|July 12, 2012|
Previously published on July 10, 2012
Overview: A California Court of Appeal recently reversed the conviction of a registered sex offender who failed to change his registration status from “transient” to reflect that he had moved into a travel trailer in front of his brother’s home. The court found that, though the legal definition of “residence” under the Sex Offender Registration Act included parked recreational vehicles (like a travel trailer) at a fixed address, this was not commonly understood to be a “home”. The court then found that a defendant who continues to register as a “transient” in this kind of situation does not “willfully violate” the Act if he does not have actual knowledge that the parked trailer constitutes a “residence” with different registration requirements. Without proper notice from law enforcement concerning what constitutes a “residence,” a registrant lacks the “actual knowledge” required to support a willful violation conviction.
Training Point: This case illustrates the importance of specifically notifying sex offender registrants of all registration requirements under the Act at the time of registration. Agencies should consider development of a registration form that lists all registration requirements under the Act. Further, agencies should consider having an officer available to go over the form with the registrant so as to provide verbal notice of the requirements that apply to the registrant’s particular situation. A written and verbal advisement procedure promotes both agency awareness of registrants and registrant knowledge of their registration obligations. An advisement procedure also documents a registrant’s “actual knowledge” for potential prosecution of Act violations.
Summary Analysis: In People v. Aragon, Jonathan Ray Aragon was required to register as a sex offender in Sacramento County following a sex offense conviction. After his release, Aragon registered with the Sheriff’s Department as a transient, and continued to register for several years. At some point, and for several months, he lived in a travel trailer parked in front of his brother’s duplex, which had a fixed address. Aragon continued to register as a transient. He was convicted of violating the Act by failing to register his address after moving into a “residence.” Aragon argued that he did not “actually know” that the trailer was a residence under the Act. The appellate court agreed, finding there was insufficient evidence of a “willful violation” to support the conviction, and overturned it.