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Sex offender ID law misapplied, higher court says

7-9-2009 Indiana:

Harris v Indiana
No. 79A04-0809-CR-546

Enhancements to Indiana's Sex and Violent Offender Registry that took effect on July 1, 2006, are continuing to cause snarls for law enforcement.

The Indiana Court of Appeals on Thursday reversed two convictions against a Lafayette man who assumed a dead man's identity -- allegedly to avoid being listed on the state's sex offender registry.

David M. Harris, 55, was found guilty of felony counts of forgery, application fraud, identity deception and failure to register as a sex offender after a bench trial in July 2008 in Tippecanoe Circuit Court.

He also was found guilty of misdemeanor failure to possess a valid Indiana driver's license or identification card, a requirement that took effect three years ago.

Indiana's higher court, however, dismissed the application fraud conviction on grounds that the prosecutor's office could not prove that Harris applied in Tippecanoe County for a driver's license under the name Richard Blair.

Thursday's unanimous ruling also found that Harris does not have to carry government-issued identification because his two convictions for child molesting took place before July 1, 2006.

Sheriff's Detective Greg Haltom, who maintains Tippecanoe County's sex offender registry, said the justices' finding is contrary to how he'd been enforcing the ID card statute.

"The way I interpreted the law was that, if you're a registered sex offender, you need an Indiana identification card," Haltom said. "There is a lot of litigation out there right now regarding all those changes."

Harris is listed on the state's registry as a sexual predator, meaning he is required to provide his address and other contact information to law enforcement for life.

Charges against Harris were filed in May 2007 after an acquaintance contacted police about Harris' true identity. Haltom said Harris reportedly called around to several states and eventually was able to obtain a birth certificate for a Richard Blair in Michigan.

Harris did not know Blair.

He allegedly used the birth certificate to obtain an Indiana driver's license, a Social Security card and a community college identification card in Blair's name.

The Indiana Court of Appeals on Thursday also ordered that Harris be resentenced in Tippecanoe Circuit Court for the remaining convictions against him.

He currently is serving a 291/2-year prison sentence.

Sheriff Tracy Brown said it's not uncommon to hear of different interpretations of the state's sex offender statutes. During an Indiana Sheriff's Association meeting Thursday, he said one person brought up that it could greatly vary in all 92 counties.

"The General Assembly had the right intent with the legislation, which is to protect children," Brown said. "But clearly there is enough confusion that law enforcement and legislators need to work at a committee level to sit down, review and tighten these laws." ..Source.. by SOPHIA VORAVONG

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