Determining sex offender risk to public safety : a survey of superior court judges hearing petitions for removal from the North Carolina sex offender registry

WCU Author/Contributor (non-WCU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Grace F. Love (Creator)
Western Carolina University (WCU )
Web Site:
L. Alvin Malesky, Jr.

Abstract: Under Finding of Fact 6 of the Petition and Order for Termination of Sex Offender Registration, North Carolina Superior Court Judges are required to make a determination of the potential risk posed by offenders petitioning the Court for removal from NC sex offender registry. Among the requirements to grant removal, these Judges are required by the standards of the petition and General Statues to find that “the petitioner is not a current or potential threat to public safety” (AOC-CR-262, IV,(6); N.C.G.S. 14-208.12A(1)(3)). Participants of this study are NC Superior Court Judges who were surveyed regarding their experiences presiding over hearings of petitions for termination of sex offender registration. Building on findings of a previous survey of NC Superior Court Judges, this study looked to identify the types of information available to Judges on which to base the required determination of the petition, and the perceived importance of this evidentiary information to determining the potential threat a petitioner may pose to public safety. Survey results were examined relative to accepted research literature on risk factors and associations of information (that might be available during removal hearings) to the risk of sexual recidivism. Results of actuarial risk assessments may not always be available or preferable to a judge for the specific case. Some researchers (Hanson & Morton-Bourgon, 2009; Knight & Thornton, 2007) have suggested a best practice for the assessment of risks related to recidivism is to include an analysis of dynamic, changeable risk factors in combination with static factors. Judges inherently use a combination of deliberative thinking and structured professional judgement in their decision-making as Triers of Fact (Guthrie, Rachlinski, & Wistrich, 2007). For the purposes of North Carolina Superior Court Judges deliberating the question of potential threat posed by an offender petitioning for removal from the NCSOR, knowledge of the static and dynamic risk associations relevant to the individual case information available to them may prove beneficial to assist in the difficult determination with which they are tasked. This thesis examined judicial perceptions of the types of information (e.g., demographics, criminal history) and information sources (e.g., records, testimony, reports) available as evidentiary material for the determination of a petitioner’s potential risk to public safety. Survey results offer a window into Judges’ perceptions of the level of importance and availability of certain types of information, relative to judicial decision-making during hearings of petitions for termination of sex offender registration. Findings suggest judges might benefit from access to a structured guide to research on factors identified as having empirically validated associations with sexual reoffending. When tasked with making a determination of offender’s potential risks to public safety (as required under N.C.G. S. 14-208.12A (1a)(3)), a better understanding of risk factors may assist judges in recognizing the most pertinent information and information sources (e.g., records) for identifying the presence of specific risk factors applicable to the case before them. Results are further discussed relative to the research questions raised herein. The implications of Finding of Fact 6 of the petition and related legislation, comparative to established research on risk factors for sexual recidivism, and the concerns of NC Superior Court Judges presiding over hearings for termination of sex offender registration are discussed. Conclusions call for future research and a practical application in the form of an informative guide to factors relevant to risk, to assist Judges tasked with this determination of petitioner risk required by the standards of removal hearings under N.C.G.S. 14-208.12A.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2014
Judicial risk assessment, NC petition for removal from NCSOR, risk factors for sexual recidivism, sex offender legislation, Sex offender registration, sex offense recidivism
Sex offenders -- Legal status, laws, etc -- North Carolina
Sex offenders -- Rehabilitation -- North Carolina
Judicial discretion -- North Carolina
Judges -- North Carolina -- Attitudes

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