It’s hard to think of having any sympathy for someone on the sex offender list. It’s easy to think of everyone on the registry as being one in the same, and all their crimes are unforgivable.
Anybody living in or visiting Florida who has been convicted of certain sex crimes, even if the conviction was in another state or another country, must place themselves on Florida’s sex offender registry. They must report to their local sheriff’s office twice a year and provide a long list of identifying information, including their address, most of which will be released to the public.
But what if the “offender” was 18 and he or she had consensual sex with their boyfriend or girlfriend who was 15? Do they deserve to be branded a sex offender for the rest of their life? It’s an immense burden and stigma to take on for something you did when you were 18.
Florida’s Romeo and Juliet Law
The injustice of overly harsh sex crime laws led the Florida legislation to pass the “Romeo and Juliet” law in 2007. Under this law, people who have been convicted of a sex crime can petition a judge to remove their information from the state’s offender registry.
To qualify for removal under this law:
- The victim must have been at least 14 years old at the time of the offense.
- The offender can’t be more than four years older than the victim.
- The offender can not have been convicted of any other sex crimes.
- Removal cannot conflict with Federal Law. If the sexual conduct was consensual, the offender would meet this requirement. If the conduct was not consensual, the offender may still qualify so long as he was not convicted of the underlying charge.
Then, it’s up to the judge to decide whether the petition will be granted and drastically better an offender’s life.
People like Jason Gorby, who when he was 18 had consensual sex with his 14-year-old girlfriend, was able to take advantage of this law. He can now go to another county in Florida and not have to inform local law enforcement.
Not everyone can just use the law and be removed from the sex offender registry list. An offender cannot petition to get off the registry if:
- They were warned by parents or others to stay away from the victim
- Drugs or alcohol were supplied to the victim
- The offender “targeted” their victim on the Internet through a chat room or social media
- The offender had some sort of position of authority over the the victim
Florida is not the only state to institute this kind of law. Michigan, New Hampshire, and Texas also have similar statutes that help an offender petition to get off the sex offender registry.
How Being on the Registry Impacts an Offender’s Life
Every aspect of an offender’s life is affected when they are on the registry:
- Many registered sex offenders in Florida have trouble finding places to live because of state and local restrictions. Some even end up homeless.
- Acquiring a job can be difficult because many employers don’t want to hire someone convicted of a crime, much less a sex crime.
- Finding a meaningful relationship can be extremely difficult due to the stigma of being labeled a sex offender.
he problems never go away. Unless the offender is pardoned or files a successful petition under the Romeo and Juliet law, their address and other identifying information will continue to be broadcast to the public on the internet for the rest of their lives. A local Florida news channel even took the time to broadcast pictures and information about the offenders living in their neighborhoods.
Depending on the particular sex crime that was committed, some offenders may be banned from parks, schools, and child care centers. Some may have restrictions placed on their computer and internet use and whether they can live with a minor.
Some cities and counties within Florida place even more stringent restrictions on offenders than the state laws do. These restrictions may include where offenders can live, where they can visit, and who they can contact.
There are only two ways to get off the sex offender registry:
- Receive a full pardon or post-conviction relief
- Meet the requirements of the “Romeo and Juliet” law
What Life is Like After Being Removed from the Registry
People who have been successful in getting their information removed from Florida’s sex offender registry say they now have a sense of freedom. Before, if they traveled from one county to another, they would have to report in at the local sheriff’s office. Now, they can go where they want, when they want.
They no longer have to live with the shame that comes from being identified as a sex offender. They have reason to hope that their futures will be better, and they are free to make plans to live a normal life and live where they want.
No one is arguing there shouldn’t be a sex offender registry. There are people who have committed heinous acts that deserve to be listed and serve time for their crimes.
But someone who was caught up in puppy love when they were 18? Do they deserve to be looked down on the rest of their life? Report their every move to the local sheriff?
The Florida Romeo and Juliet law allows people to start with a clean slate and be meaningful contributors to Florida.