Under G.S. 14-208.12A, a sex offender can petition the superior court for removal from the sex offender registry “[t]en years from the date of initial county registration.” Many times I have been asked whether time spent on another state’s registry counts toward the 10-year minimum registration period in North Carolina. In other words, does the phrase “initial county registration” refer only to a person’s initial registration in North Carolina, or does it also apply to the person’s registration in a county in another jurisdiction?
The court of appeals answered the question today in In re Borden. The time spent on another state’s registry does not count.
In Borden, the petitioner was convicted of “Rape 1” or “Sexual Abuse 1st Degree” (the record is not clear) in Kentucky in February of 1995. He initially registered in Kentucky in 1995. He moved to North Carolina some time later—apparently around 2009, but perhaps as early as 2002—and registered here. After receiving a letter from Kentucky in June 2010 stating that he was no longer required to register in Kentucky, Mr. Borden filed a petition in Guilford County to terminate his registration requirement in October 2010. The trial court determined, based on Mr. Borden’s initial date of registration in Kentucky, that he was qualified to have his petition granted. The State appealed.
The court of appeals reversed, holding that “initial county registration” means the date a person first registers in North Carolina. The court reasoned that the purposes of the sex offender registration law are to “protect the public, maintain public safety, and assist law enforcement agencies and the public in knowing the whereabouts of sex offenders,” and that allowing offenders to be removed from the registry without being on the registry for at least ten years in North Carolina would contravene those purposes. The court also noted that its interpretation makes for a better fit with other provisions in the sex offender law. For example, the law requires registration information to be filed with the “sheriff of a county,” and “sheriff” is defined in G.S. 14-208.6(7) as “the sheriff of a county in this State.” Even giving Mr. Borden the benefit of the earliest initial North Carolina registration date noted in the record (2002), the appellate court concluded that 10 years had not passed and the petitioner was not yet eligible for removal from the registry.
The bottom line rule from Borden is that a person’s initial date of registration in North Carolina is the date that matters under G.S. 14-208.12A. That rule is pretty easy to apply, although it’s possible to think up questions that test its limits. What about a person who initially registers in North Carolina but then moves out of state for 10 years? Can he swing back into North Carolina a decade later and, based on his date of “initial county registration,” successfully petition for removal?
Or let’s say Mr. Borden had completely finished his registration obligation in Kentucky before he moved to North Carolina. Would he still be required to register on moving to North Carolina? The answer may depend on which prong triggers registration under G.S. 14-208.6(4)b., the statute governing registration for out-of-state convictions. The first prong of that statute requires registration if the offense is “substantially similar” to an offense that is reportable in North Carolina. Given the rule from Borden, it’s not clear that even a completed registration term in another jurisdiction satisfies the person’s obligation to register in North Carolina for an offense that is reportable under that prong. The second prong of the statute requires registration if the offense requires registration in another state regardless of whether it is reportable in North Carolina. If an offense were reportable in North Carolina on that basis alone, it is clearer that the offense would no longer be deemed to “require registration” under the laws of the other state once the offender completed a registration period there, and thus it would not appear to require registration here.