COA: Removal from sex offender registry makes man’s case moot

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A man whose name was removed from Indiana’s Sex and Violent Offender Registry on the state’s volition has successfully sought rehearing at the Indiana Court of Appeals, which has now deemed his case moot.

The rehearing comes after the appellate court last month affirmed the denial of Trent McPhearson’s petition for removal from Indiana’s SOR. Following that decision, the state sua sponte removed him from the registry.

McPhearson had been required to register as a sex offender in Maine after he pleaded guilty there to gross sexual assault in 1998. Upon his release from prison in 2003, McPhearson was required to register as a sex offender for life in Maine and in Indiana, where he lived after his release.

After being removed from the Maine SOR in 2015, McPhearson filed and was granted a 2018 petition for removal from Indiana’s SOR by the Madison County prosecuting attorney. But the Indiana Attorney General’s Office then intervened, claiming the Department of Correction had not been notified of McPhearson’s petition as required by law until it was granted.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s subsequent decision to vacate its prior removal order and its denial of McPhearson’s subsequent petition for removal, ruling that “McPhearson is required to register in Indiana not based on his previous obligation to register in Maine — which no longer exists — but rather because he was convicted of a crime in Maine that is substantially equivalent to a sexual offense proscribed under Indiana law.”

But in a Tuesday opinion, the appellate court granted the joint petition for rehearing brought by both McPhearson, finding his case to be moot.

“In their joint petition, McPhearson and the State argue that the State’s original analysis of the sex offender registration amendments was incorrect. Specifically, McPhearson and the State contend that other litigation pending in our sister federal courts, coupled with a careful examination of Indiana’s prohibition against ex post facto laws, has prompted the State to reevaluate its approach to these types of cases,” Judge John Baker wrote for the appellate court.

“But because McPhearson has been removed from the registry, we decline to extrapolate on these proffered arguments. Instead, we find that McPhearson’s case is moot because McPhearson has now received the relief he initially sought,” the appellate court wrote.

The COA thus vacated its original opinion in Trent Dean McPhearson v. State of Indiana, 19A-MI-3035.

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