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State v. Cook

Supreme Court of Louisiana

May 3, 2017

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
GLENN COOK

         ON SUPERVISORY WRITS TO THE CRIMINAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF ORLEANS

          PER CURIAM.

         Writ granted. This matter presents the closely interrelated questions of whether persons who are found not guilty of a sex offense by reason of insanity are subject to the sex offender registration and notification requirements of La.R.S. 15:540 et seq., and whether a petition for injunctive relief or for declaratory judgment regarding those requirements must be filed in the manner established by La.R.S. 15:544.1 when it pertains to such persons. Finding that the legislature chose for reasons of public safety to treat persons convicted of a sex offense the same as those found not guilty by reason of insanity for purposes of the sex offender registration and notification law, we conclude the district court erred in both finding it was the proper forum to hear respondent's claim and in ruling that respondent be relieved of the obligation to register.

         Although he bears various diagnoses, the 56-year-old respondent suffers from severe chronic mental illness involving at times paranoia, delusional and disordered thought processes, and mood instability. He has been in and out of psychiatric treatment since he was a teenager. In 1986, the district court found him not guilty by reason of insanity of attempted aggravated rape, an offense he attempted to commit while in an overtly psychotic state, and the court committed him to inpatient psychiatric treatment. He was released from inpatient treatment to a structured group home in 1999, and despite complying with treatment, he relapsed and was committed again to inpatient treatment in 2002. He was released again to another structured living unit in 2004. His treatment notes there indicate he attends an aftercare clinic, remains under psychiatric care, keeps all scheduled appointments, takes medications as directed, and violates no rules in the living unit, nor demonstrates any significant behavioral problems there. Nonetheless, he required emergency treatment in 2009 when he responded poorly to a medication adjustment. In 2015, he required hospitalization when he became acutely psychotic. He returned to the structured living unit in 2016. His treatment notes indicate that, although he cooperates with treatment and has made progress, he is unable to live in an unsupervised setting at this time.

         Respondent filed a motion in the same district court in which he was originally found not guilty by reason of insanity, asking to be relieved of his obligation to register as a sex offender. The district court granted the motion. Thereafter, the state through the Attorney General filed a motion to rescind that order, arguing that Orleans Parish Criminal District Court was not the proper forum to make that determination because La.R.S. 15:544.1 establishes a procedure to seek to be relieved of the registration requirements with venue in the 19th J.D.C.:

Any petition for injunctive relief or for declaratory judgment regarding the registration and notification requirements of this Chapter as they apply to a particular offender convicted of or adjudicated delinquent for a sex offense as defined in R.S. 15:541 or a criminal offense against a victim who is a minor as defined in R.S. 15:541, regardless of the date of conviction, which are based on theories of relief or grounds not specifically provided for in the provisions of this Chapter, shall be filed through ordinary civil proceedings by the offender, the state, the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, office of state police, or the office of the attorney general, in the district court for the parish where the state capitol is situated.

Added by Acts 2013, No. 284, § 1. After a hearing, the district court found this provision inapplicable because respondent was not convicted of a sex offense but rather had been found not guilty by reason of insanity. The district court further declined to rescind its previous order. The district court erred.

         A legislative statement of the purpose of Louisiana's sex offender registration and notification requirements appears in La.R.S. 15:540. It provides:

A. The legislature finds that sex offenders, sexually violent predators, and child predators often pose a high risk of engaging in sex offenses, and crimes against victims who are minors even after being released from incarceration or commitment and that protection of the public from sex offenders, sexually violent predators, and child predators is of paramount governmental interest. The legislature further finds that local law enforcement officers' efforts to protect their communities, conduct investigations, and quickly apprehend offenders who commit sex offenses and crimes against victims who are minors, are impaired by the lack of information available to law enforcement agencies about convicted sex offenders, sexually violent predators, and child predators who live within the agency's jurisdiction, and the penal and mental health components of our justice system are largely hidden from public view and that lack of information from either may result in failure of both systems to meet this paramount concern of public safety. Restrictive confidentiality and liability laws governing the release of information about sex offenders, sexually violent predators, and child predators have reduced willingness to release information that could be appropriately released under the public disclosure laws, and have increased risks to public safety. Persons found to have committed a sex offense or a crime against a victim who is a minor have a reduced expectation of privacy because of the public's interest in public safety and in the effective operation of government. Release of information about sex offenders, sexually violent predators, and child predators to public agencies, and under limited circumstances to the general public, will further the governmental interests of public safety and public scrutiny of the criminal and mental health systems so long as the information released is rationally related to the furtherance of those goals.
B. Therefore, this state's policy is to assist local law enforcement agencies' efforts to protect their communities by requiring sex offenders, sexually violent predators, and child predators to register with state and local law enforcement agencies and to require the exchange of relevant information about sex offenders, sexually violent predators, and child predators among state, local, and federal public agencies and officials and to authorize the release of necessary and relevant information about sex offenders, sexually violent predators, and child predators to members of the general public as provided in this Chapter.

