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Passports and International Travel for Registered Sex Offenders

Registered Sex Offenders, Passports, and International Travel

When a person has been convicted as a sex offender, there is a long, difficult road ahead. Not only does the person have to deal with court cases, lawyers, and fines, but there is also a long-term process that can harshly affect someone’s future. One of the main aspects is that a person must register as a sex offender. This means that any time a person applies for a job, place to live, or any other legal instance, it will be known that they are registered as a sex offender.

The sex offender registration process and notification program has rapidly proceeded since the 1990s. The purpose of said programs are to prioritize public safety. The basic characteristics include tracking sex offenders after they have been released back into the community. If there has been a case of recidivism or other sexually violent crimes occurring in the community, knowing the whereabouts of a recently released sex offender is of high importance. If registered sex offenders are aware that authorities know their location, identity, and past offenses, it may prevent them from partaking in any future offenses.

The notification process of registering sex offenders also helps with notifying the public. Such information being available to the public helps people to take measures in protecting themselves and their families. The national standards have addressed which registrations should be required, updating and periodic verification of registration information, how long the registration stands, public notification, and continued registration and tracking of sex offenders when they relocate from one jurisdiction to another. 

There are multiple aspects to keep up with after being registered as a sex offender. This includes frequent registration and notification, which will be explained through the SORNA Act. What happens when someone wishes to leave the U.S. where they are registered as a sex offender? This will be covered further on.

Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA)

Florida is among one of the eighteen states in the U.S. that have substantially implemented the requirements for SORNA—Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act. It falls underneath the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking. The act is included in Title 1 of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 and is codified under 34 U.S.C. § 20901 et seq. SORNA provides a set of comprehensive standards and guidelines for the registration and notification of sex offenders. The goal is to close the gaps existing under previous laws and to strengthen the nationwide network of sex offender registration and notification. Some of the important areas of reform under SORNA include the following:

  • To extend the registration jurisdiction beyond the 50 States, including the District of Columbia, U.S. principal territories, and Indian tribal jurisdictions.
  • To extend the classes of sex offenders for which registration is required.
  • To require consistent registration from sex offenders in the covered classes, and to keep it current within the jurisdiction in which they reside, work, or go to school.
  • To require more extensive registration information.
  • To add to the national standards periodic in-person appearances by registrants to verify and update registration information.
  • To broaden the availability of information concerning registered sex offenders to the public, by posting on various sex offender websites and other outlets.
  • To adopt reforms affecting the required duration of registration.

Verification Requirements

In section 116 of SORNA, it states that, “a sex offender shall appear in person, allow the jurisdiction to take a current photograph, and verify the information in each registry in which that offender is required to be registered not less frequently than:”

  1. Each year for a tier I sex offender,
  2. Every six months for a tier II sex offender, and
  3. Every three months for a tier III sex offender.

In addition, sex offenders must register in the jurisdiction of their residence, employment, and school attendance, as explained within the guidelines. Jurisdictions may demand face-to-face appearances by the registered offender with greater frequency than what is listed above. The reason for in-person appearances is to provide a review with the full range of information regarding the sex offender and his/her case. It is also to ensure that all new information is reported from the initial appearance.

A failure to comply with the registration under SORNA is explained in Section 141(a) of SORNA enacted 18 U.S.C. 2250. It states that SORNA demands that, “an individual—previously convicted of a qualifying federal, state, or foreign sex offense—register with the state, territorial, or tribal authorities.” Individuals who fail to comply with these rules and violate Section 2250 are subjected to preventative detention or pre-trial release conditions. If the person is convicted, they could face up to ten years in prison, $250,000 in fines, and post-imprisonment term of supervised release lasting five years. If the offender has violated Section 2250 and has also committed a federal crime of violence, they would be subjected to additional penalties including prison for up to thirty years.

To read more about common Florida sexual offenses and their implications, check out our page on sex crimes.

What is SORNA and How Does it Work?

SORNA §128 explains the collaborative effort to develop a system for tracking sex offenders as they depart and enter the United States. The particular mandate regarding the established system for traveling internationally as a registered sex offender is based on U.S.C. §16928, explaining that the Secretary of State and Secretary of Homeland Security needed to establish and maintain a system to track persons entering and leaving the country under the category of a sex offender.

