Nonresident Registrants

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In a previous post I wrote about the complexities of putting people on North Carolina’s sex offender registry for crimes committed in another state—including how a federal court found the lack of legal process for doing so unconstitutional, and how over half of the records I checked appeared to be incorrect. Today’s post considers the related issue of people on North Carolina’s registry who do not actually live in the state. Over 5,500 of the 25,000 people on North Carolina’s sex offender registry don’t reside here. Should they be on North Carolina’s registry at all? It’s not clear.

Under G.S. 14-208.7(a), a “person who is a State resident and who has a reportable conviction shall be required to maintain registration . . . .” No law explicitly requires registration here for former residents. As for nonresidents, the only ones expressly required to register here are nonresident students and nonresident workers. Persons in those categories—defined in G.S. 14-208.6(1k) and (1l), respectively—must register with the sheriff of the county where they work or attend school. G.S. 14-208.7(a1). There are currently 22 nonresidents students and workers on the registry.

No law requires any other nonresident to maintain registration. In fact, G.S. 14-208.9(b) appears to be designed as a handoff between the “sending” North Carolina sheriff and the “receiving” sheriff of another state when a registrant intends to establish residence in another jurisdiction. The law requires notice to the Department of Public Safety (the custodian of the statewide registry)—arguably to facilitate the person’s removal from our registry and placement on the registry of another state.

Removing nonresidents from the registry might make sense as a policy matter. As noted in the statute setting out the purpose of the registry, registration is intended to help protect the public from offenders who live here:

“Further, the General Assembly recognizes that law enforcement officers’ efforts to protect communities, conduct investigations, and quickly apprehend offenders who commit sex offenses or certain offenses against minors are impaired by the lack of information available to law enforcement agencies about convicted offenders who live within the agency’s jurisdiction. Release of information about these offenders will further the governmental interests of public safety so long as the information released is rationally related to the furtherance of those goals.”

G.S. 14-208.5 (emphasis added).

On the other hand, no law expressly tells the State Bureau of Investigation to remove a person from the registry when he or she ceases to reside here. The only paths to removal are a request for termination under G.S. 14-208.12A, or removal in the event a conviction is reversed, vacated, set aside, or pardoned under G.S. 14-208.6C. So they default to keeping people on the registry until a judge grants a petition for removal or other relief.

A close look at G.S. 14-208.12A shows that it is not a perfect fit for removing certain nonresidents from our registry. If the person was initially placed on the registry for an offense committed in North Carolina, then the law says the petition for removal shall be filed in the district of conviction. That’s fine, and works regardless of whether the person still lives in North Carolina. But if the person is registered for an offense that occurred in another state or in any federal court (and remember from my previous post that there are 8,000 such registrants), the law says the petition shall be filed in the district where the person resides. What if they are now among the 5,500 registrants who don’t reside here? Where do they petition?

The law doesn’t say. I generally advise that the last North Carolina county of residence would probably make the most sense, but our courts have taken a strict reading of G.S. 14-208.12A when it comes to the proper forum for a petition. See In re Dunn, 225 N.C. App. 43 (2013) (concluding that the Cumberland County superior court lacked jurisdiction to hear a petition for a defendant convicted in Montgomery County). Another option might be to seek declaratory judgment or other relief against the administrators of the statewide registry in Raleigh. See, e.g., Bunch v. Britton, __ N.C. App. __, 802 S.E.2d 462 (2017) (action filed in Wake County against the SBI’s registry administrator).

My sense is that the registry already acknowledges the middle ground occupied by nonresident registrants with a practical compromise—keeping them on the registry, but not generally requiring them to complete in-person verifications every six months (or every 90 days for lifetime registrants). Let me know if I’m wrong about that.

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