Saturday, July 29, 2017

Everyone Keeps Asking Me, Why Don’t You Take a Vacation? Life as a U.S. Registered Sex Offender isn’t Just a Posting on the Internet, its One Arbitrary Misstep Away From a Felony.


It’s July, smack-dab in the middle of vacation time. 
Everywhere I go, everyone asks me what we are doing this week, this weekend. 
Are you going somewhere for vacation? 
Are you doing something fun this weekend? 
Have you been anywhere exciting recently? 
Years ago, we had talked about a trip to Alaska to see icebergs and polar bears. 
We used to ski. 
We had planned to travel to Ireland and Scotland to visit castles and ruins for our 20th wedding anniversary which would have been 2012.
If we leave our home in Virginia for either a short or a long vacation, it comes with too many questions and risks. 
Even a job-related training conference out-of-state is no longer an option; even it not attending could possibly result in termination.
As a Virginia Registered Sex Offender staying in another State means we must find out what all the legal restrictions, regulations and mandates are ahead of time and there is no single place to find that information.
Just traveling through a State my spouse could be required to register with every authority in every county/city we pass through or face a felony.
Just traveling through a State my spouse could be required to avoid any public street or sidewalk within a certain distance from a school, daycare facility, library, park, playground or athletic field, or face a felony.
Just traveling through a State my spouse could be required to avoid fast-food establishments and malls w/ playgrounds or face a felony.
When we arrive to our destination he might have to register with the authorities, give his fingerprints, be photographed or even give a DNA sample. In some States the rules are statewide in others it’d by county/city it could be within the first 24 hours (some folks are saying it’s 48 hours) like in Las Vegas or it could be on the end of the third day like in Florida. Then uniformed officers could possibly visit our hotel, condo, beach house or relative’s home to confirm the location we’ve registered is accurate. This could include an elderly grandmother’s home or college roommate’s house would be added to the Sex Offender Registry.
Oh, an ignorance of the law is not a defense.
He could be legally banned from lakes, beaches, movie theaters, golf courses, ski resorts, state fairs, carnivals, amusement parks, water parks, zoos, pools, fitness centers, churches or more. That state may or may not advise the visiting RSO’s of the areas they are prohibited from and if we made one unintended error, he’d face a felony
Or like Disney World or Six Flags, they could have a No RSO Policy and once they scan his drivers license swipe-strip deny him entry after we traveled all the way there. 
Each State’s Public Registry posts a variety of information including ALL your phone numbers, e-mail addresses, instant message identifications, vehicle and license plate information, tattoo and scar descriptions and photos AND in Texas your shoe size (yes, shoe size) so as a visiting RSO information that is not public today could easily become public because of a vacation.
Then when it’s time to go home he might be required to advise the authorities that he is leaving, they might require it be done 12 hours ahead of time or on the way out, but our travel plans may not coincide with their hours of operation so we’d have to change plans to avoid a felony.
Even after leaving a state, there are some State Sex Offender Registries that leave you on their list forever, with outdated information and all, like Florida. Why do they keep old vacationers and deceased RSO’s on their registry, who knows but they do so my spouse could be listed forever in other states? If we ever get him removed from Virginia’s Registry in 2023 when we petition in 2022 we’d also have to go back to any state we previously visited and petition to get him removed from there too, no thanks.
So, if traveling in the U.S. is so difficult for RSO’s some of you might be thinking how about a cruise or traveling abroad, nope thanks to the International Megan’s Law and ICE’s Angel Watch.
Per Federal law all RSO’s must inform Homeland Security 21 days ahead of International travel (or face a felony) of where they are going, who they are traveling with and all the places they plan to visit and stay while abroad. Then ICE notifies the country of your plans to arrive for a visit and when you get off the plane that country can either deny your entry and send you back to the U.S. or allow you in knowing you are an RSO. As for cruises to the Bahamas, Mexico or Alaska many cruise lines are now checking their passenger lists to the U.S. Sex Offender Registries and if they find a match to advise the customer that they are not allowed to board their ship.
Even taking a short trip within the State of Virginia is risky. AirBNB checks guest’s names against the U.S. Sex Offender Registries to deny them access, so who knows if hotels are doing it too.

Another Virginia State Police Internal Policy Change that Directly Affects All Registered Sex Offenders But No Notice was Given to the RSO’s

Yesterday I was advised that the Virginia State Police (VSP) is no longer sending out a certified letter advising Virginia’s Registered Sex Offenders(RSO) that their official VSP photograph is due to be retaken. 

Just a reminder to readers, the Virginia State Police is the official owner of the VA Sex Offender Registry/database and they are the  dedicated authority to monitor and manage Virginia’s Registered Sex Offenders who are NOT incarcerated or under VA-DOC Probation supervision. Local authorities (police and sheriff’s) can take RSO re-registrations, photos and data changes but the local authorities send all of that to the VSP to confirm and enter into the VSP Registry. 

This post is to alert VA’s RSO’s of this 2017 VSP policy change because yet again the VSP isn’t notifying the RSO’s of an internal policy that directly affects them and a large part of my advocacy has become notifying VA RSO’s and their loved ones of the ever-changing RSO policies, bans, requirements, restrictions, mandates and laws. 

I received an email from an RSO on 07/28 stating that he never received his letter from the VSP advising him to renew his VSP Registry photograph. 

Per § 9.1-904. Reregistration every VA RSO “must submit to be photographed every 2 years”. 

Now, for those who are NOT on the VSP Registry, you’re probably thinking OK, that’s easy to remember, go get your photograph taken at the same time every two years, aaaahhhhhh but it isn’t. 

Let me give you some background on re-registration timeframes and VSP photographs so you’ll understand the issue better. 

1.    In Virginia depending on your conviction you re-register in VA every 90 days, every 180 days or once per year. Now if you have ever had a failure-to-register conviction you actually must re-register every 30 days. Less than 17% of the VSP Registry re-registers once per year so that means more than 83% are multiple times per year and because it’s based on # of days it’s never the same month or time of month so “remembering” when you are due next isn’t so easy. 

2.   When RSO’s originally register they submit to be photographed so their original photograph date should be the basis for the 2 year renewal even though a re-registration may never fall on that date again (for the 90 and 180 day folks), right? No. 

Per § 46.2-330. (changes were made in 2008) section F The VA-DMV shall electronically transmit application information, including photographs, to the Department of State Police for an Registered Sex Offender. 

What does this mean? 

Well as my husband found out October 15, 2013 when he went to the VSP for his annual re-registration and to submit to his VSP 2 year photo they refused to take his photo even though it was time. Why did they refuse? Because when he had renewed his VA-DMV drivers license back in July (because it’s only valid for 5 years as an RSO instead of the standard 8 years) the VSP took his new VA-DMV photo and posted that on the VSP Registry and recalculated his next photo due date as an arbitrary day in July 2015. That meant in 2015 my husband would have to take a trip to the VSP twice, once in July for his photo and then again in October for his official re-registration. How was this better, smarter or cheaper? It's isn't. 2 separate VSP employees would have to give my husband time in 2015 to comply with VA law and then two other VSP employees would have to enter that data into the VSP Registry database. at two separate times Only because I raised holy-hell did my husbands photo get reposted in October 2013 to sync his due dates back up so that only one visit to the VSP would be required in 2015 and then again in 2017, 2019 and so on. BUT almost every other RSO in VA has had their VSP photograph date moved to an arbitrary time of the year when they last made a trip to the VA-DMV and it will happen again when they renew in 5 years. This means additional trips into the VSP, additional VSP employees dedicating their time and in the end more costs to the Commonwealth. 

This is why a letter prior to the photograph due date for Virginia’s RSO’s is necessary, because no one can actually know if the VSP is counting the last VSP photo or the last VA-DMV photo. 

So yesterday I called the VSP and I asked about the change in policy and the Lieutenant that I spoke to had no knowledge of the change but said they’d email me an answer.