Change in legal ruling creates stricter rules for Washington sex offenders

The laws just got a little stricter for Washington sex offenders after a recent state Supreme Court ruling that applies to offenders from out of state who move here. 

Essentially, the state law had long been if you’re convicted of a sex crime and have to register as a sex offender in another state, the same rules apply if you move to Washington. But in 2019, a sex offender petitioned to the Court of Appeals that the law was unconstitutional and the court sided with him.

Here is where it gets a little complex: In other states, certain crimes are considered sex crimes that in Washington State are not. The 2019 ruling meant if you were convicted of a sex crime out of state that did not amount to a sex crime under Washington law, you didn’t have to register as a sex offender.

"Different states have different definitions for their crimes, different elements, different thresholds. It’s similar to property crimes, in some states they say if you steal over $1,000 that’s a felony, here in Washington State it is not," says Sgt. Jason Escobar with the King County Sheriff’s Office.

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For example, if an adult has sexual contact with a 16-year-old that would be a sex crime in some states. In Washington, it would not because the age of consent here is 16, not 17 or 18 like in some other states.

After the court’s ruling, law enforcement was tasked with actually de-registering some offenders. The King County Sheriff’s Office says over 500 of their sex offenders would have been reviewed to see if they were eligible to be removed.

But on Christmas Eve the state Supreme Court reversed the court ruling, so out of state sex offenders have to register in Washington no matter what. Now the King County Sheriff’s Office is tasked with contacting people they already deregistered and telling them they need to re-register as a sex offender.

"This is not a scam, if the sheriff’s office is calling you and telling you that, ‘Hey the Washington State Supreme Court reversed its decision that you didn’t have to register and now you do, you need to come in and register as a sex offender."

Sheriff’s officials say they have a team working hard to make sure everyone who was deregistered as a sex offender gets registered again and quickly.