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Juvenile Sex Offender from Michigan Required to Register in Kentucky; Court Holds Adjudication Counts as Conviction for Registration Purposes

by Lonnie Burton

On October 20, 2016, the Supreme Court of Kentucky upheld the conviction of a former Michigan man for failing to register as a sex offender in Kentucky. The high court held that a juvenile adjudication for a sex offense in Michigan was equivalent to a conviction in Kentucky and thus rejected the man's appeal under the Kentucky Sex Offender Registration Act.

The case began in 2009 when then 16-year-old Jeffrey Murphy was adjudicated a juvenile delinquent for committing third-degree criminal sexual conduct against a 13-year-old girl. Under Michigan law, Murphy was required to register as a sex offender in that state.

In 2011, at age 18, Murphy moved to Kentucky. He initially registered in Kentucky, but later moved to a new address without updating his registration. Despite being directed by authorities to update his address, Murphy refused, and was charged with failure to comply. When the trial court denied his motion to dismiss the charge -- based on the theory that a Michigan juvenile adjudication did not require his to register under Kentucky law -- Murphy entered a conditional guilty plea and was sentenced to one year in prison. Murphy appealed.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled that the plain language of the Act required Murphy to register and affirmed his conviction. Murphy sought discretionary review by the Kentucky Supreme Court, which was granted. The high court, however, also affirmed Murphy's conviction.

In doing so, the court dealt with two provisions of Kentucky law which Murphy had asserted contradicted each other. KRS 17.510(6), on one hand, states that any person "convicted" in any state of a sex offense against a minor is required to register in Kentucky. The other provision

KRS 17.510(7) -- says that any person required to register as a sex offender in their home state is required to register if they move to Kentucky.

Because an adjudication is by law not a conviction, Murphy claimed that the first part of the act did not require him to register, but the second part did, and the conflict must be resolved in his favor under the rule of lenity. But the state supreme court disagreed.

Seeing no ambiguity or conflict in the statutes, the court said that "if Murphy was required to register in Michigan, then he was a 'person ... required to register under ... the laws of another state,' That his registration did not stem from a conviction in Michigan, and instead resulted from a juvenile adjudication, does not change this." The court essentially found that the two statutory provisions "overlapped," as opposed to conflicted.

Because Murphy was required to register in Michigan, the plain language of KRS 17.510(7) clearly and unambiguously required him to register once he moved to Kentucky, the court concluded, affirming the decisions of the Court of Appeals and the trial court. See: Murphy v. Commonwealth of Kentucky, No. 2015-SC-000235-DC (October 20, 2016).

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Related legal case

Murphy v. Commonwealth of Kentucky