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Buss v Harris

5-17-2010 Indiana:

Buss v Harris
No. 52A02-0911-CV-1088.

Edwin G. Buss ("Buss"), Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Correction ("the DOC"), appeals from the trial court's order in an action for declaratory and injunctive relief brought by Michael L. Harris ("Harris"), a former inmate at the Miami Correctional Facility in Miami County, Indiana, requiring the DOC to update the sex offender registry to remove the term "SEX PREDATOR" and the statement "Lifetime Notification" from Harris's offender detail and type on the Indiana Sheriffs' Sex and Violent Offender Registry web site, and determining that Harris's reporting obligation should be for ten years following the date of his release from incarceration.

Buss raises the following consolidated and restated issue for our review: Whether the trial court erred by finding and concluding that Harris should not be listed on the sex offender registry as a sexually violent predator and that Harris's reporting obligation was limited to ten years following the date of his release from incarceration.

We affirm.

... ... ...

If we were to adopt the State's construction of the statutory provisions, an offender could, in theory, have completed his sentence and reporting requirement, yet without notice to him be in violation of lifetime reporting requirements by operation of law due to subsequent amendments to SORA. Nothing before us indicates that the legislature intended such a result.

The State argues that Buss and the DOC were not making the determination that Harris was a sexually violent predator with a lifelong reporting obligation, but were merely notifying Harris of his status and post-release reporting obligations. The State also notes that Indiana Code section 35-38-1-7.5(f)(2) requires the trial court to send notice to the DOC if a person is a sexually violent predator and uses that language to support its contention that it is not claiming authority to make the status and reporting determinations. Yet, the State does not offer a citation to the record establishing that Buss and the DOC received notification from the trial court indicating a change to Harris's status, thus triggering their duty to notify Harris.

We hold that the trial court did not err by finding and concluding that the DOC and Buss were not authorized by statute to make a determination of and change to Harris's status on the sex offender registry. We also reject the State's argument that Harris's status was changed by operation of law under Indiana Code section 35-38-1-7.5(b) and note that the Supreme Court's decision in Jones supports our conclusion. We also hold that the trial court correctly determined that Harris's reporting obligation was for ten years and not a lifelong reporting obligation, as the change to the duration of Harris's reporting obligation would have occurred only by a finding and conclusion that his status had changed. Again, Jones is helpful in reaching that conclusion.


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