Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act: A Sketch
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, P.L. 109-248 (H.R. 4472), serves four
purposes. It reformulates the federal standards for sex offender registration in state, territorial and
tribal sexual offender registries, and does so in a manner designed to make the system more
uniform, more inclusive, more informative and more readily available to the public online. It
amends federal criminal law and procedure, featuring a federal procedure for the civil
commitment of sex offenders, random search authority over sex offenders on probation or
supervised release, a number of new federal crimes, and sentencing enhancements for existing
federal offenses. It creates, amends, or revives several grant programs designed to reinforce
private, state, local, tribal and territorial prevention; law enforcement; and treatment efforts in the
case of crimes committed against children. It calls for a variety of administrative or regulatory
initiatives in the interest of child safety, such as the creation of the National Child Abuse Registry.
This is an abridged version of CRS Report RL33967, Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety
Act: A Legal Analysis, by Charles Doyle, without the footnotes and citations to authority found in
the longer report.
Sex Offender Registration...................................................................................................1
Adjustments in Federal Criminal Law................................................................................2
Other Child Safety Initiatives.............................................................................................5
Author Contact Information............................................................................................................5
Earlier federal law, the Jacob Wetterling Act, encouraged the states to establish and maintain a
registration system. Each of them has done so. The Walsh Act preserves the basis structure of the
earlier law, expands upon it, and makes more specific matters that were previously left to
individual choice. For purposes of compliance by the states and other jurisdictions the prior law
remains in effect until the later of three years after enactment or one year after the necessary
software for the new uniform, online system has become available. For registrants, however, the
new requirements became effective upon enactment.
The class of offenders required to register has been expanded under the act. The group includes
anyone found in the United States and previously convicted of a federal, state, local, tribal,
military, or foreign qualifying offense, although strictly speaking violations of the laws of the
District of Columbia or U.S. territories are not specifically mentioned as qualifying offenses.
Offenders must register in each state or territory in which they live, work, or attend school. There
are five classes of qualifying offenses: crimes identified as one of the specific offenses against a
minor; crimes in which some sexual act or sexual conduct is an element; designated federal sex
offenses; specified military offenses; and attempts or conspiracy to commit any offense in the
other four classes of qualifying offenses. The inventory of qualifying offenses is subject to
exception. Conviction for an otherwise qualifying foreign offense does not necessitate registration
if it was not secured in a manner which satisfies minimal due process requirements under
guidelines or regulations promulgated by the Attorney General. Nor does conviction of a
consensual sex offense require registration if the victim is an adult not in the custody of the
offender, or if the victim is 13 years of age or older and the offender no more than four years
older. Finally, juvenile delinquency adjudications do not constitute qualifying convictions unless
the offender is 14 years of age or older at the time of the misconduct and the misconduct
adjudicated is comparable to, or more severe than, aggravated sexual assault or attempt or
conspiracy to commit such an offense. There are no specific limitations on registration based on
convictions that have been overturned, sealed or expunged under state or foreign law or on
convictions for which the offender has been pardoned. There are no specific limitations on
requirements that flow from past convictions regardless of their vintage. Instead, the Attorney
General is authorized to promulgate rules of applicability.
Those required to register must provide their name, social security number, the name and address
of their employers, the name and address of places where they attend school, and the license plate
numbers and descriptions of vehicles they own or operate. The jurisdiction of registration must
also include a physical description and current photograph of the registrant and a copy of his
driver’s license or government issued identification card; a set of fingerprints, palm prints, and a
DNA sample; the text of the law under which he was convicted; a criminal record that includes
the dates of any arrests and convictions, any outstanding warrants, as well as parole, probation,
supervisory release, and registration status; and any other information required by the Attorney
General. The regularity with which registrants must appear for new photographs and to verify
their registration information depends upon their status. It is at least every three months for Tier
III offenders. Tier II offenders must reappear no less frequently than every six months. Tier I
offenders must reappear for new photographs and verification at least once a year. Tier I offenders
must maintain their registration for 15 years, which can be reduced to 10 years. Tier II offenders
must maintain their registration for 25 years. Tier III offenders must maintain their registration for
life, which can be reduced to 25 years.
