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FAQ: Sex Offender Registration in Washington

The procedures and requirements surrounding sex offender registration in Washington are detailed and complicated, and the penalties for violations (even technical violations) can be severe.

These requirements and procedures are found in RCW 9A.44.130.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions:  

What is a sex offender?

The term "sex offender" refers to any juvenile or adult who has been convicted of specific offenses that Washington classifies as "sex offenses."  The most common sex offenses include rape, rape of a child, child molestation, and sexual misconduct with a minor.

You are also required to register as a sex offender if you are convicted of a felony offense with a finding of sexual motivation.  

Where do you have to register?

You have to register at the local sheriff in the county where you reside or work.  You must appear in-person.  You cannot register electronically, via mail, or remotely.

You must provide the following information at the time of registration

  • Name
  • Social security number
  • Alias
  • Date of Birth
  • Place of Birth
  • Employment / School information
  • Criminal conviction requiring registration
  • Date and place of conviction

At the sheriff's office, you will be fingerprinted and photographed, and your information will be sent to the Washington State Patrol.  You must also provide a DNA sample.

When is the registration deadline?

You must register with the county sheriff within three (3) business days of your arriving in a new county.  You must also register within three (3) business days of moving to a new address within the same county.

You just moved to Washington.  When do you have to register?

You must register within three (3) business days of establishing residence in Washington or re-establishing residence if you formerly lived in Washington.

You are just visiting Washington.  Do you have to register?


A visiting sex offender or kidnapping offender but register if he or she intends to reside or be present in Washington for 10 days or more.  You must register your temporary address with the county sheriff within three (3) business days of arriving in the county.

Unlike permanent residents, however, visiting sex offenders are not photographed or fingerprinted.  

What are sex offender classification levels?

Washington State classifies sex offenders based on their risk of danger to the community.  All sex offenders are classified as Level 1, Level 2, or Level 3.

Level 1 Offender: These offenders are the least dangerous because they are considered a low risk to reoffend. 

By far the most important benefit of being a Level 1 offender is that your name is generally not published on the online Washington Se Offender Public Registry.  

The Public Registry is a state funded program administered by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. 

Level 2 Offender:  A Level 2 offender is considered a moderate risk to sexually reoffend within the community at large.

All Level 2 offenders are published on the Washington Sex Offender Public Registry. 

Level 3 Offender: The most dangerous offenders, Level 3 offenders are considered a high risk to commit another sexual offense within their community.

All Level 3 offenders are published on the Washington Sex Offender Public Registry. 

Under Washington law, law enforcement agencies are in charge of assigning risk-level classification to all sex offenders after considering all relevant records from the Department of Corrections and any other relevant aggravating or mitigating factors.

Law enforcement use these risk level classifications for the purpose of community notification. 

How long does a Level 1 sex offender have to register?

A Level 1 sex offender has to register for 10 years, 15 years, indefinitely, or for life, depending on your criminal history.

The level classification itself does not mandate a certain time period. 

How long does a Level 2 or Level 3 sex offender have to register?

A Level 2 or Level 3 sex offender has to register for 10 years, 15 years, indefinitely, or for life, depending on your criminal history.

As with Level 1 offenders, the level classification itself does not mandate a certain time period. 

Do you still have to register if you leave Washington?


Your legal obligation to register as a sex offender does not end if you move to another state or if you're attending school in another state.

Once you move, you must do the following:

  • You must register with your new state within three (3) business days after establishing residence.
  • You must provide written notice of moving within three (3) business days of moving to the sheriff in the Washington county in which you last registered.

Example: You live in Seattle but you are moving to Eugene for to attend graduate school at the University of Oregon. 

You must register in Oregon within three (3) days of moving and you must notify the King County Sheriff's Office within three (3) days of moving. 

Do you have to register if you're homeless?


Many sex offenders do not have a so-called “fixed residence,” such as a house or an apartment.  They typically stay in homeless shelters or sleep outside. 

Under Washington law, a homeless sex offender must report in-person every week to the local county sheriff and—upon request—provide an “accurate accounting” of where he or she stays during the week.

If someone without a fixed residence leaves the county, he or she must re-register in the new county within three (3) business days.

Can a registered sex offender leave the country?

Yes, but only with advance notice.

You must provide the sheriff's office with at least 21 days' written notice if you intend to travel outside the United States. 

You must also provide the following information along with your notice:

  • Full name
  • Passport information
  • Travel itinerary, including departure and return dates
  • Purpose of travel (i.e. business or vacation)
  • Means of travel (i.e. airplane, train)

Under the law, you must provide notice either in-person or via certified mail (return receipt requested). 

Where can sex offenders live?

There is no law on the books in Washington that restricts where sex offenders can live.  Unless you are subject to court-ordered restrictions (e.g. stay away from parks or malls), a sex offenders have the constitutional right to live wherever they want.  

Can sex offenders change their name?

It depends.

Under Washington law, any resident has the right to petition the court to change his or her legal name.

Unlike everyone else, however, sex offenders are subject to additional requirements.  A court will not grant your name change if it determines that the name change will interfere with legitimate law enforcement interests.  

You must provide a copy of your name change petition to your local county sheriff and the Washington State Patrol within 5 days of your hearing.  You must then provide a copy of the name change order (if successful) to law enforcement within 3 days of the court order.  

Is there a difference between the sex offenders and kidnapping offenders when registering?


The statute always discusses kidnapping offenders and sex offenders separately, and technically they are different.  Sex offenders are guilty of a specified “sex offense” under Washington law, and kidnapping offenders were convicted of a specific kidnapping offense. 

But this is a distinction without a difference.  The registration requirements are identical, and the criminal penalties for violating any of these requirements are identical. 

Do I have to register if I was found not guilty after trial?


Only convicted sex offenders are subject to registration requirements.  By definition, a finding of not guilty is not a conviction.  You are not required to register and the court cannot place any other sex offender-related restrictions on you following a not guilty verdict.

Does a jury decide whether I am removed from the sex offender registration list?


Unlike a regular criminal trial, you are not entitled to a jury trial on the question of registration removal.  The trial judge alone will preside over the motion, listen to witnesses, consider evidence, and make a decision.

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