A federal court decision in a case challenging Indianas sex offender registry rules is a positive step in ensuring the list best serves its intended purpose.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit reversed a U.S. District Court ruling allowing the Indiana Department of Correction to operate a public sex offender database without a way for those listed to challenge its accuracy.
The decision overturns the ruling in a case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana on behalf of David Schepers, who committed sex offenses in 1986 and 2004 but was neither a sexual predator nor violent offender under state law. The Department of Correction, in response, established a procedure for current prisoners to challenge their listings on the registry but offered no means for people such as Schepers, who was not incarcerated, to challenge their listing.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoellers office defended the DOC in the appeal.
The appellate court ruled that wrongly labeling an individual as a sexually violent predator was a violation of the due process clause.
The policy provides no process whatsoever to an entire class of registrants – those who are not incarcerated, and is therefore constitutionally insufficient, wrote Circuit Judge Diane Wood in the unanimous decision. She also noted that a means to correct errors could benefit the state.
Erroneously labeling an offender a sexually violent predator imposes unnecessary monitoring costs on state law enforcement and reduces the efficacy of the registry in providing accurate information to the public, Wood wrote.
The registry is operated by the DOC but administered by individual counties through the sheriffs departments, with varying attention to detail. The Allen County Sheriffs Department meticulously maintains its list, removing the names of offenders listed in error.
Accuracy is absolutely our goal here, Cpl. Mike Smothermon said in an interview earlier this year. The integrity of the information is our first priority.
An effort to improve the registry statewide is currently under way through hearings of a legislative study committee.
At its first meeting last week, sheriffs department Cpl. Jeff Shimkus, speaking on behalf of the Indiana Sheriffs Association, told lawmakers that the 92 counties have finally settled on a set of best guidelines.
We want the offender to understand his obligations, as well as law enforcement, he told the Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee.
A registry that wrongly includes some offenders places a burden on the law enforcement officers charged with its oversight and can overwhelm the very audience it is intended to protect.
Tuesdays decision should help turn the sex offender registry into the useful tool it was meant to be.