Legal loopholes could allow NC sex offenders to go off radar

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RANDOLPH COUNTY, N.C. -- Kay Sharp’s rental property in Randolph County was listed on the National Sex Offender Registry. She said that’s because her former tenant was a convicted sex offender. He moved from the home, but the address stayed on the registry. Sharp was worried because she had a new tenant moving in. She called the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office but told FOX8 it was hard to get any answers. Sharp says her address stayed on the registry for five weeks even after the sex offender had moved and, as required by law, registered his new address.

The State Bureau of Investigation updates the sex offender registry, so FOX8 asked an agent what caused the delay. He explained that the local sheriff’s office must notify the SBI of any address change. A Randolph County sheriff’s spokesperson admitted this was a clerical error by a deputy. It’s an excuse that Kay Sharp doesn’t find acceptable. She told us, “This guy’s neighbors had no way of knowing for over a month that a sex offender had moved into the neighborhood.”

Once we started asking questions, FOX8 On Your Side got curious. How could a clerical error like this persist for more than a month? Here’s what we discovered: the law requires sex offenders to register their home address within three days of moving, but the law does not require the local sheriff’s office to verify that address. Instead, every six months, the SBI sends an address verification letter that the offender must return to the sheriff. This means if an offender registers a fake address, it could go unnoticed for half a year. The problem would only be discovered when the certified mail is returned as undeliverable.

Guilford County Sheriff’s Corporal Brian Henderson calls it a "loophole.” Corporal Henderson monitors more than 900 sex offenders living in Guilford County.

He said, “Nothing in the law right now says we have to go out and knock on the door and see if that person actually lives there.”

He explained it gets even more complicated. Let’s say the registered address is for a sex offender’s family member. If she signs the certified mail receipt instead, deputies have no way of proving that the sex offender actually received it. State law requires proof the sex offender actually received the letter in order to issue an arrest warrant for non-compliance.

These loopholes mean that some sex offenders can go off the radar. Something the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office works hard to keep from happening. Though not required by law, deputies do random checks on sex offenders, but they need your help, too. Check your address on the national sex offender registry. If you see a problem, report it. For now, that’s the best way to fight back against these legal loopholes.

Attorney General Roy Cooper offers a free app for the North Carolina sex offender registry. It’s for iPhone and Android. You can search by address and get email alerts to track specific offenders. You can download it here.