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Iowa Supreme Court: Successful Adjustment to Sex Offender Registry Requirements Not a Reason to Deny Modification

Dennis Becher pleaded guilty on June 2, 2000, to two counts of sexual abuse in the third degree against his nine-year-old adopted daughter. He was sentenced to two consecutive 10-year prison terms. He fully discharged his sentence and was released on May 10, 2009. Becher filed an application on October 29, 2019, to modify his sex offender registration requirements under Iowa Code § 692A.128. The district court denied the petition.

In conducting its review, the Iowa Supreme Court said its ruling in In re A.J.M., 847 N.W.2d 601 (Iowa 2014), generally requires district courts to “focus on the risk of reoffense and the ongoing need for registration to protect public safety—and not on other factors” when considering a petition to modify sex offender registration requirements. To meet the standard for modification of an adult offender requires the offender to “be classified as low risk using standard validated assessment tools” wrote the Court. “Low risk, of course, does not mean no risk.”

The district court used the STATIC-99R score to calculate the risk assessment score. It scored Becher as “below average risk.” Four other tools submitted for consideration found Becher was either low risk or lowest risk. The problem with the STATIC-99R assessment is that it “was valid at the date of release and did not take into account time in the community without reoffense,” the Court explained. When adjusted for time in the community, STATIC-99R puts Becher in the very low risk category. Thus, the Court ruled that the district court abused its discretion by failing to put STATIC-99R in its proper context.

The district court also relied on the absence of a stipulation from DCS approving a modification of the registration requirement. While such a stipulation makes sense when an offender is under supervision because DCS has “a good working knowledge of the offender and his adjustment to life outside prison,” Becher was never on supervision. As such, the district court erred in giving any consideration to the fact that Becher failed to obtain a stipulation from DCS.

The evidence showed that Becher “has achieved ten years of compliance, is gainfully employed as a truck driver within the registration regime” and has managed to find a home within an area permitted by tier III sex offenders, the Court noted. The Iowa Supreme Court, therefore, disagreed with the district court’s position that successful adjustment to registration requirements is a reason to deny modification.

“If we penalize an offender seeking modification who has a history of failure to comply with the sex offender registration requirements, can we also penalize an offender for successfully complying with the same requirements over a ten-year period?” the Court asked. “We think not.”

Finally, the Court said that on remand, the district court must take care to ensure that registration is not punishment. When considering the nature of the crime, it must be ensured it is linked to the public safety purposes of the statute and not a desire to punish.

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Related legal case

Becher v. State

 

 

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