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Wisconsin Supreme Court rules in favor of homeless sex offender

Convicted sex offenders in Wisconsin are required to register their addresses, but what if they're unable to find one? That was the issue at the center of a state Supreme Court case involving a homeless man who was convicted for failing to register as a sex offender.

The man was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of first-degree sexual assault of a child. He was supposed to register his address within 10 days before his release, but he couldn't find a place to live. Officials said since he didn't comply with the order, he should be charged with failing to provide required information to the registry, which is a felony.

A Dodge County judge acknowledged that the man had tried to find a home by reaching out to relatives, but he was unsuccessful. As a result the judge found him guilty. The Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, and the Department of Justice appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. It argued that the man could have listed a park bench or other location on the street.

The high court disagreed this week, saying that he wasn't capable of listing a park bench or other non-residence as his home. But the justices also said that while homelessness is not a defense when it comes to failure to register, the case was really about whether he had attempted to comply. It's unreasonable to believe that a registrant in the defendant's situation should be sentenced to six years in prison for a felony he could hardly avoid, the ruling said.

The Department of Corrections has a new rule requiring a sex offender registrant who can't find a permanent home to call the registry every seven days to report his or her status, locations he or she has been frequenting and a plan for the coming week. New laws also require convicts to have a term of supervision after prison. The defendant in this case wasn't given one.

Many sex offenders have a difficult time finding a home when they're released from prison. It can be hard to find a home without a job, and finding a job is difficult for any convict, let alone one with a sex crime in their history. It's hoped that new laws addressing this conundrum will keep other sex offender registrants from fighting a similar legal battle.

Source: Post Crescent, "Wis. high court sides with homeless sex offender," Carrie Antlfinger, March 13, 2012

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