BILLINGS — More than half of all sexual offenders registered in Montana don’t have a designation that indicates how likely they are to re-offend and sets requirements for checking in with authorities, The Billings Gazette reported.
A review by the newspaper found that 59 percent of sex offenders registered in May and June and 58 percent of the 2,348 offenders registered in August didn’t have what officials call a tier designation.
Since 1997, convicted sexual offenders are supposed to be given a tier 1, 2 or 3 designation upon sentencing, identifying them from least to most likely to re-offend. Out-of-state offenders and those convicted before 1997 are treated as though they are tier 1 offenders, meaning they only have to check in and verify their address once a year.
Those with a tier 2 designation must check in twice a year, and those designated tier 3 offenders have to check in four times a year. The state can also release license plate numbers, vehicle descriptions and any restrictions attached to tier 3 offenders. Tier 1 offenders can petition to be removed from the registry after 10 years, while the others are monitored for 25 years.
The 2013 Legislature passed a bill that gave district court judges the authority to assign a tier level to an offender after sentencing.
Since then, Deputy Attorney General Jon Bennion said 200 offenders have been evaluated and assigned tier levels, including 100 in June.
The state Department of Justice has “devoted quite a bit more time to addressing the issue this summer,” Bennion said. But he added that a lot more work needs to be done.
“It’s an issue that I didn’t create. It was something that I inherited. And we’re going to try to take the time necessary to fix that situation to the extent we can,” Attorney General Tim Fox told the Gazette in June.
The department said 83 percent of offenders didn’t have a tier level before Fox took office, up from 66 percent in 2008.
In order to clear up the registry, offenders without tier levels have to be identified, evaluated and brought to court. A fiscal note attached to the bill estimated it would cost over $1,800 per offender.
Toby Griego, a registered sex offender from New Mexico who moved to Montana in 2008, was among those in Montana’s registry who hadn’t been evaluated for a designation. He was convicted of raping three women and trying to rape a fourth in Billings in 2013 and was sentenced in July to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Chief Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney Juli Pierce, who prosecuted Griego, said it’s impossible to tell if an earlier level assignment would have made a difference in his case. “There are just too many variables,” she said.
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