Have you ever been shaken to your core by an answer to a question? That happened to me recently when I asked a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles county why his office had objected to a petition for removal from the registry.
Without a pause, the deputy district attorney replied “because we can.”
What? A district attorney is objecting to a petition solely because he or she can. Technically, that answer is correct. After all, the Tiered Registry Law authorizes district attorneys to object to a petition, but their authority to do so is limited to cases in which an individual’s continued registration would “significantly enhance community safety.”
Although it is not spelled out in the Tiered Registry Law, it is implied in that law that a district attorney must have a valid reason for their objection. The law does not state or imply that a district attorney may object to a petition because they can or for no reason at all.
The case in which this oral volley took place involved a person who was convicted about 30 years ago and has not re-offended. In addition, the person has a clean criminal record both before and after her conviction for a sex offense.
Like most people on the registry, this individual has struggled with employment and housing. She has also struggled with determining her gender identity. She first married and then divorced a man only later to marry a woman with whom she has been in a loving relationship for more than 20 years.
Due to her marriages and divorce as well as a first name that is often misspelled, this woman has a long list of names on her Megan’s Law website profile. The deputy district attorney suggested that this long list of names is evidence that the individual is trying to hide from law enforcement. That alone is not a basis for an objection and therefore fell back to the original statement, “because we can.”
When a district attorney objects to a petition for removal, there is not just one reaction. Instead, it starts a chain reaction in the individual as well as in his/her legal representative. That is because in order to overcome a district attorney’s objection, one must provide evidence that “community safety” is not at risk if the judge grants the petition. Often this requires a comprehensive psychological evaluation as well as a lengthy legal brief. Both cost time and money. If the person cannot afford to pay for the evaluation and the legal brief, the only choice left for the individual is to withdraw his or her petition. This means, of course, that the individual must continue to register and the district attorney has won.
In these situations, which are admittedly rare, the intent of the legislature in its creation of the Tiered Registry Law is being undermined by district attorneys. That is, the legislature passed the Tiered Registry Law in order to eliminate individuals from the registry who do not pose a current risk of re-offense. The district attorneys who object to a petition for removal solely because they can should be held accountable by the legislature.