By Tim Talley
OKLAHOMA CITY — The names of hundreds of convicted sex offenders could be removed from Oklahoma's Sex Offender Registry due to a recent state Supreme Court ruling, a Department of Corrections official said Tuesday.
Spokesman Jerry Massie said there are more than 7,000 offenders on the state's Sex Offender Registry that provides public information about people who are convicted of a variety of sex-related offenses who live in the state.
A preliminary assessment by corrections officials indicates thousands of them could be affected by a June 25 Supreme Court decision that deemed it unconstitutional for the state to retroactively apply amendments to registration requirements that increase the time an offender must remain on the registry, Massie said.
Although there is no estimate on how many offenders may eventually be dropped from the registry, Massie said the number could be in the hundreds.
"Maybe more," he said. He said it will "take a while," for corrections officials to research the cases of each offender to determine if they are eligible to be dropped.
"It may or may not be a fairly simple process," Massie said. "You may be dealing with people who have multiple convictions."
The high court's decision involved the case of James Starkey, 68, who pleaded no contest to the sexual assault of a minor in Texas in 1998 and received a deferred sentence. When he moved to Oklahoma later that year, the law required him to register as a sex offender for 10 years.
But a 2004 amendment to the state's Sexual Offender Registration Act increased the length of time Starkey had to remain registered by another 10 years, and a 2007 amendment resulted in Starkey being rated the highest level of sex offender and required that he remain registered for life.
In a divided opinion, the court ruled that the amendments weren't intended to be applied retroactively and that extending Starkey's original 10-year registration requirement violated the state Constitution.
Starkey's attorney, John M. Dunn of Tulsa, said Starkey's name has already been removed from the state's Sex Offender Registry.
"I am very happy about that," Dunn said. He said corrections officials appear to be moving as fast as they can to implement the Supreme Court's guidelines for Starkey and other offenders who may be affected.
"They seem to be making good on it," Dunn said. "I expect that they are going to move swiftly on that to get people de-listed from the registry. I don't foresee that it's going to be heavily contested."
Corrections officials have said a court order will not be needed to remove offenders that are subject to the Starkey case. But offenders who have been jailed for failure to comply with the registration requirements will need a court order in order to be removed, Dunn said.
"It has to go back to a judge," he said. "It takes a judicial order."
Massie said the agency's review will require officials to examine the registration requirements at the time each offender was convicted and sentenced.
The state's Sex Offender Registry law has been in effect since 1989 and has been amended at least 13 times to add crimes to the registry or extend registration requirements, he said.