What Are the California Sex Offender Registry Laws?

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Under California sex offender laws, people who commit certain sex crimes must register as a sex offender.

They may also have to register on the national registry under Megan’s Law. Prior to 2021, registration for any and all crimes on the sex offender list in California was for life.

California now uses a tiered system based on the person’s history and the egregiousness of the offense to decide the minimum amount of time that someone will be required to register as a sex offender.  

Our team has decades of experience protecting the rights of individuals facing criminal charges in California. To speak with a sex crimes lawyer, contact us today.

What Is the Definition of a Sex Offender?

What is the definition of a sex offender? The California sex offender definition includes anyone convicted of certain sex crimes, including rape, crimes involving minors, and indecent exposure.

Under California sex offender laws, sex offenders must register with the California sex offender registry.

People who commit certain non-sexual offenses will also be required to register if the offense was sexually motivated.

People with convictions requiring registration from other states will also have to register in California.

What Are the Reporting Requirements?

After release from custody, the person must register within five business days at their local law-enforcement agency. The agency then forwards the information to the California Department of Justice. 

Registered sex offenders must update their information annually within five days of their birthday with the local agency.

People who do not have a permanent address must update their information every thirty days.

Someone convicted of a violent sex offense must update every ninety days if they are homeless.

If the person moves or changes their name, they must update their information within five business days.

Offenders taking college classes on campus must also register with the campus police or the college’s local police department. 

The Megan’s Law website will show the following information:

  • The offender’s name
  • Their partial or complete address, depending upon the seriousness of the offense or if they are habitual offenders
  • The offense
  • Year of conviction
  • Year of release from incarceration or commitment
  • Physical description
  • Photo identification

The Department of Justice updates the website daily with new information.

Failure to register as a sex offender is a new offense. 

If the defendant was originally convicted of a felony sex offense, then failing to register will be a felony offense with a minimum term of ninety days in custody. 

If the defendant was originally convicted of a misdemeanor sex offense, then failing to register as a sex offender will be a misdemeanor offense. However, there is still a minimum term of ninety days in custody. 

Is Registration on the Megan’s Law Website Mandatory?

Some offenders are eligible for exclusion from the national registry, but they must still register locally. The Department of Justice determines who may be excluded.

A person can apply for exclusion if they have a low or moderate-low risk level on the California static risk assessment instrument (SARATSO), and:

  • The offense was sexual battery or a misdemeanor offense of annoying children, and there is no other offense requiring registry;
  • They have a felony child pornography conviction and the victim was at least sixteen or seventeen years old; or 
  • They are in a probation program or completed probation, the victim was their relative, and the offense did not involve oral sex or penetration.

A subsequent probation violation terminates the exclusion from the registry.

Can Someone Be Removed from the Sex Offender List?

Prior to 2021, the registration obligation was a lifetime requirement.

The only way to obtain removal from the California sex offender list was through a certificate of rehabilitation or a governor’s pardon. For all the below options, the offender’s registration must be current.


After the offender is released from custody and completes their probation term, they can apply for a dismissal of their conviction.

A dismissal removes the charge and conviction from a person’s criminal record in many (but not all) respects.

It does not, however, remove the requirement for a sex offender to register in California. It is also not available for more egregious offenses.

Certificate of Rehabilitation

After the offender is released from custody, parole, or probation, they can apply for a certificate of rehabilitation within seven to ten years depending on their conviction.

They must have been granted a dismissal of the offense and not have had any subsequent charges.

They must not be on probation for any other case. They must also show proof of California residency for five years.

A certificate of rehabilitation relieves someone’s duty to register in California in some cases. It is not available for more egregious offenses.

Governor’s Pardon

A governor’s pardon is the most difficult option and should only be used as a last resort. The type of offense or its egregious nature does not matter for a pardon.

However, the person must have been crime-free for at least ten years after their release from custody.  No California governor has granted a pardon on a sex case for at least the past fifty years.  

2021 New Sex Offender Registry Law

As of January 2021, California eliminated the lifetime registration requirement under Senate Bill SB-145. Instead, the California DOJ implemented a tier-based system of minimum mandatory registration periods.

The tier assigned depends on the offense committed, and offenders must petition to have their requirements terminated.

Additionally, judges now have the discretion not to require offenders to register for certain convictions where the victim was at least fourteen and the offender is only older by less than ten years. 

Minimum Mandatory Registration Periods

The California DOJ assigns someone’s tier unless registration is court-ordered. A court can order registration for non-sex crimes if the court finds that the person committed the offense because of sexual compulsion or for sexual gratification.

  • Tier 1 offenders stay on the list for 10 years (5 if a juvenile conviction). Offenses such as sexual battery, indecent exposure, or misdemeanor child pornography can merit Tier 1 status.
  • Tier 2 offenders stay on the list for 20 years (10 if a juvenile conviction). Tier 2 involves offenses such as lewd acts with a child under fourteen.
  • Tier 3—Risk Assessment Level offenders stay on the list for 20 years. These are egregious offenders and offenders that committed Tier 1 or Tier 2 offenses, but their SARATSO risk level is far above average at the time of release; and
  • Tier 3—Lifetime offenders stay on the sex offender registry for the rest of their lives. These are offenders who commit crimes such as rape, sex trafficking, felony sexual battery, or sex crimes against a child under 10.

The mandatory minimum time period begins on the date of release from custody. The time is paused if the offender is subsequently incarcerated or committed.

Convictions for failing to register extend the time by one year for a misdemeanor and three years for a felony.

Conviction of a subsequent offense requiring registration restarts the clock after the person is released from custody.

The Petition Process

Someone may petition their county superior or juvenile court on their next birthday following the expiration of the mandated minimum registration period. For the petition, they must:

  • Complete the petition forms;
  • Get proof that their registration is current from their local law enforcement agency;
  • File the petitions with the court; and
  • Serve the petitions on the local agency and the county district attorney where the conviction occurred.

The district attorney can request a hearing to oppose the petition. The court decides whether to approve the petition.

The court does not have to grant a hearing if it chooses to deny the petition, but it needs to provide the reason for denial and state when the person can make another petition.

If the petitioner is a Tier 1 or Tier 2 offender they may re-petition in one to five years. If they are in Tier 3—Risk Assessment, they must wait between three and five years.

An offender will be ineligible for the petition if they:

  • Have not met the mandatory minimum time requirement;
  • Have pending charges that could extend the mandatory minimum or change their tier designation;
  • Are in custody or on parole, probation, or supervised release;
  • Have not fulfilled the filing and service requirements; or
  • Are designated Tier 3—Lifetime.

The California Department of Justice cannot provide legal advice or help a petitioner with their application. Petitioners must contact their own attorney for assistance.

Top Sex Crime Law Firm in San Diego – The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong

Registered sex offenders and pedophiles will likely experience personal, professional, and social difficulties as a result of the registration requirement.

Thankfully there is no longer a mandatory lifetime requirement to register for everyone, but the removal process can be complex and overwhelming. Our attorneys have a strong record of experience with sex crime defense.

We are ready to help you understand your rights and clear your name. Contact us to schedule your consultation.

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Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.