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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides one today

In Ronald G. Becker v. State of Indiana, a 6-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice Rush writes:

Criminal cases are prosecuted in the name of the “State of Indiana.” But as Shakespeare famously asked, “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” Gertrude Stein’s answer was that “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” Similarly, we conclude that in this matter related to the sex offender registry, “the State is the State,” whether it acts through a deputy prosecutor or through the Department of Correction. Both entities share the same substantial interest—to maximize an offender’s registration obligations—and are therefore in privity with each other in cases involving that interest. Accordingly, we hold that when the State (via a local prosecutor) fails to appeal an adverse sex-offender registration ruling, the State (via the DOC) becomes bound by it under principles of res judicata.

The DOC’s 2011 intervention in this case therefore came too late. On its face, the DOC’s motion challenged a trial court ruling issued a few weeks earlier—but in substance, it sought reconsideration of an unappealed 2008 ruling that had long since become binding against the State. We thus reverse the trial court’s order granting the DOC’s Motion to Correct Error. * * *

If the res judicata shoe were on the other foot in this case, Becker would be hard-pressed to avoid its preclusive effects. There is, after all, only one of him, with no alter egos to intervene on his behalf if a law later changed in a way favorable to his position. Final judgments in a criminal case should be similarly binding against “the State”—not just the prosecutor, but also the various alter egos of the State whose substantial interests are adequately represented by the prosecutor. In this case, the DOC is also “the State”—not because it is a State agency, but because it has the same substantial interests as the prosecutor in maximizing a sex offender’s registration obligations. The DOC, being in privity with the prosecutor, is thus bound by the unappealed 2008 final judgment in Becker’s favor. We therefore reverse the trial court’s grant of the DOC’s Motion to Correct Error, thus reinstating the June 2011 Agreed Order finding that Becker’s registration obligations are complete. [Emphasis by ILB]

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 22, 2013 01:39 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions