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Sex Offender Laws are Expanding Internationally

Most foreign countries do not come close to having the same standards apply for sexual offender registration and community notification as are currently applied in the United States.  However, many countries are interested in expanding the reach of sex offender registrations.

By Attorney Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, Adam Walsh Act Attorney, Harrisburg, PA

Adam Walsh Act or "SORNA"

In 2006, Congress passed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 200, also known a "SORNA" (Sexual Offender's Registration and Notification Act). Named in honor of Adam Walsh, six-year-old abductee who was murdered in 1981, the Adam Walsh Act constituted a complete overhaul of the country's registration and community notification scheme.  Among the reforms were:

• The expansion of the list of registrable sex offenses to include virtually all sex offenses.

• The widening of jurisdictional scope.

• The collection of more information from registrants.

• The registration of juvenile sex offenders in many circumstances.

• Increased public access to information on all registrants facilitated by both a state and national website.

• The creation of a new federal crime: failure to register.

• The creation of the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (SMART) within the Department of Justice to administer national standards, coordinate grant programs, and provide trainings and technical assistance.

The Adam Walsh Act also elected a tier system in which registrants are classified into one of three tiers (with tier III being the most severe) based solely upon their committed offense (i.e., the use of individualized risk assessments as is the practice in some states was to be abandoned).  Each tier imposes varying registration requirements on registrants.

Foreign Registration-Notification Laws

Sex offender registries have thus far been adopted in Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Japan, Ireland, Kenya, the Republic of Korea, and the United Kingdom. The European Union, New Zealand, and Singapore have also been reported as having expressed interest in adopting registries, but have yet to do so.  One scholar observed that in comparison to U.S. practices, many of these registries are far smaller, target fewer types of sex crimes, and are less burdensome on registrants.  Community notification, in turn, is much less common outside of the United States, having only been adopted in a manner approaching U.S. practices by six provinces in Canada and the Republic of Korea.  

Not all foreign sex offender laws are applied retroactively.  Although not as extreme as the nearly-perpetual retroactive applicability adopted by the United States with the Adam Walsh Act, sex offender laws in Canada and the United Kingdom are somewhat retrospective (ranging back to 2001 and 1997, respectively, while also covering all sex offenders that were under some form of correctional supervision when the registries were adopted).

Australia's and Ireland's schemes apply retroactively only to sex offenders who were still under some form of correctional supervision at the time their respective registration laws went into effect.  Kenya's law is too vague to determine whether it applies retroactively. Additionally, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Kenya, and the United Kingdom require reporting of international travel (although the requirement is not often expressly phrased as such). However, none expressly provide for information sharing with other nations. An interesting development in the United Kingdom is that magistrate judges have the power to issue foreign travel orders to prevent sex offenders (even non-citizens) from traveling outside of the United Kingdom, "for the purpose of protecting children generally or any child from serious sexual harm from the defendant outside the United Kingdom."

If you have been convicted of an offense for which registration is required under the Adam Walsh Act, determining what will apply to you when traveling abroad is not always easy.  If you have questions or concerns, contact Shaffer & Engle, LLC toll free or email us today.

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