Included in the document are the rules that it is a federal crime to fail to register or update registration required by SOLNA and travel to a foreign country. In order to carry out the responsibilities implemented, the Department of Justice must know if registered sex offenders in the U.S. are leaving the country, since they will be required to resume the registration upon returning to the U.S. In addition, there must be a cooperative effort from the U.S. and foreign country regarding the identification of the registered offender, whether it be them going abroad or coming from a foreign country into the U.S. In order to comply with identifying the offenders, a working group called SMART—Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking—was formed in 2008 and is still regularly used to keep track of international travel by sexual offenders.

International Tracking System – Federal Databases  

The overall aim at creating an international tracking system for registered sex offenders is to help law enforcement protect the public both domestically and abroad. It also aims to accurately identify and register sex offenders who enter or depart the U.S.

There are four databases that are currently in use to help create communication networks that can transmit relevant and timely information to law enforcement. The four databases include the following:

  • CLASS: The Consultant Lookout and Support System is operated by the State Department, in charge of vetting individuals when applying for non-immigrant and immigrant visas in order to travel to the United States. It is a name checking system which uses algorithms to compare names and biological information to be reviewed by Consular Officers, Visa Officers, or Passport Specialists.
  • TECS: Operated by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to conduct enforcement checks on individuals seeking to enter or depart the United States.
  • NCIC: The National Crime Information Center operates by the DOJ’s Federal Bureau of Investigation and includes information on wanted persons. It is capable of generating automatic notifications to various users upon a particular individual.
  • NSOR: The National Sex Offender Registry contains data on registered sex offenders across the United States as entered by the individual state and local registry officials. It is a law enforcement database, meaning the responsibility of accuracy is on the entering agency.

International Travel and Passports

In order to travel outside of the United States, citizens most obtain a U.S. passport. In addition, there may be certain requirements regarding the provision of prior notice of international travel. A United States passport is issued by the Passport Services Directorate of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs. The name is run through the CLASS database when applying for a passport, which will show if the person is a registered sex offender.

SORNA requires a person to report international travel if they are gone for longer than a week, or are planning to travel for work, school, or moving residency. If someone registered as a sex offender is attempting to relocate to a foreign country, they must notify SORNA. It is also important to note that SORNA’s standards require a 21-day notice prior to the international travel.

There are differences between the traveling experience of a sex offender depending on if it is by air and sea travel or land travel. There is also a difference between being a wanted sex offender or a non-fugitive sex offender:

  • Air and Sea Travel – The Advanced Passenger Information System is a system required to deliver the information of the passengers and crew departing from the U.S.
    • Wanted sex offender – Their warrant information will be entered through NCIC and an automatic notification process will issue law enforcement to be immediately alerted of the attempted departure from the United States.
    • Non-fugitive sex offender – SORNA will be notified of the departure from the country.
  • Land Travel – U.S. officials do not currently screen individuals who exit the country into Mexico or Canada. The goal is to move towards conducting outbound checks for all land travelers but have not done so yet. That means there is presently no reliable way to track registered sex offenders departing the U.S. by land.

International Megan’s Law

In 2016, President Obama signed a law to prevent child exploitation and other sexual crimes through advanced notification of traveling sex offenders, more commonly referred to as “International Megan’s Law” or IML. IML goes over additional requirements for all registered sex offenders attempting to travel outside of the country. The law prohibits the Department of State from issuing passports to a convicted sex offender without a unique identifier and can potentially revoke passports from those who do not contain an identifier.

The identifier is an endorsement of the passport, typically printed on the inside of the passport booklet which reads: “The bearer was convicted of a sex offense against a minor and is a covered sex offender pursuant to 22 United States Code Section 212b(c)(1).” If a registered sex offender does not yet have a passport but is trying to obtain one, they must apply for one in person and submit a signed statement with the application stating they are registered as a sex offender under International Megan’s Law.

If a registered sex offender already has a valid U.S. passport book, but without the necessary endorsements, they must return it with an application for a new, valid U.S. passport with the proper endorsement or identifier. It is worthy to note that covered sex offenders cannot receive an issued U.S. passport card. In addition, all international travel notices must be completed and submitted through the offender’s local sex offender registry.

If you have questions regarding the passport process, contact the USMS National Sex Offender Targeting Center at 202-616-1600.

Contact a Tallahassee Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one have been charged or convicted as a sex offender, it is imperative to seek out legal advice. The consequences of being registered as a sex offender can have lasting effects, including limiting your ability to travel outside of the United States. The team at Pumphrey Criminal Defense have represented those accused of Florida sexual offenses and are ready to fight in your corner to help with your particular case. Contact us at (850) 681-7777 for a free consultation about your case.

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