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Do homeless sex offenders in Washington have to register?

Posted by Brian C. Zuanich | Jul 05, 2019 | 0 Comments

For understandable reasons, the State punishes sex offenders severely. To see that you have to look no further than Washington's sex offender registration laws.

Sex offenders are required to register with the State and most sex offenders' personal information is published online. Anyone with a computer can log into the Washington Sex Offender Registry database and find a sex offender's name, offense, address, physical description, and a recent picture.

Depending on the seriousness of their crime, sex offenders have to register for as many as 10 years after their release from jail or for the rest of their life.

The State wraps its tentacles even more tightly around homeless sex offenders. They have to report weekly, in person, to their local county sheriff, keep track of where they stayed the past week, and provide this information to the sheriff's office upon request.

Klickitat County provides homeless sex offenders with forms to fill out and return weekly. James Dollarhyde, a local transient, regularly filled out and turned in these forms in January 2018. But on his January 16 form, he failed to state that he slept at a friend's residence in Goldendale for a couple of nights earlier that week.

As a result, the State charged Dollarhyde in Klickitat County Superior Court with violating RCW 9A.44.130(b)(6), the homeless sex offender registration statute. In most cases, failing to register is a class C felony, carrying a maximum of 5 years in prison. 

It seemed like an easy case for the State to prove. At trial, the State presented evidence that transient sex offenders are required to report weekly to the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office and that Dollarhyde knew about the address reporting requirement. A judge found Dollarhyde guilty and sentenced him to 48 months in prison.

Dollarhyde appealed his conviction, citing insufficient evidence. The Court of Appeals agreed and overturned his conviction.

This should have been an easy case to prove, the Court basically said in State v. Dollarhyde, but the State dropped the ball. RCW 9A.44.130(b)(6) requires a homeless sex offender to provide a list of addresses to the county sheriff “upon request.” Unless the sheriff's office makes a “timely and specific request each week” for this information, then an offender has no obligation to provide a list of past addresses. The State provided no evidence at trial that anyone from the Klickitat County Sheriff's office requested a weekly accounting in January 2018.

The State argued that Dollarhyde was made aware of this requirement back in 2015, when he first started registering, but the Court quickly shot down this argument. “The State's argument,” the Court wrote, “assumes it is sufficient to make a continuing request, perhaps even years earlier.” As the Court stressed, statutes establishing procedures that could lead to a defendant's loss of liberty must be strictly construed in favor of a criminal defendant.

The State did not strictly comply with the requirements of RCW 9A.44.130(b)(6).

As the Court noted in passing, this wouldn't be an in issue if the sheriff's office simply created a form that “explicitly” requests that homeless sex offenders list all the places they stayed the past week.    

About the Author

Brian C. Zuanich

I am the managing partner at Zuanich Law. I am a former prosecutor and insurance defense attorney, and have practiced law in state and federal courts for over a decade.

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