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Eighth Circuit Upholds North Dakota Transient’s Failure-to-Register Conviction

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the conviction of a sex offender who failed to register because he temporarily had no permanent address.

David L. Meador moved to North Dakota and was required to register as a sex offender. He lived in his truck in a gas station parking lot and registered that address. Five days later, the police evicted him from the lot. Unable to find a permanent residence, he contacted the police and attorney general’s office and asked what he should do as a transient required to register. The police told him to let them know where he was staying, and he did so. Six days after being evicted from the gas station, Meador found a place to live; two days later he registered that address with the county.

Nonetheless, prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against him for failure to register, a class C felony violation of N.D. Cent. Code § 12-1-32-15(7), for the six days he was without a residence. The statute requires that “upon a change of address, the individual required to register shall also register within three days at the law enforcement agency having local jurisdiction of the new place of residence, school, or employment.”

Meador was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. He appealed.

The North Dakota Supreme Court upheld his conviction, stating that the “plain language of the statute requires an individual to register within three days of a change of address.” See: State v. Meador, 2010 ND 139, 785 N.W.2d 886 (N.D. 2010).

Meador then filed a federal petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, which was denied by the district court. The court granted a certificate of appealability on Meador’s due process claim based upon an unexpected judicial expansion of statutory language.

The Eighth Circuit found that Meador had many good arguments regarding the interpretation of the registration statute plus a reasonable argument that previous state Supreme Court decisions had indicated that transient sex offenders were not required to register. However, the only issue in his federal habeas petition was whether the state court’s interpretation of the statute “was such an unforeseen and retroactive expansion of narrow and precise statutory language ... that it ‘resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.’”

Although Meador’s arguments may have been convincing as a matter of statutory interpretation, they were insufficient to meet this high standard. Accordingly, the judgment of the district court denying his habeas petition was affirmed. See: Meador v. Branson, 688 F.3d 433 (8th Cir. 2012), cert. denied.

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Related legal case

Meador v. Branson