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What’s In a Date?

For registered sex offenders in California, quite a lot.

When Frank Lindsay walked into his home to find a young man wielding two hammers—one in each hand—in his dining room, he assumed he had disrupted a robbery. It wasn’t until the man called him a “pervert” that Lindsay realized he was the target of a planned attack.

“Then I knew for sure,” Lindsay said. “This wasn’t a robbery in progress. This was about me being a registrant. This person was there to do to me as much damage as he could.”

Lindsay is on California’s sex offender registry for a crime he committed in 1979, when he was 26 years old. That was more than 30 years before he was attacked, in 2010, in his Grover Beach, California home.

But the attacker, who had already tried to break into the home of another registered sex offender in the neighborhood, had no way of knowing how old Lindsay’s crime was, or that his record had been clean in the three decades since he was released from jail.

That’s because Lindsay’s profile on the state’s sex offender registry, like the profiles of most of California’s registered sex offenders, did not include a date of conviction or release.

“What he saw was a bunch of men with current photographs, and there’s no date of offense,” Lindsay said. “So he thought ‘This must have just happened.’ And he was appalled that there were all these sex offenders out on the loose.”

While the photographs and addresses on California’s public sex offender registry are updated annually, fields marked “year of last conviction” and “year of last release” are almost always left blank.

“At least 90 percent of the time there’s no date,” said Janice Bellucci, an attorney and president of the group California Reform Sex Offender Laws. Bellucci filed a lawsuit Tuesday in a Los Angeles County Superior Court, accusing the California Department of Justice of failing to comply with a state law requiring the agency to include the dates of conviction and release.

Department officials could not be reached for comment. Most states with online registries include information on the date of offense, conviction or release.

Bellucci helped Lindsay amend his profile to reflect the date of release, as she has done for more than 100 individual registrants, she said. But there are more than 100,000 registered sex offenders in California, and the process to amend or correct a profile is expensive and time consuming. It also requires the help of an attorney, as registrants are not allowed to look at their profiles online.

The omission of a date, Bellucci said, gives the impression that all of the registrants are dangerous repeat offenders. She points to a man who was a minor when he was convicted of engaging in inappropriate behavior with child under 14. His profile doesn’t include a date.

“Well, he himself was 13,” she said. “Now he’s in his 30s, and he looks like a dirty old man.”

Justice Department studies show that around 5 percent of registered sex offenders commit another sex crime within the first three years after they’re released—a lower rate than just about any other category of former convicts. A recent California corrections department report found that almost 92 percent of the registered sex offenders in the state who returned to prison did so because of a parole violation, while only 0.8 percent were rearrested because they committed another sex crime.

“People think once they do it they’re going to keep doing it and that’s not the reality,” she said.

The lawsuit accuses state officials of “callous disregard and indifference for the rights and safety of individuals already punished and publicly shamed for their crimes.”

Lindsay, who escaped his attacker without serious injury, is a named plaintiff in the lawsuit, as is a Northern California man who was shot in September after his assailant saw his profile on the registry website. Like Lindsay, he survived the attack. But the lawsuit also includes detailed information about several California men who were murdered by neighbors or strangers who saw their profiles on the registry.

Lindsay’s assailant -- who is serving time for the assault -- was 25 years old at the time of the attack, around the same age as Lindsay when he pleaded no contest to committing “lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14 years of age.”

“That’s not who I am now,” said Lindsay, who reached out to the man in the weeks after he was assaulted. “I wanted to show him that I’m not who he thought I was.”