COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTW) — A proposed bill in the South Carolina Senate would set out guidelines for convicted rapists to petition a court to be removed from the sex offender registry.
The bill is in response to a South Carolina Supreme Court ruling last year stating that it’s unconstitutional for the state to not have a process that would allow sex offenders to be removed from the registry.
The bill was proposed by Sen. Greg Hembree (R-Horry County) on Feb. 16 and remains in the Senate Committee on Judiciary. No other senators are listed as sponsors on the bill.
That judicial ruling, Hembree said, has created a race against time to create a bill.
“The thing that is so dangerous about this — and we are kind of playing with live rounds — is the court says, ‘If you don’t have a law in place at this point, then everybody is going to get put off the sex offender registry,'” Hembree said.
He said that there are “dangerous, scary people” who need to be kept on the registry.
“The clock is ticking against law and order, and in favor of those who would do away with this,” Hembree said.
The deadline to pass a bill is June 9.
Various stakeholders, including prosecutors and public defenders, met to draft the legislation. As an attorney, Hembree said he was a good fit to take up the bill.
Depending on how the offense is categorized, people convicted of sexual offenses can petition a court to get off the registry either 15 or 30 years after their conviction.
The proposed three-tier system of offenses is as follows:
- Criminal sexual conduct in the third degree
- Kidnapping of a person 18 years of age or older, unless the offenses included a criminal sexual offense or an attempted sexual offense
- Peeping, voyeurism or aggravated voyeurism
- Indecent exposure
- Sexual intercourse with a patient or trainee
- Administering, distributing, dispensing, delivering or aiding, abetting, attempting or conspiring to administer, distribute, dispense or deliver a controlled substance or gamma hydroxy butyrate to an individual with the intent to commit a crime listed in Section 44-53-370(f) of state code (except petit larceny or grand larceny or any other offense required by Title I of the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection or Safety Act of 2006, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act)
- Criminal sexual conduct in the second degree
- Engaging a child for sexual performance
- Producing, directing or promoting sexual performance by a child
- Trafficking in persons, except when it did not include a criminal sexual offense or an attempted criminal sexual offense
- Criminal sexual conduct with minors, second degree, if evidence presented at the criminal proceeding and the court makes a finding that the conviction for the offense resulted from a consensual sexual conduct if the offender was 18 years or younger at the time, or there was consensual sexual conduct between persons under the age of 16, the convicted person is not an offender and is not required to register pursuant to the provisions of the article
- Criminal sexual conduct with minors, third degree
- Criminal solicitation of a minor if the purpose of the solicitation or attempted solicitation was to persuade, induce, entice or coerce the person solicited to engage or participate in sexual activity, or if it was to perform a sexual activity in the presence of the person who was solicited
- Criminal sexual conduct in the first degree
- Criminal sexual conduct with minors, first degree
- Criminal sexual conduct: assault with intent to commit
- Kidnapping of a person under 18 years of age, except for when the offense is committed by the child’s parent
- Criminal sexual conduct when the victim is a spouse
- Sexual battery of a spouse
- Any Tier III committed after the offender becomes a Tier I or Tier II offender
Under current law, those who are convicted of sexual offenses — and aren’t found not guilty by reason of insanity — are required to be on the registry.
A Tier I offender can petition a circuit court to be removed from the sex offender registry 15 years after they were discharged from jail without supervision, or after their probation, parole or other alternative to incarceration ends.
Tier II and Tier III offenders can apply after 30 years from when they’re released from prison or jail without supervision, or when their supervision, parole or other alternative to incarceration ends.
The court may ask for South Carolina Department of Mental Health to evaluate the offender to see if they post a risk of committing another sex crime.
“The court must make a determination upon a finding by clear and convincing evidence that the offender is no longer a foreseeable risk to re-offend and that it is in the best interest of justice to grant the motion for removal from the requirement of registration,” the bill reads.
If the request to be removed from the registry is denied, then then the person who was convicted has to wait five years to apply again.
If passed, the act would be retroactive.
In South Carolina, those convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct — the highest sexual offense — are sentenced to up to 30 years of incarceration. Second-degree sexual conduct can lead to up to 20 years, and third-degree criminal sexual conduct can come with a sentence of up to 10 years.
In the ruling for the case, Dennis J. Powell vs. the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, Chief Justice Donald Beatty wrote the Powell’s argument that being on the sex offender list for life “is punitive under the Eighth Amendment” and violates Powell’s “rights to due process and equal protection.”
The ruling states that it’s unconstitutional to not have an opportunity for a judicial review to see if an offender would re-offend.
Powell was arrested for criminal solicitation of a minor in February 2008 after having “graphically sexual” conversations on the internet with an undercover police officer posing as a 12-year-old girl. Powell pleaded guilty in 2009 and sentenced to two years in prison, suspended to one year of probation.
Powell completed his probationary sentence, finished outpatient psychiatric treatment and was accessed by two mental health professionals who said he had a low risk of re-offending.
Hembree doesn’t expect his proposal to be the final form of the bill. He’s hopeful it will receive a hearing soon.
“It doesn’t have to be perfect,” he said. “We don’t perfect to be the end of good, here.”
News13 has reached out to the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault for comment and have not heard back.