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Indiana Supreme Court: Court Address Sex Offender Registration, CHINS Determination, Criminal Rule 25
Posted in Litigation

The Indiana Supreme Court opened the first two weeks of January with three opinions. 

In Hevner v. State, the Court addressed the claim “that the Indiana Sex Offender Registration Act . . . constitutes retroactive punishment forbidden by the Ex Post Facto Clause contained in the Indiana Constitution because it requires the defendant to register as a sex offender, when the Act contained no such requirement at the time the defendant committed the triggering offense.”

In this case, the defendant was convicted with possessing child pornography as a Class D felony, his first offense.  At the time Hevner committed his crime, a person convicted for the first time of possessing child pornography was not considered a sex offender who had to register as such.  By the time he was convicted, though, the law had changed and, at sentencing, Hevner was ordered to register as a sex offender. 

The analysis in this case built on the Indiana Supreme Court’s opinion last year in Wallace v. State.  There, the Court held that the Registration Act violated the Indiana Constitution’s Ex Post Facto Clause as applied to a defendant who committed his offense before the statute was enacted.  The same analysis, the Court concluded, applied to Hevner’s situation because “[a]s a general rule, a court must sentence a defendant under the statute in effect on the date the defendant committed the offense.”

In Matter of N.E., the issue was whether a trial court’s adjudication that a child was a “Child In Need Of Services” (“CHINS”) applied to the child’s father, when the adjudication did not specifically allege fault on the part of the father.  The Indiana Supreme Court concluded that the court was not required to make such a determination for each parent.  Rather, “[t]he question in a CHINS adjudication is not parental fault, but whether the child needs services.  Because a CHINS determination regards the status of the child, the juvenile court is not required to determine whether a child is a CHINS as to each parent, only whether the statutory elements have been established.”

In N.E., the Court distinguished a CHINS adjudication, which does not address parental fault, from proceedings to terminate a parent’s rights, which does.  On appeal, the father was successful in having N.E. returned to his home from foster care, because the trial court’s findings were not sufficient to show why placement in his home was not appropriate.

Finally, in the consolidated cases of State v. Haldeman and State v. Lawson, the Indiana Supreme Court addressed a peculiar situation.  In 1990, the legislature adopted Indiana Code § 35-33.5-3-3(a), which required a prosecuting attorney to apply to the Indiana Court of Appeals “for an ex parte de novo review” of a trial court’s issuance of a wiretap warrant under rules adopted by the Indiana Supreme Court.  The Court adopted Criminal Rule 25 for that purpose.  In 2007, the legislature repealed the statue; however, Criminal Rule 25 remained. 

The Court concluded that the repeal of the statute did not wipe away the obligations set forth in Criminal Rule 25, and that the State failed to follow those procedures in these cases.  However, the Court found that the defendants in both cases failed to demonstrate that the State’s failure to comply affected their substantial rights.  Thus, the Court reversed the trial court’s ruling granting the defendants’ motions to suppress evidence obtained as a result of the police wiretapping.

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