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How California’s Three-Tier System Applies to Sex Crimes

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding | Jan 26, 2024

Initially, in the early 1990s, California was one of the first states that had sex registration, and they were very harsh as it related to this.  People who were being convicted as sex offenders had to register for the rest of their lives.  

Then, Megan's Law came in, and they were put on a public website. Prosecutors even realized there was a huge disparity between the crimes where somebody charged with Penal Code 243.4 PC sexual battery was registering for the same amount of time as someone accused of a much more serious crime, like Penal Code 288 PC lewd acts with a child, for example.

To rectify this problem, they devised the three-tier sex registration system, where some listed misdemeanor crimes must register for ten years.  Another list of crimes you register for 20 years and the most severe crimes you register for life.  

In January 2021, Senate Bill 384 replaced the old registry by establishing a three-tiered sex offender registry system that categorizes offenders based on the severity of their crime. 
Also, it created provisions by which lower-tier offenders can apply to have their information removed from the registry.  

The rationale behind this new law was that the sex registration requirement for certain low-risk offenders should not be a lifetime sentence.

Navigating your way through this system and having an attorney who understands the three-tier system and how to avoid any sex registration, if possible, is crucial.  Suppose we cannot prevent sex registration because of the type of offense you committed. In that case, we will want to get you into the lowest tier we possibly can based on the facts and circumstances of your case.

What is Penal Code 290 PC?

California's sex offender registration system is defined under Penal Code 290 PC, which says, “(a) Sections 290 to 290.024 shall be known as the Sex Offender Registration Act
Every person who, since July 1, 1944, has been or is hereafter convicted in any court in this state or in any federal or military court of a violation of Section 187 committed in the perpetration or an attempt to perpetrate rape.

Any act punishable under Section 286, 287, 288, or 289 or former Section 288a, Section 207 or 209 committed with intent to violate Section 261, 286, 287, 288, or 289 or former Section 288a, Section 220, except assault to commit mayhem, subdivision (b) or (c) of Section 236.1, Section 243.4, Section 261, paragraph (1) of subdivision (a) of former Section 262 involving the use of force or violence for which the person is sentenced to the state prison.

Section 264.1, 266, or 266c, subdivision (b) of Section 266h, subdivision (b) of Section 266i, Section 266j, 267, 269, 285, 286, 287, 288, 288.3, 288.4, 288.5, 288.7, 289, or 311.1, or former Section 288a, subdivision (b), (c), or (d) of Section 311.2, Section 311.3, 311.4, 311.10, 311.11, or 647.6, former Section 647a, subdivision (c) of Section 653f, subdivision 1 or 2 of Section 314.

Any offense involving lewd or lascivious conduct under Section 272, or any felony violation of Section 288.2; any statutory predecessor that includes all elements of one of the offenses described in this subdivision; or any person who since that date has been or is hereafter convicted of the attempt or conspiracy to commit any of the offenses described in this subdivision.”

What Are the Tiers and Registration Periods?

California divides sex offenders into three categories, Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3, each with a different registration period as follows: 

  • Anyone assigned to Tier 1 must register as a sex offender for ten years.
  • Those assigned to Tier 2 must register for 20 years.
  • Those assigned to the most severe tier, Tier 3, must continue registering as sex offenders for life

SB 384 gives an extensive list of sex crimes and their associated registration tiers. For example, Tier 1 sex offenders are considered low-risk and the least likely to re-offend. Some of the common sex crimes include the following:

  • Penal Code 243.4 PC - misdemeanor sexual battery,
  • Penal Code 314 PC - indecent exposure,
  • Penal Code 311 PC – misdemeanor child pornography.

Tier 2 sex offenders are considered moderate-risk offenders and must keep their registration current for at least 20 years. Some common Tier 2 crimes include: 

Tier 3 is the highest risk category for the most severe sex crimes. Those convicted must maintain their registration for life. Tier 3 offenses include the following:

What Are the Rules Under PC 290?

Penal Code 290 PC is the hammer designed to regulate when people need to register within five days of their birthday when they leave a city when they leave the county, and when they leave the state, they will have to register. 

It is the government and police's ability to track a particular person and know where they're living in case a sex crime occurs in that area; now, they have a list of sex offenders that they can deal with in trying to solve that crime.

One of the biggest things that people don't realize is that when it comes to this three-tier registration system, it's the crime you plead guilty to that determines whether you register as a sex offender and for how long.  

That's not a negotiable thing.  A lot of times, people say, I know they want me to plead to that charge, but can you get rid of the sex registration?  I tell them, no, if you plead to that charge, you're going to have the sex registration.  

Can You Plead to a Charge That Does Not Require Sex Registration?

The key is to find an attorney who can fight for you and try to get you to plead to an offense that does not require a sex register.  If you can't plead to an offense that requires sex registration, then obviously, you're going to want to plead to an offense that does not require lifetime sex registration. 

So, maneuvering through this system and figuring out the various crimes that might be available is imperative.  

I've had several cases where I was able to come up with a crime that did not require sex registration and convinced the prosecutor to allow my client to plead guilty to that crime instead of the crime they were charged with.  This is not easy to do.

Can You Get Removed from the Sex Offender Registry?

Under SB 384, both Tier 1 and Tier 2 offenders can petition the court to have their information removed from the Sex Offender Registry once their required registration period has passed. 

California’s Three-Tier Sex Registration System
Tier 1 and Tier 2 offenders can petition the court to be removed from the Sex Offender Registry.

You can start by filling out and submitting Form CR-415, a petition to terminate sex offender registration (Penal Code 290.5 PC). To have the best chance of success, you should work with a California sex crime lawyer for guidance with the application. If your petition is approved, your information will be removed from the registry, and you will no longer be required to keep your registration current.

I've been doing this now for over 30 years.  I've used my experience on how to prepare and deal with cases.  I've seen how judges think and deal with cases, and since the early 1990s, I've been defending people like you. So, suppose you or a loved one is tried for a sex offense, and you're worried about this three-tier sex registration system.

In that case, you need somebody to defend you to get the best possible result – whether at a jury trial because you're innocent or negotiating; pick up the phone now.  Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding.  The Hedding Law Firm offers a free case evaluation, and we are in Los Angeles, CA.

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Ronald D. Hedding

What Makes Ronald Hedding Uniquely Qualified To Represent You? I've been practicing criminal defense for almost 30 years and have handled thousands of cases, including all types of state and federal sex crime cases. All consultations are discreet and confidential.

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