ILNews

Justices accept sex-offender registry cases

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Supreme Court is taking on three issues relating to sex-offender restrictions, from when juveniles can be placed on a statewide registry to whether someone can be placed on the list for life.

Justices granted transfer in the past week for three criminal cases relating specifically to sex offenders and when people convicted of those crimes must have their names put on the online-accessible public registry.

In J.C.C. v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-0403-JV-266, the court is taking on a case that asks whether a Marion Superior magistrate erred in 2000 when ordering a 14-year-old boy who'd forced younger boys into various sexual acts to be placed on the state's sex-offender registry. Magistrate Christopher Piazza had determined enough evidence existed to prove that the juvenile would re-offend - a standard established in caselaw exploring differences in the adult criminal justice and juvenile delinquency systems. The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's decision in a Not for Publication ruling Dec. 28, 2007, also affirming that the juvenile court didn't abuse its discretion when denying a motion to set aside the adjudications.

A second case, Richard P. Wallace v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-0706-CR-498, involves an issue being argued in various state courts relating to other sex-offender restrictions. Wallace is appealing a January decision from the appellate court on his failure to register as a sex offender, which he argues is unconstitutional because it's an ex post facto law and the state had forfeited the prosecutorial right because of a plea agreement. Wallace pleaded guilty to child molesting in February 1989, and was ordered to a five-year suspended sentence with probation. Years later, Wallace argued his agreement hadn't stipulated he register as a sex offender because the state statute changes that would have required him to do so weren't passed until 2001. The appeals court panel dismissed his ex post facto claims and affirmed the decision by Marion Superior Judge Lisa Borges.

In Todd L. Jensen v. State of Indiana, No. 02A04-0706-CR-351, justices will consider whether Allen Superior Judge Frances Gull correctly ordered a man classified as a sexually violent predator to register on the statewide list for life. Jensen pleaded guilty in 2000 to child molesting and vicarious sexual gratification, was sentenced to prison, and formally released from probation in July 2004. He annually registered for the Indiana Sex Offender Registry, as he was required to do for 10 years, but was informed in September 2006 that he'd have to register for life as a sexually violent predator. The trial judge considered his registration status and determined he'd have to register, but the Court of Appeals in December 2007 reversed on grounds it violated the ex post facto considerations and ordered on remand Jensen abide by the 10-year registration requirement.

Judge Cale Bradford disagreed with the majority panel of Senior Judge Jonathan Robertson and Judge John Sharpnack, writing a dissent that noted he didn't believe any violation existed and he would have affirmed the trial court decision.

He wrote, "Given the public interest in certain informational filings, it is my opinion that requiring a sexually violent predator to maintain his current address in the registry, even for a lifetime, does not rise to the level of being so punitive as to overcome its non-punitive legislative intent, that is, to monitor the whereabouts of a violent sexual predator, the necessity of which does not diminish over time."
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  5. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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