Added by Acts 1992, No. 388, § 1. Amended by Acts 1997, No. 1147, § 1. It is clear from this statement of purpose that, in an effort to protect the public, the legislature enacted the sex offender registration and notification requirements because it found that persons who commit certain sex offenses are particularly likely to commit additional sex offenses in the future. Faced with the heightened risk of recidivism by these offenders, the legislature opted to disseminate information to both the public and law enforcement agencies that would otherwise be unavailable.

         Furthermore, it is clear from this statement of purpose that the legislature was concerned not only with the elevated risk that sex offenses would be repeatedly committed by persons with a prior conviction. In fact, the word "convicted" appears only once in that lengthy statement of purpose, within the context of what would appear to be a non-exhaustive list of the sort of information that could assist law enforcement in protecting the community from sex offenders: "The legislature further finds that local law enforcement officers' efforts to protect their communities, conduct investigations, and quickly apprehend offenders who commit sex offenses and crimes against victims who are minors, are impaired by the lack of information available to law enforcement agencies about convicted sex offenders, sexually violent predators, and child predators who live within the agency's jurisdiction, . . . ." In striking comparison, the legislature repeatedly refers in the same statement of purpose to the much broader categories of "sex offenders, " "offenders who commit sex offenses, " and "persons found to have committed a sex offense." Of particular significance to the questions presented in the present case is the legislature's inclusion of an allusion to mentally ill sex offenders in the form of a reference to release "from incarceration or commitment, " and an expression of concern that "the penal and mental health components of our justice system are largely hidden from public view and that lack of information from either may result in failure of both systems . . . ." These latter aspects have appeared in the legislative statement of purpose from the beginning and were unaffected by the 1997 amendment, which only broadened the statement of purpose to encompass sexually violent predators and those who prey on children.

         As noted above, La.R.S. 15:544.1 establishes procedures for challenging the registration and notification requirements "as they apply to a particular offender convicted of or adjudicated delinquent for a sex offense" and further establishes venue for that challenge in the 19th J.D.C. Similarly, La.R.S. 15:542(A) requires "[a]ny adult residing in this state who has pled guilty to, has been convicted of, or where adjudication has been deferred or withheld for the perpetration or attempted perpetration of, or any conspiracy to commit" certain sex offenses and criminal offenses against a minor victim, as further specified within other provisions, to register and provide notification. Respondent here contends that he is neither obligated to register nor bound by that venue requirement, because those provisions refer only to persons convicted of a sex offense and a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity is not tantamount to a conviction.

         Respondent is correct that a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity is not tantamount to a conviction. A finding of not guilty by reason of insanity is a determination that defendant undoubtedly committed the charged criminal act but he cannot be punished for it because he was legally insane at the time of his actions. See State v. Branch, 99-1484, p. 1 (La. 3/17/00), 759 So.2d 31, 32 (per curiam) ("A Louisiana jury considering an accused's dual plea of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity must nevertheless first determine whether the state has proved the essential elements of the charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt before it may proceed to a determination of whether he was incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong at the time of the offense and therefore exempt from criminal responsibility for his acts."); see also Jones v. United States, 463 U.S. 354, 363, 103 S.Ct. 3043, 3049, 77 L.Ed.2d 694 (1983) ("A verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity establishes two facts: (i) the defendant committed an act that constitutes a criminal offense, and (ii) he committed the act because of mental illness.").

         However, the fact that a finding of guilty and a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity are not the same within ordinary legal usage does not answer the question of whether the legislature intended to require persons found not guilty by reason of insanity to register. That question is answered by the definitions section of the sex offender registration and notification law, specifically by La.R.S. 15:541(7), which provides:

"Conviction or other disposition adverse to the subject" means any disposition of charges, except a decision not to prosecute, a dismissal, or an acquittal, except when the acquittal is due to a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity and the person was committed. However, a dismissal entered after a period of probation, suspension, or ...

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