Jurisdictions that fail to comply after the act becomes fully effective run the risk of having their
Byrne program funds reduced by 10%. The act makes failure to register a federal crime for
offenders convicted of a federal qualifying offense, or who travel in interstate commerce, or who
travel in Indian country, or who live in Indian country. Violations are punishable by imprisonment
for not more than 10 years and by an addition penalty to be served consecutively of not less than
five nor more than 30 years if the offender commits a crime of violence. Moreover, violation
exposes an offenders to term of supervised release for any term of years not less than five years or
for life. If the offender is a foreign national (“an alien”), he becomes deportable upon conviction.
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act is focused, as its name implies, upon child
protection and safety. Its efforts involve the creation of new federal crimes, the enhancement of
the penalties for preexisting federal crimes, and the amendment of federal criminal procedure,
among other things. Many of these efforts are child-specific; some are more general. The new
federal crimes include the following.
• Murder in the course of a wider range of federal sex offenses.
• Internet date rape drug trafficking.
• Kidnaping that involves the use of interstate facilities.
• Child abuse in Indian country.
• Production of obscene material.
• Obscenity or pornography in Internet source codes.
• Child exploitation enterprises.
The amendments to federal criminal procedure are a bit more numerous and somewhat more
likely to implicate crimes in addition to those committed against children. Among their number
• Random searches of sex offender registrants as a condition of probation or
• Expanded DNA collection from those facing federal charges or convicted of any
• Elimination of the statute of limitations for various sexual crimes or crimes
committed against a child.
• Participation of state crime victims in federal habeas proceedings.
• Study of the elimination of marital privileges in abuse cases.
• Preventive detention in cases involving a minor victim or a firearm.
• Compensation for guardians ad litem.
• Government control of evidence in pornography cases.
• Forfeiture procedures in obscenity, exploitation and pornography cases.
• Murder during course of various sex offenses as a felony murder predicate.
• Civil commitment procedure for federal sex offenders.
The act’s penalty enhancements are the most extensive of its amendments to federal criminal law
and procedure. It establishes new sentencing ranges for the federal crimes of murder, kidnaping,
maiming, or aggravated assault when the victim is a child. In the case of murder, the penalty is
imprisonment for any term of years not less than 30 years, imprisonment for life, or death; in the
case of kidnaping or maiming, imprisonment for life or any term of years not less than 25 years;
and in the case of aggravated assault, imprisonment for life or any term of years not less than 10
years. While the new minimums terms of imprisonment must yield to any otherwise applicable
higher mandatory minimum, the new maximum penalties trump any otherwise applicable
maximum. The provision has the effect of making capital offenses out of several federal murder
statutes that heretofore were punishable only by a term of imprisonment when the victim is a
child and when the misconduct involves the intentional killing of the victim or a reckless, fatal act
of violence. The act increases penalties for several other child offenses including:
Crime Imprisonment: Prior Imprisonment: New
Use of mail/interstate commerce Not less than five years/not Not less than 10 years/not more than life,
facilities to coerce or entice a child more than 30 years §203
to engage in sexual activities, 18
Transporting a child in interstate Not less than five years/not Not less than 10 years/not more than life,
commerce for sexual activity, 18 more than 30 years §204
Sexual abuse in a federal prison or Not more than 20 years Any term of years or for life, §205
enclave, 18 U.S.C. 2242(a)
Aggravated sexual abuse of a child, Any term of years or for life Not less than 30 years or for life, §206(a)(1)
18 U.S.C. 2241(c)
Abusive sexual contact with a child, Not more than 10 years Any term of years or for life (18 U.S.C. 2244(a)
18 U.S.C. 2244(a)(1) (5)), §206(2)
Sexual exploitation of a child by an Not less than 15 years/not Not less than 30 years or for life, §206(b)(1)(A),
offender with a prior federal more than 30 years (B)
conviction for sex trafficking or a
state conviction for sexual abuse,
sexual contact of a ward, or child
pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2251(e)
Sexual exploitation of a child Death or imprisonment for Death or imprisonment for not less than 30
resulting in death, 18 U.S.C. any term of years or for life years or for life, §206(b)(1)(C)
Traffic in child sexually exploitive Not less than five years/not Not less than 15 years/not more than 40 years,
material by an offender with a prior more than 20 years §206 (b)(2)
state or federal conviction for sex
trafficking in children, 18 U.S.C.
