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Becker v State

8-22-2013 Indiana:

Becker v State

Criminal cases are prosecuted in the name of the “State of Indiana.” But as Shakespeare famously asked, “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” Gertrude Stein’s answer was that “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”

Similarly, we conclude that in this matter related to the sex offender registry, “the State is the State,” whether it acts through a deputy prosecutor or through the Department of Correction. Both entities share the same substantial interest—to maximize an offender’s registration obligations—and are therefore in privity with each other in cases involving that interest.

Accordingly, we hold that when the State (via a local prosecutor) fails to appeal an adverse sex-offender registration ruling, the State (via the DOC) becomes bound by it under principles of res judicata.

The DOC’s 2011 intervention in this case therefore came too late. On its face, the DOC’s motion challenged a trial court ruling issued a few weeks earlier—but in substance, it sought reconsideration of an unappealed 2008 ruling that had long since become binding against the State.

We thus reverse the trial court’s order granting the DOC’s Motion to Correct Error.

Defendant was convicted of felony criminal deviate conduct in 1998, was released from prison in 2000, and began registering annually as a sex offender. Indiana later expanded its registration requirements. Defendant petitioned for relief from the additional SVP obligations, arguing that they were an unconstitutional ex post facto law as applied to him. The trial court concluded in 2008 that retroactively classifying Defendant as an SVP under the expanded statutes would be unconstitutional.

The State did not appeal the 2008 order, nor did the Department of Corrections (DOC) intervene to challenge it. In 2011, the State found Defendant had satisfied his registration obligations under the ten-year statute that existed at the time of his conviction. The DOC later filed a motion to correct error, arguing that Defendant's registration obligation from ten years to life was not an ex post facto violation.

The trial court granted the motion and vacated the 2008 order. Defendant appealed, arguing that the 2008 order was res judicata against the DOC. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that even if the 2008 order was erroneous, it nevertheless became res judicata against the "State" - both the prosecutor and the DOC - when the State failed to appeal it.

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