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Reform Sex Offender Laws

History of the Registry in Montana

This is a quick overview of how the Montana Sex Offender Registry has evolved since its first inception in 1989.

1989:  The Montana Legislature first enacted a registration law for Sexual Offenders.  It contained the following provisions:

  • Central Registry – creating a registry to be maintained by the Department of Corrections.
  • Qualifying Offenses – required that only sexual offenders register, for a period of 10 years.
  • Public Information – made no provision making any registration information public.
  • Penalty – penalty for failing to register was a misdemeanor.

1995:  Lawmakers strengthened the registration statute, which became known as the “Sexual or Violent Offender Registration Act”.  This redefined the offenses requiring registration.  Montana became one of the few states to register violent offenders in addition to sexual offenders.

  • Qualifying Offenses – required certain violent offenders to register.  Registrants also were:
  • required to sign a statement indicating that they were aware of their registration duties and to provide any other information required by the Department of Corrections; and
  • fingerprinted and photographed for registration purposes.
  • Length of Registration – duration of registration was changed to life; with the option ot petition the district court  for relief from registration after 10 years.  A court would grant relief only if the offender met a two-part test:
  • the offender had to remain a law-abiding citizen for 10 years
  • no public safety reasons existed for continued registration.
  • Penalty – The penalty for failure to register was increased to a felony.
  • Public Informaion – certain registration information was made available to the public, including the name of any registered sexual offender and any additional information deemed appropriate by the distric courts for “public protection“.

1997: The Montana Legislature moved the Sexual or Violent Offender Registration Program from the Department of Corrections to the Department of Justice and made the following changes:

  • Retroactive Applicability Clause – required registration of:
  • sexual offenders who were sentenced, in custody or under the supervision of the Department of Corrections on or after July 1, 1989; and
  • violent offenders who were sentenced, in the custody, or under the supervision of the Department of Corrections on or after October 1, 1995.
  • Tier Levels – Tier levels were assigned to sexual offenders by the sentencing court based on the likelyhood that they would commit additional offenses.
  • Public Information  – the amount of information that could be released to the public varied according to the tier level assigned to the sexual offender.  Law enforcement agencies could release any offender information relevant to the public if risk to the safety of the community was an issue.
  • Address Verification  –required the Department of Justice to send annual address-verification letters to all registered offenders and quarterly letters to level 3, high-risk sexual offenders.

1999 – The Legislature again modified the statute:

  • Public Information – increased the information available to the public to include the name and address of any registered offender in Montana
  • Tier Levels – Gave the Department of Corrections the authority to assign Tier Levels to Registered Sexual Offenders being released from confinement if the registrant had not been given a tier level at the time of his or her sentence.

2001 – Legislative changes included:

  • Community Education – required that the Department of Justice develop a statewide community education cirriculum regarding the release of sexual or violent offenders into a community.

2002 – A Special Legislative Session provided that an offender must register within 10 days of entering a Montana County for the purpose of setting up a temporary home for 10 days or more, or residing there for more than 30 days in a calendar year.

2003 – The Legislature modified the statute:

  • Qualifying Offenses – made operating an unlawful clandestine laboratory a qualifying violent offense.

2005 – The Legislature amended the statute so that out-of-state and federal sexual offenders who move to Montana are treated in the same manner as Montana offenders.  These changes include:

  • requiring registration of out-of-state or federal offenders designated as sexual offenders by the law of another state or the federal government;
  • Allowing Montana to recognize risk level designations given by another state or the federal government and to post that information accordingly; and
  • clarifying that, after 10 years, violent offenders may petition the sentencing court or the district court for the judicial district in which they reside for an order relieving them of the duty to register.

2007 – The Legislature made several changes to the Sexual or Violent Offender Registry to increase offender monitoring.  These changes include:

  • posting photos of all sex offenders;
  • requiring in-person verification of registration information and more frequent photographs of offenders;
  • ammending the definition of “sexually violent predator” to include offenders who commit a sex offense against a victim 12 years of age or younger
  • requiring Level 2 Sexual Offenders to verify thier residence every 180 days’
  • creating registration provision for transient sexual offenders;
  • adding soliciting or promoting prostution of a child 12 years of age or younger as qualifying sexual offenses; and
  • requiring all juvenile sexual offenders to register unless the court relieves them of that duty.

2009 – In September, the Sexual or Violent Offender Registry search capability was expanded to include a mapping feature.  This allows users to enter a specific street address and city, and the search then uses Google Maps to generate a map showing the location of offenders within a certain radius of that address.  The mapping capability was required by the Federal Adam Walsh Child Protections and Safety Act of 2006.

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