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Lawmakers revising sex-offender registry rules

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Hoosier lawmakers are revising state law following the confusion created by an Indiana Supreme Court ruling last year relating to how convicted sex offenders can be removed from a statewide registry if they believe registration wasn't required at the time of their conviction.

This week, the House Judiciary Committee amended Senate Bill 224 to set up a statutory mechanism for removing registered offenders from the online public database. The move comes after months of debate caused by the April 2009 ruling of Richard P. Wallace v. State, 905 N.E.2d 371 (Ind. 2009).

In Wallace, the state justices unanimously held that Indiana's Sex Offender Registration Act from 1994 imposed retroactive punishment on offenders convicted before that time in violation of Indiana Constitution Article I, §24. But the justices did not specify how offenders should be removed from the registry if there's a potential or alleged ex post facto claim. Since then, the Indiana Department of Correction has been at odds with county prosecutors and sheriffs about the Wallace decision's scope and how specifically offenders convicted in 1994 or before should be removed from that list. Several lawsuits have been filed throughout the state on the issue of post-Wallace registration requirements as well, and those remain pending. 

Seeing this void in state law resulting from the Wallace ruling, the Attorney General's Office began working with everyone involved to provide some clarity in the procedures. The state agency also worked with the Indiana Prosecuting Attorney's Council and Indiana Public Defender's Council to craft a legislative fix for this problem, specifically by putting into law the procedure and stance taken by the DOC. The language would revise the statute regarding offenders seeking relief from registry requirements by requiring that person to file a petition in court and request a court order for removal. The prosecutor would receive notice and have a chance to respond, and the offender would have to provide information to prove he's no longer eligible for listing on the registry. If the judge orders removal, the DOC would be required to grant it.

It was attached to a bill originally designed to address the issue of sexually explicit text messages, or "sexting," but that topic has been watered down in the legislation and now would create a panel to study and make recommendations on that topic.

The full House voted unanimously in favor of the committee-amended legislation on Monday, and the bill passed on third reading Thursday and was sent back to the Senate with amendments. Since the Senate had approved the initial bill prior to the Wallace language being added, senators would have to sign off on the changes or send it to conference committee for review before it could move on to the governor for consideration. If passed into law, it would take effect July 1.

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