Smith v. St. Louis County Police, No. SC99715 (Mo. 2023)
Nature of Case: This consolidated appeal involves two appellants bringing similar legal challenges to Missouri’s Sex Offender Registration Act (“MO-SORA”). The facts and procedural history of both cases are summarized below.
Appellant Smith: In 2005, the Appellant Smith was charged with sexual misconduct in the first degree (defined as “purposely subjecting another person to sexual contact without that person’s consent”). Appellant Smith pleaded guilty to the charge was was granted a suspended imposition of sentence and placed on probation. As a result of his guilty plea, Appellant Smith was required to register pursuant to MO-SORA.
In 2021, Appellant Smith filed a Petition for Removal from the registry which requested that he be removed pursuant to Missouri state law because more than 10 years had passed since the date he was required to register and he had satisfied all applicable registration requirements as a “Tier 1” offender. The state objected, arguing solely that Appellant was not permitted to have his name removed from the registry because even though he is a Tier 1 offender under MO-SORA, he is required to register under the separate requirements of the Federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (“SORNA”). As a result, the state argues that he must remain on the registry for his entire life given the interaction between the statutes. See § 589.400.1(7).
The Circuit Court agreed with the state and denied Appellant’s request for removal from the registry concluding that MO-SORA, specifically § 589.400.1(7), requires lifetime registration for anyone *who has ever* had to register in Missouri for an offense that required registration under SORNA.
The Missouri Court of Appeals, after reviewing SORNA, MO-SORA, and relevant Missouri case law interpreting the same, concluded (1) that Appellant has satisfied all requirements for removal from the registry pursuant to the relevant MO-SORA provisions, and (2) that the General Assembly did not intend for the provisions in MO-SORA to impose a lifetime registration obligation on tier I or tier II offenders under MO-SORA and SORNA who have served the required time on the registry and otherwise satisfied the requirements for removal. For those reasons, the Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the circuit court and remanded the case with directions to grant Appellant’s petition for removal from the registry.
Appellant Ford: In January 2004, the circuit court convicted Appellant Ford, after he pleaded guilty, to three counts of child molestation in the second degree for subjecting a minor to sexual contact. Ford’s conviction renders him a tier I registrant subject to a 15-year registration period. Ford was required to register pursuant to MO-SORA, and he has been registered in Missouri since 2004.
In December 2018, Ford filed a petition for removal from the registry. Ford alleged that, as a tier I offender, he was eligible for removal from the Missouri registry, pursuant to § 589.401. The Missouri State Highway Patrol and other defendants argued solely that, pursuant to § 589.400.1(7), Ford was not entitled to have his name removed from the Missouri sex offender registry because of his separate obligation to register under federal SORNA. Ford does not dispute that he had previously been required to register under SORNA. The circuit court denied Ford’s petition for removal. The circuit court concluded that MO-SORA, specifically § 589.400.1(7), requires lifetime registration for anyone who has ever had to register in Missouri for an offense that required registration under SORNA.
Ford appealed, and the court of appeals reversed.
Both cases were subsequently transferred to the Missouri Supreme Court.
In a consolidated decision addressing both cases, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals concluding that the plain language of MO-SORA requires lifetime registration for both Smith and Ford based on the interaction between MO-SORA and federal SORNA. “Thus, the registration requirement pursuant to § 589.400.1(7) continues even after the individual’s federal registration obligation pursuant to SORNA has expired because ‘the state registration requirement is based on the person’s present status as a sex offender who ‘has been’ required to register pursuant to SORNA.’” (internal citations omitted).
J. Breckenridge dissented concluding that the principal opinion reads subdivision (7) of section 589.400.1 out of context and leads to an absurd result noting that under the principal opinion’s interpretation “almost no one will be entitled to the benefit of the tiered [registration] scheme or the provision permitting removal from the registry, and the General Assembly’s newly enacted provisions have little effect.”