Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sex Offender Registry Does Not Apply to Romeo and Juliet under HYTA

The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in People v. DiPiazza, (COA # 284946) on November 3, 2009, that a defendant who completed HYTA (Holmes Youthful Trainee Act) could not be required to register under Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry Act because it imposed on the defendant cruel and unusual punishment in violation of Michigan Constitution, Const 1963, art 1, § 16.

Robert DiPiazza, age 18, had consensual sexual intercourse with his then-14-year-old high school sweetheart. A high school teacher had found a photograph of the two in bed and contacted the local prosecutor. Subsequently, he pled guilty to one count of attempted CSC, 3d degree, and was sentenced under the HYTA in August, 2004. He successfully completed his term of probation. (The two were ultimately married in 2009 and expecting their first child in June of this year). The trial court, however, ruled that DiPiazza was still required to register as a sex offender because the SORA was not amended until six weeks after he was sentenced. The trial court stated, “If I had some discretion, yours is one of those Romeo and Juliet cases where I would probably grant your relief.”

In Michigan, the Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA), MCL 28.721 et seq., had been in a state of flux between 1995 and 2004. Prior to 1999, there was no issue if a HYTA candidate was required to register as a sex offender as the SORA did not provide for a public database and therefore if one was required to register and received HYTA, which keeps records private and leaves a young person with no criminal conviction, the public would not be privy to that information. Between October 1, 1995 and October 1, 2004, if one was convicted of a sex offense, one was required to register even if granted YTA status. The legislature corrected the problem for HYTA recipients by amending SORA, effective October 1, 2004, and stating that a youthful trainee was no longer required to register if he or she successfully completed HYTA. Mr. Dipiazza fell into the group between 1999 and October 1, 2004, as he pleaded guilty on July 23, 2004.

The court was struck by the disparity of the sentences between someone who was sentenced prior to, or after, October 1, 2004. Judge Fitzgerald wrote for the court, “[i]t is incongruous to find that a teen that engages in consensual sex and is assigned to youthful trainee status after October 1, 2004, is not considered dangerous enough to require registration, but that a teen that engaged in consensual sex and was assigned to youthful trainee status before October 1, 2004, is required to register. The implied purpose of the SORA, public safety, is not served by requiring an otherwise law-abiding adult to forever be branded as a sex offender because of a juvenile transgression involving consensual sex during a Romeo and Juliet relationship.” (P. 7).

The court decided that two questions needed answering; first, do the registration and notification requirements of SORA impose punishment on a defendant? Second, do the registration and notification requirements of SORA impose cruel and unusual punishment? The court found both in the affirmative. On the cruel and unusual punishment analysis, the court was moved by an Indiana court decision in Indiana v. Wallace, 905 NE 2d 371 (2009), that said Indiana’s SORA is punitive because it makes information available on all sex offenders without restriction and without regard to whether the individual poses any particular risk. The Michigan court concluded that Mr. Dipiazza, “… is not a sexual predator, nor did the trial court deem him to be. Further, even if defendant needed rehabilitation, SORA’s labeling him to be a convicted sex offender works at an opposite purpose, preventing defendant from securing employment and otherwise moving forward with his life plans.” (P. 11). Thus, the court held that as applied to Mr. Dipiazza the requirement to register as a sex offender amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

We will keep an eye on this interesting case, and be sure to let everyone know if the Muskegon County Prosecutor decides to apply to the Supreme Court for leave to appeal.

Daniel Corrigan Grano contributed to this post.

1 comment:

  1. Some people are just not understanding the issue here....The Issue is NOT whether the defendant had a Romeo & Juliet relationship..It goes beyond that....The ISSUE was that he was sentenced under HYTA(Holmes Youthful Training Act). Michigan is the ONLY state that makes those who have no conviction still register as a sex offender.


    When these people with a HYTA apply for jobs, a lot of these background check companies are hip to this legislation in Michigan....That is why, when a person with a HYTA has a record that comes up "no felonies", the background check company also makes the extra effort to search the sex offender registry, which shows a conviction date.

    The legislature that instructed those to register as a sex offender when they had a HYT, clearly was not thinking logically. The purpose of HYTA is to rehabilitate the defendant, give them a second chance to move on with their lives, dismiss the charges, and that one sentenced under HYTA should NOT suffer loss of right, priveledge, or disability. It is not suppose to be cruel and unusual punishment. It also states that it is non-public record. The sex offender registry is Public, and therefore THAT is the REASON many of those under HYTA are getting denied employment and housing...Many are living off the government by recieving food stamps and unemployment checks living off Your tax money.

    That is clearly cruel and unusual punishment, where the goal of HYTA is to rehabilitate. It is a loss of right & priveledge when you are denied employment and housing based on the sex offender registry, when in fact you have no conviction...conviction means no conviction...period.

    Many employers, although not hiring those with this situation, still do not understand this law, because it makes no sense to anyone regarding HYTA and registration.

    If the trial judges deemed these HYTA defendants to be dangerous to the public, they would NOT have given them a HYTA and dismissed the charges. These judges would have given these defendents prison time. With this current legislation in place, these defendants might as well have either taken the case to trial or gotten a felony. It is not that much different when applying for housing and employment. The charge is still public information due to the sex offender registry, and now the registry has a conviction date....did they not forget to leave those dates for those that had a HYTA blank?

    If someone was charged for something that happened when they were age 17-21 with someone around their age or less, and charges weren't brought forth until they are 30 years old, the convictiction date on the sex offender registry shows the year they were charged as the conviction date, NOT the actual Year of the offense. This in turn does make them look dangerous or like a sexual predator.

    Whats stunning is that those who received a HYTA after October 1, 2004 do NOT have to register, but those prior to October 1st do have to register, but can petition the court to have the time reduced to 10 years instead of the 25 years...I really want to know how some of these legislators got elected? It makes no logical sense.

    I am glad that the court of appeals reversed the trial courts decision...It clearly shows that the court of appeals judges are the ones that DO think logically...

    I can see legislation changing in the very near future that would require all those under HYTA to be removed from the public registry or the registry in its entirety.

    Again, the main issue with this case was NOT about Romeo & Juliet, it was about having a HYTA.