Over the past several decades, laws across the United States have been enacted to try and protect the public from individuals who commit sex offenses. Most states, including California, have created a sex offender registry as a method for keeping track of offenders and alerting the public to the presence of an offender. Because many of these laws and terms are relatively new there is often a good deal of confusion by the public about what the terms and laws mean. The terms “sexual offender” and “sexual predator,” for example, are often used interchangeably; however, they do not have the same legal meaning.
In California law, the term “sexual offender” has a very broad meaning whereas the term “sexually violent predator” has a very narrow meaning. California Welfare and Institutions Code Section 6600 defines a sexually violent predator as follows:
“Sexually violent predator means a person who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense against one or more victims and who has a diagnosed mental disorder that makes the person a danger to the health and safety of others in that it is likely that he or she will engage in sexually violent criminal behavior.”
A sexual offender, on the other hand, is someone who has been convicted of one or more of a long list of offenses classified as sex crimes. Not all sex offenders are considered a sexually violent predator. In fact, most sex offenders are not considered a sexually violent predator, or SVP.
SVP status is determined after sentencing during the time an offender is incarcerated. The primary purpose of determining SVP status relates to parole eligibility. Because SVPs are considered potentially dangerous and at a high risk to re-offend, an offender who qualifies for SVP status must undergo additional parole proceedings before being allowed to re-enter society. The California Board of Parole Hearings has the authority to hold an inmate beyond his or her scheduled parole date if the Board believes the individual may qualify as a SVP. If the offender is ultimately determined to be a SVP the offender may be committed to the Department of Mental Health for an indefinite period of time.
As you can see, being classified as a sexually violent predator is much more serious than simply being labeled a sex offender. Because California sex crimes laws are complex it is best to contact an experienced California sex crimes defense attorney with specific questions or concerns.