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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ind. Decisions - Still more on 7th Circuit decision August 28th on Indiana sex offender registry

Updating this ILB entry from Sept. 4th, here is Alex Campbell's August 28th Indianapolis Star story on the 7th Circuit ruling. Some quotes:

A federal appeals court in Chicago ruled Tuesday that certain errors in Indiana's often-inaccurate sex offender registry violate offenders' rights and need to be addressed.

The court's opinion also placed the blame squarely at the feet of the Indiana Department of Correction. * * *

As part of the ruling, Wood cited reporting by The Indianapolis Star that uncovered numerous inaccuracies on the Marion County portion of the registry. The Star's investigation, published in April, also noted widespread inconsistency in how the registry is updated.

"Reducing the errors," Wood wrote, "is in the interest of the state as well as the plaintiffs."

That's a sentiment shared by several state lawmakers, and it comes in the midst of Statehouse hearings about the registry that will focus in part on how to make it more accurate.

Previous Star reporting centered on offenders being shown on the registry map at incorrect addresses. The appeals court case shed light on an additional concern.

David Schepers is a Pike County-registered offender who in 2006 was convicted of two counts of child exploitation. At some point, Schepers was incorrectly deemed a "sexually violent predator," meaning he faced tougher restrictions than he legally was supposed to.

When he tried to fix this, "the DOC provided no official channel or administrative mechanism allowing him to do so." He tried calling DOC officials informally, but that didn't work either. So he and the ACLU filed suit.

In its response, the DOC claimed that this didn't violate any due-process rights.

It also argued that it wasn't the agency to be held accountable for mistakes on the registry, saying that it "does not control the sex offender registry website." That's left to the Indiana Sheriffs' Association, the DOC argued.

The issue of who runs the registry has been raised before. Sheriffs' officials in each of Indiana's 92 counties update the registry.

When The Star uncovered issues with how Marion County dealt with offenders who were no longer required to register -- the county was keeping them on the map without updating their addresses, causing numerous errors -- Sheriff John Layton changed his agency's policy.

That rid his county's portion of its inaccuracies, but The Star found that policies varied from county to county.

The DOC helps put sex offenders on the registry before they are released from prison. But beyond that, it argued in court, it does not have much involvement in the registry's day-to-day upkeep.

Appeals court judges didn't buy that, citing state law and saying the argument "begins to unravel when one discovers that the reason why the Indiana Sheriffs' Association is the entity that publishes information on the Internet is because the DOC has contracted with it to do so."

So this error was on the DOC, Wood ruled. And given that Schepers faced extra living restrictions and the additional stigma of being labeled a "sexually violent predator" when he wasn't one, Wood wrote, his due process rights were being violated.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 16, 2012 05:53 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions