As many as 2,000 to 3,000 Oklahoma registered sex offenders may be entitled to have their names removed from the sex offender registry under a state Supreme Court opinion issued Tuesday, says Oklahoma City defense attorney David Slane.
“I think it's a landmark opinion,” said Slane, who estimates he has sued the Oklahoma Department of Corrections about 450 times on behalf of sex offenders who believe they are wrongfully listed on the registry.
There currently are about 7,700 names on the registry.
Essentially, the court ruling said Corrections Department officials have been violating the Oklahoma Constitution by retroactively applying state sex offender laws, thereby dramatically increasing the time many convicted sex offenders must remain listed on the registry.
Rejoicing in Tuesday's ruling was convicted sex offender Brad Crawford, 58, of Oklahoma City.
“It means a lot to me. It gives me freedom. It takes a monkey off my back,” said Crawford, who was convicted in 1998 in Canadian County on a charge of lewd or indecent proposals/acts to a child. “I'm tired of dealing with them and their harassment.”
Crawford lamented that being listed on the registry limits offenders from living where they want and watching their grandkids' baseball games. Registered sex offenders are not allowed to live close to schools, playgrounds or licensed child care centers.
Slane said Crawford's crime was peeking over the top of a tanning booth. He said Crawford thought he was sneaking a peek at a woman, which might have brought misdemeanor peeping Tom charges. The “woman” turned out to be a 15-year-old girl who was a day shy of her 16th birthday, so Crawford was convicted of the more severe felony charge of lewd acts with a child, Slane said.
“He did something he shouldn't have done,” Slane said.
Crawford originally received a five-year suspended sentence, except for 30 days in the Canadian County jail. He also was placed on the sex offender registry for 10 years.
Slane said he believes that punishment should have been adequate.
However, before the 10 years was over, the Oklahoma Legislature passed new laws in 2007 that created a three-tiered risk level assessment system. The law required convicted sex offenders to be placed on the sex offender registry for 15 years, 25 years, or life, depending on their assessment levels.
Applying new laws
Corrections Department officials used that new law to retroactively increase Crawford's time on the sex offender registry. Slane said he sued on Crawford's behalf and obtained a court order to have Crawford's name removed from the registry, but said corrections officials declined to act on the court order, pending the state Supreme Court appeal that was decided Tuesday.
Slane estimated that he has obtained more than 200 court orders in recent years directing the removal of individuals' names from the sex offender registry, but said the Corrections Department has been refusing to act on them, pending the Supreme Court's decision. He estimated another 200 similar court orders were issued on behalf of sex offenders represented by other attorneys.
Slane said he expects the Corrections Department to act fairly quickly to remove from the registry the names of the 400 or so sex offenders with court orders. Others may have to wait longer, he said, adding that he believes 2,000 to 3,000 convicted sex offenders ultimately may be entitled to have their names removed.
Jerry Massie, spokesman for the Corrections Department, said department officials are discussing the Court's ruling and expect to post something on the agency's website within the next day or two, explaining how the department will comply with the decision.
Preliminary discussions have centered on department officials reviewing the registry and removing the names of sex offenders who appear to qualify under the court's ruling.
Massie said no time frame has been established for such a review, but it “might take a month or so.”
At the end of the process, sex offenders who believe they were wrongfully kept on the registry could ask to have their cases reviewed, he said.
Slane said he believes department officials will drag their feet and offenders may have to go to court to assert their positions.