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‘The State is the State’ and they share the same fate, Supreme Court rules

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The Indiana Department of Correction’s motion to obligate a convicted sex offender to continue registering was blocked by the Indiana Supreme Court on the grounds that “the State is the State.”

The Indiana Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s order granting the DOC’s motion to correct error in Ronald G. Becker v. State of Indiana, 45S03-1301-CR-9. It ruled res judicata barred DOC from bringing the motion because the department and the county prosecutor are in privity as “the State.”

After being convicted of criminal deviate conduct, a Class B felony, Ronald Becker was initially required to register annually as a sex offender for 10 years. However, after the Legislature amended the state, Becker was classified as a sexually violent predator and required register every 90 days for his lifetime.

Becker petitioned to be relieved from the additional SVP obligations, arguing they were an unconstitutional ex post facto law as applied to him. The court agreed and ordered in 2008 that classifying him retroactively as an SVP was unconstitutional. The prosecutor did not appeal the order and the DOC did not intervene to challenge it.

Later, the state entered into an Agreed Order, saying that Becker had satisfied his registration obligations under the 10-year statute and was no longer required to register.

Less than two weeks later, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled on Lemmon v. Harris, 949 N.E. 2d 803 (Ind. 2011), which rejected an ex post facto argument. The Indiana Attorney General subsequently intervened on behalf of the DOC, arguing Becker’s registration obligation from 10 years to life was not an ex post facto violation.

The trial court granted the DOC motion to correct error and ordered Becker to register every three months for the rest of his life.

In its review, the Supreme Court concluded the DOC’s interests were represented by the local prosecutor and, therefore, they are in privity for purposes of res judicata. Therefore, the 2008 Order is binding against the DOC.

“If the res judicata shoe were on the other food in this case, Becker would be hard-pressed to avoid its preclusive effects,” Justice Loretta Rush wrote for the court. “There is, after all, only one of him, with no alter egos to intervene on his behalf if a law later changed in a way favorable to his position. Final judgments in a criminal case should be similarly binding against ‘the State’ – not just the prosecutor, but also the various alter egos of the State whose substantial interests are adequately represented by the prosecutor.”

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