape, apparently: no penetration.) The crime was committed several years ago, in another state prior to the existence of our sex offender registry statutes. Subsequent statutes in that state appear to have required that individual to register as a sex offender for the past crime.
That individual currently resides in South Dakota. Yet that individual does not appear on our sex offender registry.
Now I'm still reviewing the relevant statutes. It appears that the same crime committed in South Dakota would not land an individual on the registry. SDCL 22-24B-1 includes felony sexual contact with a minor under 16 and sexual contact with a person incapable of consenting as sex crimes. But that statute also includes crimes committed in other states that land a person on that state's sex offender registry.
Now I'm not entirely comfortable with the existence of the sex offender registry. We don't have a murder or manslaughter registry (do we, Mr. Janklow?). We don't have a drug dealer or embezzler or DUI registry. Certainly all ex-convicts face criminal background checks and uncomfortable questions whenever they apply for jobs. But do we not impose this special legal burden on any other class of criminals, any of whom arguably pose as much social danger as sex offenders.
Still, the law is the law. If we have a sex offender registry, sex offenders are expected to register.
So some questions for you, gentle readers:
- Under what circumstances can a sex offender from another state legitimately avoid registering on South Dakota's sex offender list?
- Who does more harm—a man who gropes a 15-year-old, a man who kills a motorcyclist, or a woman who embezzles half a million dollars? (Feel free to expand the question with comparisons to other crimes of your choice.)
- South Dakota requires lifetime registration of every sexual offender. Our neighbors in North Dakota notify communities only of high-risk offenders. Explains North Dakota:
If the community was notified about every offender, it would dilute the usefulness of the information about the few offenders who pose a very serious risk to the public. Public notification about low-risk offenders may have the unintended effect of making them more risky. An employed sex offender living in a known location and who is participating in offender treatment is preferable to one unemployed, transient, and with no incentive to complete treatment [Office of the Attorney General, North Dakota Sex Offender Website FAQ #17].
Should we change our registry to publicize the names of only the high-risk offenders?
Bonus statistic: According to this 2009 PDF map from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, South Dakota has more registered sex offenders per 100,000 population than California. The national average is 228 per 100,000; South Dakota has 325 per 100,000, the eighth-highest rate in the nation.