It should be simple to track sex offenders where you live. The state’s registry pinpoints the names and addresses you might be concerned about. But an old loophole in the law has given some offenders a way to fly under the radar…until now.
Maryland has about 6,000 sex offenders on its registry at any one time. All of them list the street they live on, except for about 100 of them. That’s because they’re listed as homeless.
Some in that group have been using that loophole to essentially avoid registering altogether, but thanks to a new law, they're going to have to pick a place to lay their head or spend some extra time with police.
On your streets, you track sex offenders because they're required to put their address on the record. We're tracking them too because we want to make sure they live where they say they do. It's supposed to be easy.
The state registry gives you names, faces and places where sex offenders live, at least the ones who have homes. David Wolinski, the Assistant Director of the state’s Criminal Justice Information System (which oversees the Sex Offender Registry ) says, "Wherever there's a loophole, someone's going to find it."
And until recently, sex offenders in Maryland found one here in the Free State. All they had to do was register as homeless. We found more than 100 offenders listed as homeless on the registry.
But not everyone who tells the state they've got nowhere to lay their head is telling the truth. In fact, some have perfectly good homes that aren't hard to find. Wolinski says, "Some of these sex offenders were not really homeless. They had places they were staying at night."
So we decided to look. We came across Josh Bias, a top tier offender who was convicted of kidnapping in Ohio. He was listed as having no where to live, but a simple internet search showed he'd been living in a Catonsville apartment building since June. We visited Bias and asked him to explain his status. He told us, “I'm going to be registering."
Situations like Bias’ are why state lawmakers created a new law that went into effect October 1st. Under the measure, sex offenders who still want to claim homelessness now have to check in with police once a week or risk arrest.
Wolinski says, "If you can't be accountable for your location, if you're wandering about, then you need to report your wanderings."
Offenders also have another option. They can pin themselves down to one place, even if it's a park bench, an underpass or a tent city. But once they’ve settled in, they better settle up with the state.
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Josh Bias did. Baltimore County police tell ABC2 he updated his address just moments after our visit. Still, prosecutors who’ve fought cases involving this issue believe some will find a new way to skirt the law.
John McCarthy, the State’s Attorney for Montgomery County, says, “I think probably down the road, is there likely to be another hole to fill in this bill? Sure, absolutely. That's always the case. Everyone is always looking for a gap or a loophole."
Updating the addresses of these homeless offenders is a job that falls to cops at the local level, although depending on where you live, the offenders won’t be actively sought out for status changes.
In many situations, we’re told, offenders will simply change their address to a permanent location during their regular check-in with police. We're told that since the law went into effect, a number of homeless offenders have updated the registry with permanent addresses.
The state database is being updated to reflect those changes.
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