Late Registration Penalty: 26 Years


Two recent cases illustrate how registration requirements and residence restrictions impose extra punishment on sex offenders in the guise of protecting the public. Bobby Lee Williams, a California man who served 16 years in prison for rape and burglary, was arrested shortly after being released for failing to register with local police as a sex offender. Williams, who was supposed to register within five business days after entering Madera County, was just one day past the deadline and cited extenuating circumstances, including a frustrated attempt to register and a violent attack by fellow residents of a motel to which he moved after it turned out that the shelter where he spent one night was too close to a school. This month a state appeals court upheld Williams' conviction for failing to register, which resulted in a sentence of 26 years to life. But Williams was lucky compared to Thomas Pauli, a Michigan man who molested a girl younger than 13 two decades ago and served 11 years for the crime. Pauli froze to death in Grand Rapids last January after being repeatedly turned away by homeless shelters that were within 1,000 feet of a school.

Needless to say, neither of these guys is terribly sympathetic, and I suppose you could make the case that 42 years is the appropriate sentence for rape or that child molesters should be executed. But those are not the penalties established by law. They are the de facto penalties created by an inflexible, draconian system of post-prison surveillance that retroactively magnifies the punishment of people who have already served their official sentences. The courts have upheld such systems on the theory that they are regulatory rather than punitive, just as the courts have viewed continued detention of sex offenders who have completed their sentences as "treatment" rather than imprisonment.

More on registration requirements and residence restrictions for sex offenders herehere, here, and here.

[Thanks to Tom Hynes and The Freedom Files for the tips.]