Focus on the Law: Sex Offender Registry

By Sharon Frankenberg,
Attorney at Law

While you may have heard of the sex offender registry, I think a little background is in order. Congress passed the Pam Lychner Sexual Offender and Identification Act of 1986 which required the

Attorney General to establish a national database at the FBI to monitor the whereabouts of certain sex offenders.  The National Crime Information Center (NCIC) run by the FBI enables the National Sex Offender Registry to retain the offender’s current registered address, dates of registration, conviction and residence.  Today all 50 states have a sex offender registry program which shares information with the national database.

Tennessee’s Sex Offender Registry has been in place since 1995 and you may access it to search by name or address at http://www.tbi.tn.gov/sorint/SOMainpg.aspx.  Title 40, Chapter 39, Part 2 of the Tennessee Code Annotated contains the Tennessee Sexual Offender and Violent Sexual Offender Registration, Verification and Tracking Act of 2004.  All sex offenders defined under these statutes must register within 48 hours of establishing or changing a residence, becoming employed or becoming a student in the state.  The reporting requirements are numerous.  They must report moving to another state and any changes in employment. They must report in person every year to update fingerprints, have their photograph taken, verify that the TBI has a sample of their DNA and give detailed information about their living arrangements, especially whether any minors reside with them.  They must identify all vehicles they use, give copies of their drivers’ and professional licenses and give a complete listing of their email address or other Internet communication information.  In addition, the sex offender must pay specified administrative costs not to exceed $150.00 for this annual report.  Violation of the registration and reporting requirements can subject the sex offender to prosecution for a Class E felony and criminal fines.

What if you find a neighbor listed in the sex offender registry?  It can be quite disturbing to realize that a convicted criminal lives nearby and, in particular, that the criminal has a history of sexual offenses involving children.  You should not confront the offender.  The law specifically prohibits members of the public from using the registry information to “inflict retribution or additional punishment” on offenders.  Harassment, stalking or threats against offenders or members of their families violate the law.  The good news is that the fact that the neighbor is registered gives you notice that you can use to limit the offender’s access to children.  You can talk to your children about what to do if anyone approaches them sexually.  You can become a better observer of what goes on at that residence.  Inappropriate conduct can be reported to law enforcement.  Keep in mind, sex offenders whose victims were minors are prohibited from living or working within 1,000 feet of a school, child care facility, public park, playground, recreation center or public athletic field.  The complete residential and work restrictions on sex offenders may be found at T.C.A. Section 40-39-211.  Any violations that you are aware of should be reported immediately.

The bad news is that 88% of sexual abuse is never reported so you do not have notice of the vast majority of sex offenders who have not yet been caught.  Be aware of the potential danger and take steps to protect you and your family from becoming a victim.  You should always consult an attorney for legal advice regarding your particular situation.  My office number is (865)539-2100.

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