Washington Law Review Online

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Sex offenders experiencing homelessness face unique challenges in Washington that sex offenders with housing do not. When individuals commit a sex offense, they are required to register as a sex offender by providing the state with a current home address. But what happens if an offender has no home? Currently, Washington’s sex offender registration statute forces sex offenders experiencing homelessness to appear in person weekly at the county sheriff’s office to meet registration requirements. Failing to appear for even one week can result in a charge for failure-to-register as a sex offender. In contrast, the statute requires non-homeless sex offenders to register yearly. While non-homeless registrants usually have one opportunity in a year to be charged with failure-to-register, registrants experiencing homelessness are vulnerable to failure-to-register charges at least fifty-two times a year.

Washington courts should invalidate Washington’s sex offender registration statute because of the statute’s harm to registrants experiencing homelessness. Although sex offenders typically do not receive much sympathy from the public, sex offenders experiencing homelessness face serious economic and social challenges. In addition to weekly registration, sex offenders experiencing homelessness carry the burden of worrying about common human necessities such as housing, food, and employment. This Comment argues that the weekly in- person registration requirement for sex offenders experiencing homelessness is harmful and ineffective. This Comment further argues that Washington’s registration statute as applied to individuals experiencing homelessness is unconstitutionally cruel punishment.

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