By JOSH NEWTON
Several convicted sex offenders residing in Cherokee County have been removed from the state’s sex offender registry following a ruling from the Oklahoma Supreme Court last June.
Cherokee County Sheriff’s Investigator James Brown has received letters from the state indicating two offenders of the 100-plus living here have been removed from the Department of Corrections registry, so far.
Tahlequah Police Detective Jeff Haney said a couple of offenders who live within the city have also been removed.
More offenders, in time, could be removed by state officials, but Brown expects the number to be small – perhaps only a couple more than have already been stricken from the list.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court’s recent ruling declared as unconstitutional the retroactive registration requirements for sex offenders who were placed on the registry before Nov. 1, 2007.
At the center of the case was the Oklahoma Legislature’s 2007 amendment that created a three-tiered level of assessment for sex offenders, with assessments to be conducted by the DOC.
Sex offenders were placed on one of the three levels that determine the length of time an offender is required to register as a sex offender, Brown said.
For some who were put on the offender rolls prior to 2007, the amendment altered registration requirements.
“If you were a Level 1 or Level 2 offender [before 2007], you had a date you could get off the registry,” said Brown. “But when the laws changed in 2007, some offenders who were Level 2 and were about to get off of the registry were moved to Level 3 and required to register for life.”
Because the Oklahoma Supreme Court took issue with making the 2007 legislation retroactive, state officials must now individually review the cases of more than 7,000 offenders on the registry and determine whether they should be removed.
That task is time-consuming. On the DOC website, state officials ask that offenders “please allow a reasonable time for this review.”
If an offender is to be removed, he or she – along with the law enforcement agency presiding over the registration – will receive a letter confirming that action. Until that letter is in hand, convicted sex offenders must continue their normal signup.
“The Department of Corrections is backed up, so offenders shouldn’t just assume they will come off the registry and stop checking in the way they are required to,” said Brown. “Until you and the sheriff’s office receive a letter from the state, you must register under normal guidelines; if not, you can be charged [with failing to register].”
Brown said the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office is also asking the local offenders who receive that letter of confirmation to stop by the office and have the letter notarized.
There’s no requirement to have the letter notarized at the sheriff’s office, but Brown believes doing so will benefit both the offender and the community.
“It’s to help the public,” said Brown. “If one of these offenders is out somewhere, and is questioned about being there, [he or she] can produce a letter that has been notarized, and the notary stamp from the sheriff’s office can be a way to confirm to the public that person has been removed from the registry.”
Cherokee County Undersheriff Jason Chennault said the sheriff’s office will continue to police sex offender registry requirements.
“We aggressively check the compliance of sex offenders in Cherokee County to ensure the safety of our community and our children,” said Chennault.