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Court: Man may be classified as sexually violent predator

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The Indiana Supreme Court ruled 4-1 that classifying a man as a sexually violent predator due to an amendment to the Sex Offender Registration Act doesn’t violate Indiana’s prohibition of ex post facto laws or the doctrine of separation of powers.

Michael Harris challenged being classified as a sexually violent predator and the requirement that he must register for life instead of 10 years. When he pleaded guilty to Class B felony child molesting in April 1999, “sexually violent predator” status did not exist. He was required to register for 10 years on the sex offender registry after his release from prison. He was released in December 2008.

Based on a 2007 amendment to the Indiana Sex Offender Registration Act, the Department of Correction notified Harris that he was required to register as a sexually violent predator and register for life. The 2007 amendment says “a person is an SVP ‘by operation of law if an offense committed by the person [is a qualifying offense] and the person was released from incarceration, secure detention, or probation for the offense after June 30, 1994.’”

He filed suit while still incarcerated. The trial court ruled in favor of Harris, granting a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief, thereby removing his SVP status. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed.

In Bruce Lemmon, et al. v. Michael L. Harris, No. 52S02-1011-CV-642, the justices ruled on June 28 that based on the plain language of the statute, the amendment applies to Harris. Using the seven factors outlined in Kennedy v. Mendoza-Martinez, 372 U.S. 144, 168-69 (1963), the majority found the first three factors – whether the sanction involves an affirmative disability or restraint; whether it has historically been regarded as punishment; and whether it comes into play only on a finding of scienter – lean in favor of treating the act as punitive. But the last four factors – whether its operation will promote the traditional aims of punishment; whether the behavior to which it applies is already a crime; whether an alternative purpose to which it may rationally be connected is assignable for it; and whether it appears excessive in relation to the alternative purpose assigned – lean in favor of treating the act as nonpunitive when applied to Harris, wrote Justice Frank Sullivan.

Justice Brent Dickson dissented on this issue, citing former Justice Theodore Boehm’s dissent in Jensen v. State, 905 N.E.2d 384, 396-98 (Ind. 2009). Justice Dickson believed the reclassification and resulting enhanced requirements under the 2007 amendment constitute additional punishments when applied to Harris.

The high court also addressed an issue recently raised in Ohio but not yet discussed here: whether the act violates the constitutional principle of separation of powers. The Ohio State Supreme Court ruled on a similar issue, finding certain provisions unconstitutional in that state’s Adam Walsh Act that required the attorney general to reclassify sex offenders who had already been classified by court order under a former law.

But Indiana’s “by operation of law” clause doesn’t work to reopen a final judgment. Harris’ case isn’t one where the sentencing court considered expert testimony and expressly refused to classify him as an SVP. The clause did not change a judicial determination that Harris was not an SVP to him being one. Nor does the clause remove the judiciary’s discretionary function in sentencing and place it with the DOC, wrote Justice Sullivan.

“The statute does not grant the DOC any authority to classify or reclassify. SVP status under Indiana Code section 35-38-1-7.5(b) is determined by the statute itself,” he wrote, pointing out that offenders may petition the court to remove his or her designation or to make the registration requirement less restrictive by filing a petition in court.

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  1. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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