Crime Imprisonment: Prior Imprisonment: New
Traffic in child pornography by an Not less than five years/not Not less than 15 years/not more than 40 years,
offender with a prior state or more than 20 years §206 (b)(3)
federal conviction for sex trafficking
in children, 18 U.S.C. 2252A(b)
Use of a misleading Internet domain Not more than four years Not more than 10 years, §206 (b)(4)
name to induce a child to view
harmful material, 18 U.S.C. 2252B
Overseas production of child Not more than 10 years; Not less than 15 years/ not more than 30
sexually exploitive material for not more than 20 years for years; not less than 25 years/ not more than 50
export to the U.S., 18 U.S.C. 2260 recidivists years for 2d offenders; not less than 35 years
(a),(c) nor more than life for offenders with 2 or
more prior convictions; death or not less than
30 years or for life if death results, §206 (b)(5)
Overseas production of child Not more than 10 years/ Not less than five years/ not more than 20
pornography material for export to not more than 20 years for years; not less than 15 years/ not more than 40
the U.S., 18 U.S.C. 2260(b), (c) recidivists years for recidivists,§206 (b)(5)
A. Sex trafficking in children by a A. Not more than 40 years A/B. life imprisonment (18 U.S.C. 1591
recidivist, 18 U.S.C. 1591 (if the victim is 14 to 18 becomes a predicate for section 3559(e)
B. Commission of certain federal years old); any term of years or life (if the victim is under purposes), §206 (c)
sex crimes by an offender with a 14)
prior federal sex crime conviction
(18 U.S.C. 1591 not a predicate), 18 B. life imprisonment
Sexual abuse of a ward in a federal Not more than five years Not more than 15 years, §207
prison or enclave, 18 U.S.C. 2243
Sex trafficking in children by a Not more than 40 years (if Not less that 10 years or for life (if the victim
recidivist, 18 U.S.C. 1591 the victim is 14 to 18 years is 14 to 18); any term of years not less than 15
old); any term of years or years or life (if the victim is under 14), §208
life (if the victim is under
False statements relating to an Not more than five years Not more than eight years, §141(c)
offense under 18 U.S.C. 1591, 2250,
chs.109A , 110, or 117, 18 U.S.C.
The act establishes, reinforces, and revives several grant programs devoted to child and
community safety, including the following.
• Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (authorizing appropriations totaling $58.5
million through FY2011).
• National Police Athletic League (authorizing appropriations totaling $64 million
• State, local and tribal governments in order to outfit sex offenders with electronic
monitoring devices (authorizing appropriations totaling $15 million through
• Public and private entities that assist in treatment of juvenile sex offenders or that
assist the states in their enforcement of sex offender registration requirements
(authorizing appropriations totaling $30 million through FY2009).
• Facilitating the prosecution of cases cleared as a consequence of the DNA
backlog elimination (authorizing necessary appropriations through FY2011).
• Law enforcement agencies to combat sexual abuse of children (authorizing
necessary appropriations through FY2009).
• A private nonprofit entity for a program of crime prevention media campaign
(authorizing appropriations totaling $34 million through FY2010).
• State, local and tribal government programs for the voluntary fingerprinting of
children (authorizing appropriations totaling $20 million through FY2011).
• The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) to operate a sexual
assault hotline, conduct media campaigns, and provide technical assistance for
law enforcement (authorizing appropriations totaling $12 million through
• To enable state, local and tribal entities to verify the addresses of registered sex
offenders (authorizing necessary appropriations through FY2009).
The act includes a wide assortment of other provisions designed to prevent, prosecute or punish
the victimization of children. Among them are sections that broaden access to federal criminal
records information systems, create a national child abuse registry, expand recordkeeping
requirements for those in the business of producing sexually explicit material, immunize officials
from civil liability for activities involving sexual offender registration, and authorize and direct
the Department of Justice to establish and maintain a number of child protective activities.
Senior Specialist in American Public Law