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Indiana Supreme Court Holds Agreed Court Order with Prosecutor is Binding on DOC

Indiana Supreme Court Holds Agreed Court Order with Prosecutor is Binding on DOC

by Matt Clarke

The Supreme Court of Indiana has held that a court order regarding whether a sex offender could be retroactively classified as a Sexually Violent Predator (SVP), and required to register as a sex offender every 90 days for life, was binding on the Indiana Department of Corrections (DOC) even though the DOC was not a party in the case.

Ronald G. Becker was convicted of Class B felony criminal deviate conduct and sentenced to six years in prison. He registered as a sex offender after his release; at that time, Indiana state law required him to register annually for ten years.

The law was later amended, instituting heightened registration requirements for SVPs. The amended law required that SVPs register every 90 days for life and made criminal deviate conduct a conviction which established SVP status as a matter of law.

After Becker was notified that he was required to register every 90 days, he petitioned the sentencing court for an order relieving him of the additional SVP obligations. The court found that SVP status did not exist when Becker was sentenced and retroactively classifying him as an SVP violated the prohibition against ex post facto laws. The court issued an order that Becker only needed to register annually. The prosecutor did not appeal the order.

After having registered for ten years, Becker sought clarification of the earlier order which had not specifically stated that he was exempt from registering for life on ex post facto grounds. Represented by the prosecutor, the state entered into an agreed order, based on the earlier court order, that stated Becker was only required to register for ten years and no longer had to register. Two weeks later, the Indiana Supreme Court rejected an ex post facto argument identical to Becker’s in Lemmon v. Harris, 949 N.E.2d 803 (Ind. 2011).

Representing the DOC, the Attorney General intervened and filed a motion to have the agreed order corrected based on the Supreme Court’s subsequent ruling in Harris. The trial court granted the DOC’s motion and ordered Becker to register every 90 days for life. He appealed, arguing that the agreed order was res judicata relative to the DOC’s motion.

The Court of Appeals found that the agreed order was not binding on the DOC because changes in the law – not the DOC – had caused Becker to become an SVP. See: Becker v. State, 2012 Ind. App. Unpub. LEXIS 709 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012). Becker then appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court held that although its ruling in Harris was indistinguishable from the ex post facto issue raised by Becker, the agreed court order had been litigated by the prosecutor, who was an entity of “the State” with the same interest regarding the sex offender registry as the DOC. Thus, the agreed order was res judicata against “the State” and prevented the DOC, another entity of the state, from relitigating the issue.

Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court was reversed. Becker was represented by Schererville, Indiana attorney Mark A. Bates. See: Becker v. State, 992 N.E.2d 697 (Ind. 2013).

 

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