The Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed in part a man’s petition for post-conviction relief challenging the finding that he is ineligible to petition for a change of status regarding being a sexually violent predator. The 2007 version of the applicable statute is an unconstitutional ex post facto law as applied to him.
In Michael R. Flanders v. State of Indiana, No. 48A02-1009-PC-1019, Michael Flanders was convicted of Class C felony sexual misconduct with a minor in April 2007 stemming from an incident with a neighbor in 2005. Flanders also had a previous Class C felony child molesting conviction, so he was also charged with and convicted of being a repeat sex offender. At the time of his conviction, he was not classified as a sexually violent predator, but later the Indiana Department of Correction classified him as one.
On appeal of his denial for post-conviction relief, Flanders claimed ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel and challenged his reclassification by the DOC, which subjects him to more burdensome registration and reporting requirements.
Focusing on the 2007 amendments to Indiana Code 35-38-1-7.5, which clarified that certain convictions qualify someone as a SVP “by operation of law” and disallowed someone with two unrelated convictions for sex offenses to petition for removal of the SVP designation, the judges found the amendments to the registration statutes to be unconstitutional ex post facto laws as applied to Flanders.
His case is distinguishable from Jensen v. State, 905 N.E.2d 384, 389 (Ind. 2009), and Lemmon v. Harris, 949 N.E.2d 803 (Ind. 2011), because under the court-adopted seven-factor test, No. 7 – whether the sanction is excessive in relation to the alternative purpose – is punitive in regards to Flanders because he can’t petition the court to change his status due to the fact he has two unrelated convictions for sex offenses, wrote Judge Terry Crone.
The judges rejected the state’s claim that Flanders’ relief should be denied because he didn’t comply with I.C. 11-8-8-22 regarding removing a person’s offender designation or requiring the person to register under less restrictive conditions. They also rejected Flanders’ argument that his SVP designation should be reversed because of the ex post facto violation.
“The problematic provision is Indiana Code Section 35-38-1-7.5(g), which made offenders with two or more unrelated convictions for sex offenses ineligible to petition the court for a change in status. Flanders can be placed in the same position as offenders like Harris and Jensen by reinstating his right to petition the court for removal of his SVP status after ten years,” wrote the judge.
The COA also upheld the finding that he did not receive ineffective assistance of trial or appellate counsel.