Criminal Law - Sex Offender Notification Statute - Alabama Strengthens Restrictions on Sex Offenders

Harvard Law Review, January 2006 | Go to article overview

Criminal Law - Sex Offender Notification Statute - Alabama Strengthens Restrictions on Sex Offenders


CRIMINAL LAW--SEX OFFENDER NOTIFICATION STATUTE--ALABAMA STRENGTHENS RESTRICTIONS ON SEX OFFENDERS.--Act of July 29, 2005, Ala. Act No. 2005-301 (to be codified in scattered sections of ALA. CODE chs. 13A, 14, and 15).

The first sex offender community notification law was passed in 1990. (1) Since then, in response to public outcry over highly publicized crimes, states have fashioned new ways to attempt to deter and prevent recidivism--lengthening prison sentences and increasing supervision of sex offenders. (2) Recently, Alabama amended its sex offender law to stiffen penalties on sex offenders, broaden residence and employment reporting requirements, toughen punishments for violating those requirements, limit the places convicted sex offenders may live and work, and create an electronic monitoring system for certain offenders. (3) Alabama's new law is the most recent example of a national trend: states channeling public outrage about sexual predators who target children (4) into harsh laws of questionable effectiveness. Like many of these laws, Alabama's poorly tailored statute fails to address the vast majority of sex crimes committed against children, and its chances of preventing the crimes it does target are small.

The new Alabama law focuses primarily on criminal sex offenses involving children under the age of twelve and offenses involving child pornography. (5) It mandates a minimum sentence of twenty years for a Class A felony sex offense involving a child and ten years for a Class B or C felony sex offense involving a child. (6) It also excludes those convicted of these crimes from the benefits of probation, (7) suspended sentences, (8) rehabilitative programs, (9) and incentive time for good behavior. (10) The new law also expands the general definition of a sex offender to include defendants who plead nolo contendere (11) and defendants convicted in other jurisdictions of crimes with certain names. (12)

The new law creates a more onerous reporting regime for sex offenders who have been released from prison. Forty-five days prior to release, an offender must declare his residence and the name and address of his employer. (13) Any failure to do so results in ineligibility for release or immediate rearrest before release. (14) Once he is released, an offender must report any residence in which he stays for three consecutive days or at least ten aggregate days in a month. (15) He must also verify his address semiannually. (16) Furthermore, the new law mandates that sex offenders register the name and address of each of their employers. (17) Failure to comply with these requirements (whether intentional or not) is a Class C felony, although it was generally a Class A misdemeanor under the old law. (18)

The new law also further restricts where offenders may live, work, and linger. Under the former law, adult sex offenders (19) were prohibited from living with unrelated children, but they could live with their children and grandchildren in certain circumstances. (20) The new law further limits these exceptions. (21) In addition, it prohibits an offender who committed a sex offense involving a child from being employed within 500 feet of a school, child care facility, or other location designed for children's use. (22) Finally, the new law prohibits loitering--defined as "enter[ing] or remain[ing] on property while having no legitimate purpose therefor"--within 500 feet of a "business or facility having a principal purpose of caring for, educating, or entertaining minors." (23) An offender can be charged with loitering only if an authorized person, such as a teacher or coach, requests that he leave. (24)

Perhaps the most notable development in the new sex offender law is the creation of an electronic monitoring system. At sentencing, all offenders convicted of a Class A sex offense involving a child and offenders deemed to be sexually violent predators (25) receive a minimum of ten years of post-release electronic monitoring at their own expense. …

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