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Updated: Thursday, 23 Aug 2012, 8:57 PM EDT
Published : Thursday, 23 Aug 2012, 8:09 PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - Major changes could soon be on the way to Indiana's sex offender registry. Some say loopholes in the current system are letting criminals slip through the cracks.
The debate begins with who is running the registry.
SLIPPING THROUGH THE CRACKS
Right now, the task falls to the individual sheriffs of all 92 counties. The registry is a partnership between the Indiana Department of Corrections and the Indiana Sheriff’s Association. Despite that division, Sheriff’s Association Executive Director Steve Luce says the system has greatly improved in recent years.
“Prior to 2005, Indiana’s sex offender registry law was unenforceable,” Luce told the legislature’s Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee during its first meeting Thursday. “It’s gotten better, but this is part of the loopholes, or part of the process that's become so complex that everybody's not always on the same page.”
Asked by I-Team 8’s Troy Kehoe if that breakdown was allowing sex offenders to slip through the cracks, Luce nodded.
“Absolutely,” he said. “In the criminal justice system you see it every day. And, not only sex offenders. Drug addicts. People getting released not complying. Somewhere, sometimes people get caught in the cracks. And that's what we want to do: prevent these things from happening.”
It’s a reform effort that began in 2005 outside a Denny’s restaurant in Idaho.
8-year-old Shasta Goene had been missing for 6 weeks. She was found, scared but unharmed at the restaurant, sitting with registered sex offender Joseph Edward Duncan.
She was the lucky one.
Duncan now sits on death row in a federal prison in Terre Haute, convicted of kidnapping, molesting and murdering at least five other people in three different states.
At the time, prosecutors admitted Duncan fell through the cracks the moment he crossed state lines.
“The law needs to be fine tuned,” said Marion County Sheriff John Layton (D). “We’ve made great strides. But, that doesn't mean it's perfect yet. And, because it's not perfect, once in a while someone slips through the cracks. That's what we have to seal up. And we have to seal it up right away.”
On Thursday, Luce, Layton and other sheriffs from across Indiana gathered at the statehouse to push for those changes.
Among their suggestions: transfer operation of the sex offender registry to Indiana Attorney General, who they argue could maintain a more "uniform" system.
The suggestion was met with some support, some curiosity and some questions by the panel.
“I want to understand whether or not [the Attorney General] is going to have a conflict with the enforcement of this issue. At this point in time, that was kind of a new idea brought to the committee today. So, I want to sit down and evaluate that. I have nothing against the DOC continuing being the driving force behind maintaining the registry. But, if it makes more sense for the Attorney General to do it, I'm willing to listen,” said committee chairman Rep. Greg Steuerwald (R-Avon).
THE 72 HOUR RULE
Lawmakers also briefly debated an issue first uncovered by I-Team 8.
It stems from the case of Shawn Corbally. He's accused of raping a woman in Greenwood in late July, but some argue he should have been in jail at the time.
I-Team 8 was first to expose the reason why--the so-called "72 hour rule." It says police must prove a sex offender was away from their home for at least three days without re-registering in a different county in order to file a violation.
Corbally was a compliant, registered sex offender in Clinton County with a lengthy criminal history that included previous rape convictions. He was arrested in Marion County on sexual assault charges the week before the alleged Greenwood rape.
That should have been a violation of his sex offender status, which required him to file notice if he intended to leave his home for more than three days.
But, Corbally had allegedly moved in with his mother in Johnson County. He failed to notify anyone of his move, however, Clinton County officials said. So, they never knew he had left, and no one had documented that he was gone.
Because of that lack of documentation, when the alleged sexual assault victim in Marion County failed to positively identify him as her attacker, Corbally was set free.
Three weeks later, it's a story that still has Layton fuming.
“That is one that got through the cracks because there's just too many cracks in the system,” he said. “There was no probable cause to keep him in jail, or we would have kept him in jail.”
On Thursday, Layton told lawmakers that the rule needs to change.
“The time period is one thing we have to go after in this legislation,” he said.
Some on the summer study panel agreed.
“We're having the draft of the legislation done up now so we can review it at our very next committee meeting,” said Steuerwald.
But, others aren't quite convinced. They fear more stringent re-registration requirements
after just a few hours away from home could create unintended problems.
“That requirement isn't there to prevent crimes—at least immediate crimes. It's there to help people be informed,” said Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis).
Layton said the issue needs further debate.
“We think that we've sealed up a few of those cracks in the loophole in Marion County anyway, and we'd like to take it on through the state,” he said.
A MORE UNIFORM SYSTEM
Following Duncan's arrest in 2005, Congress passed the Sex Offender Registration Notification Act, now known as “SORNA.”
Among the changes it was set to bring to Indiana was an increase in minimum registration lengths from 10 to 15 years, more frequent "check-ins" with offenders, and additional data sharing partnerships nationwide.
Indiana has implemented some of those changes, Luce told the panel. But, 6 years later, Indiana and 34 other states are still far from full compliance with SORNA.
Indiana gave up more than $165,000 in federal funding last year because of the non-compliance with the stricter SORNA regulations.
Some argue money is the reason for the delay, too.
“If we have a better federal system, then we should be able to monitor more carefully--especially those who move from state to state. So, I think we need to do it. But, that's a tough formula to get to that level. That's going to cost a lot of money.We're going to have more people in for more years. That, by definition, costs more money,” DeLaney said.
The Sheriff's Association wants the state to foot at least some of the bill through the general fund. Right now, individual counties pay for the majority of registry costs.
But, implementation is estimated at between $7 million and $10 million, DeLaney said. That’s given some reasons not to rush forward.
“At this point, based upon the testimony and what I've seen, I don't know that SORNA is necessarily a priority for us at this point in time,” Steuerwald said.
“This can be a short term and long term approach,” Luce said. “Short term, I think it's that we work together to close the loopholes in state law currently. And then, look at the bigger picture of changing the statues so they're not as complex. I think SORNA compliance is probably still at least two years away.”
The committee is set to discuss the proposed changes again on September 27.