Some sex offenders no longer required to register

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Authorities can still list the offenders on their online database and track their moves.

Letters were mailed Monday to more than a third of the convicted sex offenders living in Cape Girardeau County informing them they no longer needed to keep contact with the local sheriff departments in Missouri.

According to a June 30 Missouri Supreme Court ruling, sex offenders convicted before Jan. 1, 1995, do not have to register in accordance with the Missouri sex offender registry. On Monday, Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle signed and mailed 47 letters to inform sex offenders affected by the ruling.

"I think we're talking large numbers statewide," Swingle said, noting the ruling brings the number of sex offenders who must register with the Cape Girardeau Sheriff's Department down to 74 from 121.

The court's decision was based on wording in the Missouri Constitution that states laws like "Megan's Law," which requires convicted sex offenders to register with their local sheriff's department, could not be applied retroactively.

Because Megan's Law did not go into effect until Jan. 1, 1995, it would be unconstitutional under Missouri law to force sex offenders convicted prior to that date to register.

Missouri is one of five states that has such wording in their constitution, according to Swingle, speculating that Missouri could become a "haven" for sex offenders.

There is no conflict under the federal constitution.

In the letter sent out to the convicted offenders, Swingle warned they may be required to register in another state should they decide to move out of Missouri.

Despite the ruling, local sheriff's departments in Missouri can still choose to list the convicted sex offenders on their online database and track their moves, Swingle said. But without the offender reporting into the department, it becomes harder to do, he added.

Swingle suggested it would be worth looking into amending the Missouri Constitution to strike the language allowing sexual offenders convicted prior to Megan's Law to avoid registration.

"They're no less dangerous to children than those offenders whose convictions occurred since 1995," he said.

335-6611, extension 127

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