By JODI HAUSEN
A new law may have some convicted sexual offenders undergoing renewed scrutiny.
Gov. Steve Bullock signed House Bill 335 (PDF) into law this week, allowing prosecutors to have undesignated offenders re-evaluated for possible placement on the state’s tiered sexual offender system.
Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert said he plans to review about 50 undesignated offenders.
“Yes, I’m going to take a look at that list to see who’s appropriate for designation,” he said. “You bet. Particularly those with more of propensity to reoffend.”
The state adopted a three-tier system in 1997 for judges to assign offenders as Level 1, 2 or 3 based on a psycho-sexual evaluation.
Level 1 offenders are a low risk to reoffend, Level 2 moderate and Level 3 high. Level 3 offenders are also deemed sexually violent predators and a threat to public safety.
People sentenced before the 1997 law or in states without a tiered system have no designation and are treated as Level 1.
The new law will allow prosecutors to decide whether an undesignated sex offender should be listed at a higher level and be more closely monitored. Officers said they do regular address checks on offenders, particularly Level 3 offenders who are required to update their registration in-person every 90 days.
Bozeman Deputy Police Chief Rich McLane said there are 26 registered sex offenders in Bozeman. Of those, six are Level 1, six are Level 2 and 14 are undesignated.
But it’s “not an exact science as to how they are designated in the first place” and keeping track of them is really more critical, he said.
“It’s more important to know where they’re at, where they’re living and that they are complying with court conditions and not re-offending,” McLane said. “It’s not going to change what we do, but it’s going to change the public’s perception of the offender.”
The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office monitors 46 sexual offenders, 26 undesignated.
Sheriff Brian Gootkin said he likes the new law because it will make offenders more accountable.
In Belgrade, where officers monitor 40 sex offenders, 25 undesignated, Sgt. Dustin Lensing also welcomed the change.
“It will be a useful tool because it will be good to get a handle on where they should be designated so we know how much of a risk they pose to the public,” he said. “Obviously, it’s our concern if there’s someone out there who is undesignated and should be designated at Level 3 and that person isn’t getting the stringent monitoring they should.”
Bozeman therapist Fred Lemons provides sex offender treatment and called the new law great.
The law could remove stigma from an undesignated offender who receives a low-risk, Level 1 designation, he said.