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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Ind. Decisions - Still continuing with: Supreme Court's ruling in Wallace v. State has thrown the state and local sex offender registries into disarray

For background, start with this ILB entry from Jan. 26, 2010.

Jeff Wiehe of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette has an important report today on how Wallace is being interpreted. Wiehe also co-authored this story from Jan. 8, 2010. I was going to highlight passages from today's story, but it turns out I would need to highlight nearly every line:

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has taken an official stance on a state Supreme Court ruling that threw the sex- and violent-offender registry into disarray.

But a spokesman for Zoeller said accuracy problems with the current registry won’t be fixed overnight.

“We don’t have an immediate fix, but we want to clean up the registry,” said Bryan Corbin, spokesman for the attorney general.

At issue is the state Supreme Court’s ruling last year that Richard P. Wallace, convicted of child molesting in 1989, no longer had to register as a sex offender because the crime was committed before the law that created the registry was enacted in 1994.

In the aftermath, some sheriff’s departments – including Allen County’s – took the ruling to mean anyone who committed a crime before the registry existed should come off the list. Those departments began scrubbing names from local registries.

But officials with the Indiana Department of Correction, keepers of the official statewide registry, interpreted it as applying only to Wallace.

Anyone who wants to be removed from the registry must appear before a judge and obtain a court order, according to the department.

As a result, some local registries of sex offenders began to conflict with the statewide registry.

The Attorney General’s Office counseled the Department of Correction to interpret the ruling as applying only to Wallace, a spokesman for the Department of Correction told The Journal Gazette last month.

The situation changed recently with a recent court filing in Hendricks County.

In that filing – part of one man’s lawsuit against the Department of Correction – Deputy Attorney General Scott L. Barnhart wrote that the Wallace ruling does indeed apply to everyone in Indiana who committed a sex crime before 1994.

The Supreme Court’s decision effectively changed Indiana law, Barnhart wrote.

It’s still up to offenders to obtain a court order from a local judge to be removed from the state’s list, according to Corbin.

The Department of Correction will not remove a name without one.

There are about 9,700 people on the state’s sex- and violent-offender registry, with about 2,000 possibly affected by the Supreme Court ruling, according to court records.

The attorney general is reviewing the Supreme Court decision and vows to assist sheriffs and the Department of Correction in dealing with the changes in the law, Corbin said.

Offenders must still obtain the requisite court order to come off the list because of various nuances associated with each case, Corbin said.

“Everything is going to have to be on a case-by-case basis,” Corbin said.

Judges in Allen County have been inundated with such requests. Some offenders have sent in simple handwritten letters explaining their situation and have received a court order without hiring a lawyer or legal counsel.

Unlike the Department of Correction, the Allen County Sheriff’s Department began scrubbing names from its local offender registry shortly after the Wallace decision was issued.

Detective Jeff Shimkus, of the sheriff’s department’s Sex Offender and Registration Notification team, reviewed more than 600 files and took more than 200 names off the list without court orders or requests from sex offenders.

Some sex offenders who shouldn’t be on the list don’t know about the ruling, Shimkus said. His team saw one come in for his regularly scheduled photo only to be told he no longer had to register.

“The problem you have is, from the public’s standpoint, is the accuracy of the registry,” Shimkus said. “The public is supposed to look at the Web site and know that it’s right.”

Some Allen County offenders who have come off the local registry because of the Supreme Court ruling are still on the state registry. Now, though, they are listed on the state registry as “failed to register” because they no longer have to come in to register with the sheriff’s department.

The sheriff’s department sends all registry information from the county to the Department of Correction. Because these offenders are still on the state registry but no longer have to register with the sheriff, it appears they are failing to register.

For the past few months, Shimkus has been bombarded with phone calls from people who claimed to know where these “failed to register” offenders were, and he explains that those offenders are no longer required to be on the list.

More importantly, though, he said the registry as a public safety tool is suffering from the problems with accuracy.

“There’s a ton of dangerous people out there, and this is a tool, not a magic catch-all,” Shimkus said. “Parents still need to be parents.”

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 4, 2010 12:00 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions