Crime & Courts

SC Supreme Court rules man can get off ‘lifelong’ sex offender registry

The S.C. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a man who was on the state’s lifelong sex offender registry can be taken off of it.

In its two-page opinion, the high court reversed a decision by the S.C. Court of Appeals that in effect kept John Christopher Johnson on the sex offender registry for life.

The State Attorney General’s Office, which lost the case, responded to a reporter’s question Wednesday saying the Supreme Court’s decision is under review.

The Attorney General’s Office has 10 days to petition the court for a rehearing – something that is seldom granted.

No decision has been made yet as to whether the Attorney General’s Office will seek a rehearing.

Johnson, whose age was not given, had won a 2011 circuit court decision in Florence County, where Judge William Seals noted that in Johnson’s case, “the requirements of lifelong Sex Offender Registry (are) wildly disproportionate to the underlying conduct.”

In his ruling, that judge also noted that the purpose of the sex offender registry is “to protect the public from sexual offenders who may re-offend” and he concluded that Johnson was not a candidate to re-offend.

Johnson’s lawyer, Elise Crosby, of Georgetown, said Wednesday when reached for comment, “We are thrilled. He and his family thought it was a miscarriage of justice from the beginning.”

People on the sex offender list include child molesters, serial rapists and older teenagers who have consensual sex with a teen under the age of 16.

The case stems from a 2003 plea Johnson made in criminal court, when he pleaded guilty to committing a lewd act on “a child under the age of sixteen,” according to available court records.

Documents show that when he was 17, he kissed and fondled a 13-year-old girl.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, suspended upon serving 100 days in jail and two years’ probation. He was also required to register for life as a sex offender.

After finishing his probation, Johnson learned he was required to register as a sex offender for life, legal papers say.

In 2009, Johnson began a series of court actions, seeking to be removed from the lifelong status of a sex offender.