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Wisconsin Supreme Court Clarifies Sex Offender Registration for Homeless Prison Releasees

William Dinkins, Sr. was about to be released from a Wisconsin state prison, having completed a ten-year sentence for a sex offense, when he was informed that at least 10 days before his release he must register the address where he would be residing or he would be guilty of a Class H felony under Wisc. Stat. § 301.45(6).

However, Dinkins had no residence. He had informed prison officials that he would be homeless upon his release. Both Dinkins and prison staff tried without success to locate a relative he could stay with.

Four days prior to his release date, prison officials contacted the District Attorney for Dodge County and asked him to charge Dinkins for failing to provide his post-release residence information. Dinkins was arrested, jailed, tried and convicted, then sentenced to 30 months on probation plus 90 days in jail. He appealed.

The Court of Appeals reversed based upon its interpretation of the term “residing,” which it said would require prolonged residence. The appellate court held that Dinkins, who had no residence, would not be residing anywhere. The state appealed.

On March 13, 2012, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin issued a decision that disagreed with the Court of Appeals’ definition of “residing.” The Court emphasized that homeless sex offenders are required to register, too, even if their registered address is a street or other public location. However, Dinkins had tried to comply with the statute but was unable to do so because the requested residence information did not exist.

The Supreme Court held that a person being released after serving ten years in prison cannot be expected to know the locations where homeless people are permitted to congregate. The Court rejected the state’s argument that Dinkins could have listed a street location or park bench at random, because that would have significantly undermined the purpose of the registration statute.

The Supreme Court also found that it would be an unreasonable construction of the statute to allow a sex offender to be convicted for failing to report his address when he had made a reasonable attempt to do so, but could not comply because the requested information did not exist.

Therefore, the decision of the Court of Appeals reversing Dinkins’ conviction was affirmed. See: State v. Dinkins, 339 Wis.2d 78, 810 N.W.2d 787 (Wis. 2012).

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Related legal case

State v. Dinkins