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Sex offenders get chance to end life-long registration under House proposal

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State lawmakers are weighing whether to give judges more leeway to eliminate the requirement that certain people register for life as sex offenders.

A measure approved Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee would allow people convicted of certain sex crimes, when they turn 35, to petition to be absolved of the mandate.

Not everyone would be eligible.

The legislation pushed by House Speaker Rusty Bowers would apply only in situations where the offender was younger than 22 at the time and the victim was at least 15 if the sexual contact was consensual. It also would apply to things like trying to lure a minor for sex if it turns out that the “victim” was actually a peace officer posing as someone at least 15.

HB 2613 also would be limited to those convicted of one offense involving a single victim and cannot have been convicted of any other felony for at least 10 years after being sentenced.

And some categories of crimes would not qualify including sexual assault, child molestation and child prostitution.

In essence, Bowers said, he is trying to have the law recognize that what some people do when they are young should not be a permanent mark.

“We certainly hold people my age to a higher standard than somebody who is 10 — and very understandable degrees between the two,” said Bowers who is 66. And he said his own experience working with high schoolers convinces him “how cavalierly kids look at decisions they take.”

In fact, he told lawmakers, some students are convinced that they can’t get into trouble if they’re having sex with someone younger than 18.

“You can believe that if you want,” Bowers said he tells students. “Your whole life can be affected forever by these actions that we take rather cavalierly in the intoxication of youth.”

Rachel Mitchell who handles sex crimes for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, told lawmakers that one of the safeguards of the bill is the requirement that people wait until they’re 35 before being able to petition to be relieved of the registration requirement.

“This was not a randomly chosen number,” she told lawmakers, but instead is based on what’s known as Static-99, an actuarial assessment of risk assessment of male sex offenders.

“What it tells us is that at age 35 there is a significant drop-off in risk,” Mitchell said.

Bowers stressed that the measure, which now goes to Senate, is not automatic. Aside from having to meet the conditions in the proposal, the final decision rests with a judge to be convinced that the person has changed.

And it spells out that a judge can deny a petition if he or she finds that “is in the best interests of justice or tends to ensure the safety of the public.”

The legislation already has cleared the House with just four Republicans opposed.

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