Myth v. Fact: Implementation of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act

Myth: The SMART Office is a law enforcement agency that investigates child abuse crimes and can provide the public with information on the prosecution of local crimes.

Fact: The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), Title I of the Adam Walsh Act established the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (the "SMART Office"), a component of the Office of Justice Programs within the U.S. Department of Justice. The SMART Office is authorized by law to administer the standards for sex offender registration and notification that are set forth in SORNA. It is further authorized to cooperate with and provide assistance to states, local governments, tribal governments, and other public and private entities in relation to sex offender registration and notification and other measures for the protection of the public from sexual abuse or exploitation. The SMART Office is not a law enforcement agency. Rather, it is a key federal partner and resource for jurisdictions as they continue to develop and strengthen their sex offender registration and notification programs.

Myth: SORNA requires local governmental units to establish local sex offender registries.

Fact: Local governmental units are not SORNA jurisdictions. Rather, SORNA defines "jurisdictions" as the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the five principal U.S. territories, and certain federally recognized Indian tribes that elect to function as registration jurisdictions. Areas such as counties, towns, or villages within a single SORNA jurisdiction are not considered part of SORNA's definition of "jurisdiction."

Myth: Jurisdictions must implement SORNA standards through statutory changes.

Fact: While SORNA sets minimum standards for jurisdictions' registration and notification programs, it does not necessarily require jurisdictions to implement all of the standards by statute. Hence, in assessing compliance with SORNA, the totality of a jurisdiction's rules governing the operation of its registration and notification program will be considered, including administrative policies and procedures, as well as statutes.

Myth: Jurisdictions must purchase large quantities of costly, digital print-taking equipment to come into compliance with SORNA.

Fact: To comply with SORNA, jurisdictions are NOT required to use digital print-taking devices to obtain registered sex offenders' prints. Rather, jurisdictions may choose to take rolled, inked prints and scan and upload them for inclusion on their registries. Both scanned inked prints and digitally taken prints meet SORNA's immediate transmittal requirement. See Digitized Fingerprints and Palm Prints for more information.

Myth: SORNA requires jurisdictions to spend tens of millions of dollars to implement its requirements.

Fact: Different jurisdictions will have differing cost impacts, and the SMART Office is providing numerous resources without charge to bring registration jurisdictions in to compliance.

  • Existing registration schemes. Many registration jurisdictions already have sex offender registration schemes that meet a number of SORNA's requirements. Depending on the current status of a registration jurisdiction's laws, cost estimates for implementation will vary widely and must be approached on a case-by-case basis.

  • Grant assistance. In Fiscal Years 2007 and 2008, the SMART Office provided more than $16 million in grant assistance to states, territories, and units of local and tribal governments to create and enhance sex offender registry and notification programs. These grants have been useful in assisting jurisdictions in their efforts to implement SORNA provisions.

  • Registry web site resources. The SMART Office has provided, free of charge, several web service oriented applications that will assist jurisdictions in meeting SORNA requirements. These include tools that enable jurisdictions to provide community notifications, mapping, and geocoding of sex offender locations. In addition, the SMART Office will provide a tool to perform reverse e-mail address and phone number lookups to let concerned individuals know if a given address is associated with a registered sex offender. Jurisdictions will be able to incorporate all of these tools into their own public sex offender registry web sites.

  • Tribe and territory sex offender registry system. The SMART Office is providing a full-functioning, SORNA-compliant, sex offender registry system to Indian tribes and territories that must comply with SORNA. Each tribe or territory that elects to use the centralized registry will have its own public web site, private administrative web site, and database that will make up its sex offender registry system. See "Free Registry Technology for Tribes and Territories" for more information.

  • Communication resources. The SMART Office has provided a portal to facilitate information sharing among all of the SORNA registration jurisdictions. Each of the 253 registration jurisdictions (50 states, District of Columbia, 5 U.S. territories, and 197 Indian tribes) has a site on the portal and is eligible to designate users to access it. The portal allows jurisdictions to share documents and registration information, post contact information, and notify other jurisdictions when an offender is relocating.

  • Technical assistance. The SMART Office is available for technical assistance of any kind regarding SORNA implementation. Policy advisors and grant specialists are available to assist jurisdictions with their implementation efforts, as well as provide grant solicitation and funding information. In addition, the SMART Office hosts an annual workshop and symposium on Sex Offender Management and Accountability for lawmakers, sex offender registry officials, policy advisors, law enforcement officials, parole and probation officers, prosecutors, and frontline professionals who monitor, register, track, and manage sex offenders.

Myth: The 10-percent Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) reduction occurs only once.

Fact: SORNA mandates that any state, territory, or the District of Columbia that is found not to be in compliance with SORNA, as determined by the SMART Office, will suffer a 10-percent reduction in Byrne JAG funds each year in which the jurisdiction remains noncompliant with SORNA.

Myth: The Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website is a national sex offender registration database containing registration information on sex offenders registered throughout the country.

Fact: The Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) is not a database; rather, it acts as a search engine to search jurisdictions' sites. Because the data is hosted by each jurisdiction and not by the federal government, search results should be verified by the user in the jurisdiction where the information is posted. Users are advised to log on to pertinent jurisdictions' web sites for further information and/or guidance, as appropriate.

Myth: NSOPW is maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Fact: NSOPW is maintained by the SMART Office.

  • The Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website is maintained by the SMART Office. It is accessible, free of charge, to any Internet user.

  • The National Sex Offender Registry. The National Sex Offender Registry (NSOR) is a database maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and accessible only by law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies as part of the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

Myth: All juvenile sex offenders must register.

Fact: Jurisdictions are only required to register juvenile delinquents if they are both 14 years of age or older at the time of the offense and adjudicated delinquent for certain serious sexually assaultive crimes.

  • National Guidelines for Sex Offender Registration and Notification: It suffices for substantial implementation if a jurisdiction applies SORNA's requirements to juveniles at least 14 years old at the time of the offense who are adjudicated delinquent for committing (or attempting or conspiring to commit) offenses under laws that cover—

    • Engaging in a sexual act with another by force or the threat of serious violence; or

    • Engaging in a sexual act with another by rendering unconscious or involuntarily drugging the victim.

"Sexual act" for this purpose should be understood to include any degree of genital or anal penetration, and any oral-genital or oral-anal contact. See Juvenile Offenders Required to Register Under SORNA: A Fact Sheet for more information.

Myth: SORNA contains residency restrictions.

Fact: Residency restrictions and safety zones are NOT part of SORNA. All such restrictions are the result of jurisdictional or local legislation, not federal law or SORNA. Numerous jurisdictions and local entities do currently restrict sex offenders from living near, or being present within, certain areas (e.g., within a certain distance of schools, parks, or playgrounds). All inquiries regarding residency restrictions or safety zones are a matter to be addressed at the jurisdictional and local level.