Changes to Alabama Sex Offender Registry Laws Create Confusion in the Courts

Tags: Sex Crimes

Two years ago, the Alabama state legislature moved to repeal the Community Notification of Released Sex Offenders’ Act, passed in 1975, and subsequently replace it with the Alabama Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Act, as codified in Alabama Code 15-20A-1 through -48.

However in doing so, lawmakers failed to simultaneously enact a savings clause, which is generally required in order for cases under the old law to proceed uninterrupted.

The fact that a savings clause was not passed has caused confusion in the courts, with the case of Timothy Alan Burt v. State of Alabama serving as a prime example.

There is no question that Alabama sex offender registry violations are met with harsh penalties under both laws. The issue here was whether a violation that occurred under the old law but prosecuted after the passage of the new law should be dismissed, based on the absence of a savings clause.

The defendant in this case was convicted back in the summer of 2003 for first-degree sexual abuse. He served several years in prison before his release prior to the summer of 2010. At that time, he was again arrested and charged with violation of the CNA.

The old statute required that certain types of sex offenders were required to give law enforcement notice of intent to move to a different location 30 days prior. It also barred certain types of sex offenders from residing with any person under the age of 18. Both of these violations under the previous law were considered Class C felonies, which under Alabama, punishable by between 2 and 20 years in prison and fines of up to $5,000.

As the defendant awaited his day in court on these allegations, the legislature in the summer of 2011 repealed the CAN and replaced it with the new law.

The defendant moved to have his case dismissed on the grounds that the violations of which he was accused technically no longer existed under state law. The Tuscaloosa Circuit Court denied this motion and he was convicted and sentenced to a concurrent 10-year sentence, which was suspended in lieu of three years of supervised probation.

The defendant again appealed, but the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the circuit court’s ruling. The court sided with the state’s argument that while the new and old statute weren’t exactly the same, both still held very similar requirements.

For example, the old law required sex offenders to notify law enforcement officials 30 days in advance of a move. The new law, meanwhile, requires that registrants inform law enforcement authorities immediately upon moving (usually understood to mean within 7 days after the move).

The court found that the repeal of the old sex offender law in Alabama was not an “outright repeal,” as lawmakers proceeded in essentially re-enacting much the same statute. The court ruled that such action does not suggest by the legislature the intent to pardon conduct under the repealed statute.

Further, the court noted the legislature’s wording of the new statute, which included the statement that registration and notification laws are a “vital concern as the number of sex offenders continues to rise,” with the danger of recidivism also placing the community at risk.

The defendant in this case was reportedly not compliant with the old statute, but neither was he compliant under the new law, the court found, as he had failed in his duty to register at all.

Thus, his conviction was affirmed.

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