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August 19, 2012

State’s sex-offender law under scrutiny

Lawmakers look at meeting stricter national standards

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana — along with 34 other states — is out of compliance with a federal law that requires states to adopt strict standards for registering sex offenders and monitoring their whereabouts.

The federal law was passed in 2006, in response to a series of heinous crimes committed by fugitive sex offenders, including Joseph Edward Duncan III, a serial child molester on the federal death row in Terre Haute for the 2005 kidnap, torture and killing of a 9-year-old boy.

The law was supposed to launch an aggressive 50-state effort to keep better track of offenders like Duncan, who was a registered sex offender in one state, while out on bond on a child molesting charge in another state, when he was committing sex crimes and murder in a third state.

But that effort has been slowed by questions about the costs of the law’s implementation, concerns that the federal law trumps state policies and practices already in place and fears that states will face an avalanche of lawsuits if they follow the federal rules.

An Indiana legislative study committee is taking up the issue this summer, in part because of questions about the accuracy of the state’s Sex and Violent Offender Registry. It’s on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting of the Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee.

“There are some policy issues involved that only the legislature can address,” said Steve Luce, executive director of the Indiana Sheriffs Association, which manages the registry’s public website with support from the Indiana Department of Correction.

Late last year, Indiana — along with many states — was penalized by the U.S. Department of Justice for its failure to “substantially implement” the federal law, known as the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, or SORNA.

The penalty was the loss of about $180,000 in federal funds for state law enforcement. Indiana got the money back this year, but it can only be used to move toward implementing SORNA. States can be penalized for every year they don’t meet SORNA standards.

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