South Florida has received much unwelcome attention in recent years with regard to the inability of registered sex offenders to find housing. Several areas labeled as “encampments” were considered home to dozens of offenders. These encampments could not be described as housing in that they lacked any actual form of adequate shelter, waste management or running water. Nonetheless, these so-called residences were approved by the probation officers to whom the offenders were forced to report.
“Sex Offenders” encompass a wide spectrum of offenders
Obviously, an individual convicted of sexual battery on a child would be considered a sex offender (sexual predator to be more precise) who is required to both register and succumb to applicable residence restrictions. What many don’t realize is that a teenager who had sent nude images to another could also be labeled depending on the age of the recipient “victim”.
Housing restrictions on registered sex offenders
Many Florida counties have enacted sex offender zoning laws that expand their ordinances to the point where sex offenders are essentially left in lifelong house arrest. Florida ordinance laws permit offenders from traveling through or remaining within 1,000 feet of a school, park, day care, or playground. Government buildings, grocery stores and medical facilities within this radius become effectively off limits to the offender.
This policy is so stringent with penalties so harsh that registrants are forced to retreat to living under bridges and wooded areas in South Florida. Recent action geared toward tougher laws and ordinances has resulted in increased levels of homelessness and transience among sex offenders, as well as, clustering in disproportionate numbers of offenders in areas outside of restricted zones.
Sex offender right to seek removal from the registry
Certain individuals required to register as sexual offenders that have been lawfully released from sanctions, confinement, or supervision for at least 25 years and have not been arrested for any felony or misdemeanor offense since release may petition the criminal division of the circuit court of the circuit where the conviction or adjudication occurred for the purpose of removing the requirement for registration as a sexual offender; provided the offense was not based on an adult conviction or violation of:
kidnapping (F.S. 787.01),
sexual battery (F.S. 794.011, excluding subsection 10),
lewd/lascivious battery where the victim is under 12 or the court finds sexual activity by the use of force or coercion (F.S. 800.04 (4)(a)2),
lewd/lascivious molestation where the victim is under 12 (F.S. 800.04(5)(b)),
lewd/lascivious molestation where the court finds the offense involved the use of force or coercion and unclothed genitals or genital area (F.S. 800.04(5)(c)2),
any attempt or conspiracy to commit any such offense;
any violation of similar law of another jurisdiction; or
any violation of a similar Florida offense which has been re-designated to one of those listed above.
The court may grant or deny such relief in it’s sole discretion.
There is no provision in Florida law allowing sexual predators to petition the court for removal of the sexual predator designation.
Effect of these laws from a criminal defense standpoint
Currently, individuals seeking removal from the sex offender registry upon reaching the 25 year mark are met with significant challenges. First off, any new offense, regardless of how minor, will effectively prevent removal. Violations of probation will result in a denial as well. Florida law differentiates between two types of violations when it comes to individuals placed on supervision by the Florida Department of Corrections.
Substantive and technical violations of probation
They substantive violation of probation means that an individual picked up a new arrest for a criminal offense while under supervision. A technical violation, however, is an alleged deviation from the conditions of their supervision. Testing positive marijuana or failing to timely report for a monthly probation meeting are examples of technical violations, where an arrest for possession of a controlled substance would be a substantive violation. Technical violations are considered to be far less culpable according to criminal defense lawyers, often resulting in rein statement.
Effect of a technical violation on the sex offender’s seeking of removal
In most cases, an individual who has violated probation with a technical violation is given the opportunity to be reinstated without penalty provided that they admit to the violation in court. This is obviously an enticing resolution to what might otherwise result in lengthy incarceration should they deny what in reality was a minor oversight such as failing to timely report. This is due to the fact that regardless of how minor the technical violation was, it still amounts to a violation of probation to which the supervised individual could be found guilty of and sentenced for. The person found to have violated their probation can be sentenced to the maximum penalty allowed by law for the crime to which they were originally placed on probation for.
Admission of a technical violation will forever bar removal
When it comes to individuals on probation for a sex offense, an admission to any violation of probation, even technical, will forever bar there seeking to be removed from the sex offender registry. Even after 25 years has elapsed, the presiding Circuit Court Judge will deny removal even where the offender has led an exemplary and crime free life. This becomes especially troubling for lawyers seeking removal for clients who were placed on the sex offender registry for less egregious sex offenses such as consensual sexual battery involving teenagers (more commonly known as statutory rape).
Sex offenders likely to be denied removal by State Court Judges despite qualifying under Florida criminal statutes.
The decision to grant a sex offender’s petition for removal from the Florida sex offender registry lies entirely with the discretion of the presiding criminal Circuit Court Judge. Consequently, even when an individual otherwise qualifies, they can be expected to be denied removal. According to a former lead prosecutor of the Broward County sex crimes unit, this is due to the fact that our state judges are elected officials and leniency on sex offenders can lead to problems when it comes to reelection.
Criminal sex cases that federal prosecutors assumed jurisdiction over have shown to be more promising for offenders seeking removal from the registry. The assumption by criminal defense attorneys is that as our Federal Criminal Judges are appointed for life, they are less influenced by public pressure and politics. As of late 2016, South Florida has seen an increase in the number of sex cases that federal prosecutors have assumed jurisdiction of over.
Criminal defense attorney William R. Moore has defended sex crimes in South Florida for almost 2 decades. For more information regarding the rights of sex offenders seeking removal from the Florida sex offender registry contact:
William R. Moore, 954-523-5333, firstname.lastname@example.org
William R. Moore Criminal Defense Lawyers, 1 Financial Plaza, Fort Lauderdale FL 33394