Clements v. Florida, No. 21-12540 (11th Cir. 2023)
Nature of Case: In 2008, the Petitioner in this case pled guilty to a charge of lewd or lascivious conduct in violation of Florida law and was sentenced to five years of sexual offense probation. The terms of that probation included sex offense registration pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 943.0435. Nine years later, in 2017, Petitioner—proceeding pro se—sought federal habeas corpus relief from his conviction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The state moved to dismiss the petition for lack of jurisdiction because he was not “in custody” under § 2254(a). Petitioner responded that his lifetime sex offense registration, “along with all the other restrictions that come with being [registered],” significantly restrained his individual liberty such that he was “in custody” for purposes of § 2254(a).
A person seeking federal habeas corpus relief from a state court judgment must—among other things—be “in custody.” The Supreme Court has not interpreted the “in custody” requirement literally. As a result, certain restraints on a person’s liberty, short of physical detention, can satisfy the “in custody” requirement. The relevant question in this case is whether Florida’s registration and reporting requirements for sex offenders render those offenders “in custody” within the meaning of § 2254(a).
The district court acknowledged that the sex offense registration and reporting requirements were inconvenient. But it concluded that they did not restrict Petitioner’s freedom of movement. Nor did they require Petitioner to obtain the state’s approval before finding a residence or prevent him from participating in legal activities. Accordingly, it ruled that Florida’s sex offense registration and reporting requirements were collateral consequences of his conviction.
Holding: The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision and held, as a matter of first impression, that Florida’s registration and reporting requirements for individuals who have committed sex offenses did not substantially limit registrant’s actions or movement, and thus, registrant was not “in custody,” within meaning of habeas statute. In so holding, the court declined to substantively address Petitioner’s argument raised for the first time on appeal that he is in custody in part due to the separate residency restrictions imposed by his registration status and by state and local laws.