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Court rules on sex offender status decisions

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Tackling the issue of who determines whether a convicted sex offender is considered a “sexually violent predator,” the Indiana Court of Appeals today issued the latest ruling in a line of cases about the state’s sex offender registry and how convicts’ names are removed.

The state Department of Correction is not authorized to determine whether an offender is a sexually violent predator according to state law, Judge James Kirsch wrote for a unanimous appellate panel in Edwin G. Buss, in his official capacity as Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Correction v. Michael L. Harris, No. 52A02-0911-CV-1088.

Arising out of Miami Circuit Court, the case involves a former inmate at the Miami Correctional Facility who pleaded guilty to felony child molesting in 1999 and was ultimately released on parole in 2002 and 2005, after being reincarcerated for parole violations. Harris learned in 2007 that, because of state statute revisions, he’d be designated as a sexually violent predator and would have to register for life. Harris refused to sign the forms for this twice, and sued on the issue in late 2007.

The case has been ongoing since then, with a bench trial in August 2009 where the trial court granted Harris’s requests for declaratory and injunctive relief and found that he should not be listed on the sex offender registry as a sexually violent predator. That court relied on the Indiana Supreme Court’s decisions last year in Wallace v. State, 905 N.E. 2d 371, 374-77 (Ind. 2009), and Jensen v. State, 905 N.E. 2d 384 (Ind. 2009).

Specifically, the DOC argues that Jensen applies to the instant case and that classifying him in that way doesn’t violate the man’s rights.

“We are left with the question, once an offender’s sentencing hearing has concluded, who makes the determination that an offender’s status is now, pursuant to amendments to the statute, that of a sexually violent predator subject to lifetime registration requirements?” the court asked. “If we were to adopt the State’s construction of the statutory provisions, an offender could, in theory, have completed his sentence and reporting requirement, yet without notice to him be in violation of lifetime reporting requirements by operation of law due to subsequent amendments … Nothing before us indicates that the legislature intended such as result.”

The trial court didn’t err in its decision, and the appellate panel relied largely on the case of Jones v. State, 885 N.E. 2d 1286 (Ind. 2008), to support its conclusion.
 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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