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What are the penalties for failure to register as a sex offender in Washington?

Failure to register as a sex offender is a crime under RCW 9A.44.132.  Depending on the allegations, you can be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony

Class C Felony

Under Washington law, you are guilty of a class C felony if you fail to comply with your duty to register for a felony sex offense. 

A class C felony carries a maximum possible penalty of 5 years in state prison and a $10,000 fine.

Class B Felony

You are guilty of a class B felony if you fail to comply with your duty to register and you have a prior conviction for failing to register as a sex offender.

A class B felony carries a maximum possible penalty of 10 years in state prison and a $20,000 fine. 

Gross Misdemeanor

Under RCW 9A.44.132, you are guilty of a gross misdemeanor if you have a duty to register for a sex offense that is not felony under Washington law and you fail to comply with the registration requirements.

A gross misdemeanor carries a maximum possible penalty of 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Example: You pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct of a minor in the second degree in Benton County and prosecutors later charge you with failure to register.  You cannot be charged with a felony because this crime is not a felony. 

I didn't realize I was required to register.  Is that valid defense?

No. 

Even if you immediately register upon learning that you have been charged with failure to register, that is not a legal defense to the charge.  Ignorance is not an excuse, even though lots of people are ignorant about all the complexities surrounding sex offender registration.

Of course, registering is always better than not registering, regardless of when you do it.  Even the toughest prosecutors understand the difference between a convicted child rapist who hasn't registered in years as opposed to a low-level sex offender who showed up at the sheriff's office one day late. 

I've been charged with failure to register.  What should I do?

Register … immediately.

You may not have realized that you were required to register, but upon learning that you were charged, you definitely do now. 

To put that in legal terms, you now have actual notice of your failure to register. 

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