If you are a convicted felon, some states require you to register with law enforcement if you visit or move to their state. The scary part is that there are no signs when you cross the state line letting you know these laws exist. If you happen to be pulled over or have a police encounter for any reason and you have not registered, you can be arrested and taken to jail for “failure to register.” These tips will help you avoid trouble when you travel.
Assume you have to register. Any time you are going to enter a different state, register, as it is better to be safe than sorry. The court system will not accept ignorance of the law as an excuse. In addition, the judge may think you knew you should have registered and just didn’t bother, and then when you were caught, you made a false claim that you didn’t know. For each state line you will cross, call law enforcement offices and ask if convicted felons are required to register while in that state.
Get specifics. Each state is different. In one state, you may be required to register within 24 hours of arriving, even if only visiting for a weekend, yet another state may only require registering if you move there permanently. Some states only require you to register if you have two felony convictions in your past. Find out the details so you know if you have to register, where you need to do so and within what timeframe after entering the state. This pdf, from the Interstate Commission for Adult offender Supervision, offers some guidance by state:
This is a map of the country and clicking on any state will give you the contact information for finding out what the laws are in that state.
Check at the state level as well as county level. Unfortunately, even in their own state, officials sometimes get it wrong. If you listen to the first person you call and do not verify the accuracy of that information, it is going to be your word against some law enforcement official’s word about what they said to you. In journalism there is a rule that you must verify something by three sources for it to be printed as fact. In this case, you should verify the information about registering with three people in at least two different offices to be sure you are getting the correct information.
Do not ignore it. States that require you to register take it very seriously. Even if you plan to stay out of trouble, a minor accident, witnessing a crime, or helping a heart attack victim will all cause police involvement. The officer will typically run everybody’s name through a nationwide database and you will pop up as a felon. Without proof that you registered, you could be arrested. Register if required to do so. That way if your back taillight goes out and you get pulled over by the police, it won’t turn into a big mess.
Check with an attorney. Even if your felony conviction was years ago, if you are not comfortable trusting information given to you by the law enforcement agencies, call an attorney in the state you will be entering. A criminal defense attorney will be able to tell you during a phone call whether you must register in that state. If it is required, the attorney will most likely have represented felons who were charged with failure to register. It is a good safeguard to check with a local attorney any time someone at a police station tells you it is not required, just for added protection.