COA reinstates petition to get off sex offender registry

A man’s petition to remove his name from the Indiana Sex Offender Registry was reinstated Friday when an appellate panel concluded that the trial court that dismissed the petition had jurisdiction to consider it.

In 1989, Stephen Peele was convicted of several felony child molesting charges and was sentenced to an aggregate 12 years in the Indiana Department of Correction. Then in 2003, Peele was convicted of Class C felony sexual misconduct with a minor. At some point, Peele was notified that he was required to register as a sex offender for 10 years.

According to Peele, he was notified in a letter from the DOC in 2007 that he was considered a “sex and violent offender” and required to register for the remainder of his life.

In February 2019, Peele filed a verified petition for removal from the registry in the Marion Superior Court under the cause number associated with his Marion County conviction. Peele, who resided in Marion County at the time, alleged that the registration requirement, as applied to him, violated Indiana’s prohibition on ex post facto laws. However, the trial court dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction.

The state later conceded that the trial court did have subject matter jurisdiction to consider Peele’s petition, but maintained that he did not bring the proper form of action under a proper cause.

In Stephen W. Peele v. State of Indiana,19A-CR-1775, the Indiana Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s dismissal, finding as dispositive the issue of whether the trial court abused its discretion when it dismissed Peele’s petition.

First, the appellate court determined that no legal impediment exists to the trial court’s legal authority to consider the merits of Peele’s petition for relief under Indiana Code Section 11-8-8-22. It then concluded that Peele properly brought his petition for removal within a criminal cause in a qualifying court.

“The trial court erred in dismissing Peele’s petition for removal from the Registry; accordingly, we reverse and remand with instructions to the trial court to consider the merits of Peele’s petition,” Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote for the court, joined by Judges Edward Najam and Nancy Vaidik.

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