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COA decides sex offender registration plea case

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The Indiana Court of Appeals today declined to ignore a year-old precedent from the state's highest court about sex offender registration, finding that the ruling still applies to cases where an offender once signed a plea agreement requiring him to follow lesser registration requirements.

Unanimously deciding Oscar Blakemore v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-0907-CR-614, the appellate panel reversed a ruling from Marion Superior Commissioner Marie Kern that found Oscar Blakemore guilty of Class D felony failure to register as a sex offender.

Blakemore pleaded guilty in 1999 to felony sexual misconduct with a minor, and that document said he would "comply with the statutory requirements of registering with local law enforcement as a sex offender." He was released from probation in early 2000 - before state law was changed to include his offense on the registration list ­- but returned to prison for probation violations twice more through the years. He was finally released without any remaining probation requirements in February 2005, and he registered at least five times after that. In April 2008, police arrested him for failure to register as a sex offender.

Arguing that his newest conviction is unconstitutional, the Court of Appeals agreed when applying last year's Supreme Court decision in Wallace v. State, 905 N.E.2d 371, 377 (Ind. 2009). In that case, justices decided that Wallace's conviction for failure to register as a sex offender violated the state constitutional prohibition against ex post facto laws because no registration requirement was in place at the time of his conviction. For Wallace, a plea agreement wasn't at issue as it is in Blakemore.

While the Indiana Attorney General's Office didn't explicitly argue that the registration requirement could be imposed on Blakemore without violating the ex post facto law, it did assert that the Wallace analysis "may be ignored" because Blakemore had agreed to follow statutory registration guidelines - even though the requirement being imposed on him for his 2008 arrest wasn't in place at the time of his plea agreement.

Applying contract law analysis and reviewing precedent, the appellate court ruled in Blakemore's favor. Judge Melissa May authored the opinion, with Judges Carr Darden and James Kirsch concurring.

"We therefore decline the State's invitation to ignore the Wallace analysis," Judge May wrote. "We decline to hold Blakemore 'agreed' to requirements the (Indiana) Code did not impose when he entered into that requirement."

In a later part of the ruling, Judge May addressed the state's assertion that Blakemore waived his ex post facto argument by not raising any constitutional concerns at the time of his guilty plea.

"As explained above, the 'constitutional concern' now before us did not exist when Blakemore entered into his plea agreement," she wrote. "Rather, his plea agreement contained a clause that by its very language did not apply to Blakemore, and neither he nor his counsel could be expected to predict what amendments our legislature might make to the sex offender registration act."

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