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Ledet v. Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

September 24, 2018

MICHAEL LEDET
v.
LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY AND CORRECTIONS

          On Appeal from the 19th Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge State of Louisiana Trial Court No. 645, 873 Honorable Wilson Fields, Judge Presiding

          Robert N. Aguiluz Baton Rouge, LA Attorneys for Plaintiff -Appellant, Michael Ledet

          Jude C. Bursavich Baton Rouge, LA Adrienne E. Aucoin Baton Rouge, LA Attorney for Defendant -Appellee, State of Louisiana, through the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, Public Safety Services, Office of State Police

          BEFORE: WHIPPLE, C.J., McCLENDON, AND HIGGINBOTFIAM, JJ.

          HIGGINBOTHAM, J.

         Michael Ledet appeals his classification as a Tier II sex offender based on his 2005 federal conviction and incarceration for possession of materials involving the sexual exploitation of minors, in violation of 18 USCA 2252. The district court upheld an administrative law judge's (ALJ) determination that the State of Louisiana, through the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, Public Services, Office of State Police, Bureau of Criminal Identification and Information ("the Bureau"), properly classified Mr. Ledet in 2014 pursuant to the most comparable state statute, La. R.S. 14:81.1, concerning possession of pornography involving juveniles. Consequently, Mr. Ledet is currently required to register in Louisiana as a sex offender for a period of 25 years from the date of his initial registration, as well as perform in-person renewals every six months, all in accordance with La. R.S. 15:540, et seq.[1]

         BACKGROUND

         On March 23, 2005, Mr. Ledet was charged by a federal bill of information with one count of possession of child pornography. He pled guilty to the charge and was sentenced on July 28, 2005, to serve two years in federal prison. Upon his supervised release from prison, Mr. Ledet resided in Mandeville, Louisiana. As a required condition of his supervised release, Mr. Ledet initially registered as a sex offender on June 12, 2007, with the Sheriffs Office for St. Tammany Parish. He was informed at that time that he must renew his registration annually for ten years from the date of his initial registration. The Sheriffs Office forwarded Mr. Ledet's registration to the Bureau. For the next seven years, Mr. Ledet annually updated his registration as required.

          On August 7, 2014, the Bureau sent written notification to Mr. Ledet that his period of registration and frequency of his in-person periodic renewals had been reviewed and it was determined, by comparing the elements of the most comparable Louisiana statute (pornography involving juveniles) with the criminal elements of the federal statute (sexual exploitation of minors), that Mr. Ledet should be classified as a Tier II offender. A Tier II classification involves offenses defined in La. R.S. 15:541(25) as "Sexual offense[s] against a victim who is a minor" and require a 25-year registration period, as well as an in-person registration renewal every six months from the date of the initial registration. See La. R.S. 15:544 and La. R.S. 15:542.1.1(A)(2). Additionally, Mr. Ledet was informed of his right to appeal the Tier II classification by submitting a written request for an administrative hearing as provided in the Louisiana Administrative Procedure Act ("the APA"), La. R.S. 49:950, et seq., within one year from the date that the Bureau posted its determination on the Sex Offender and Child Predator Registry ("the Registry"). The Bureau's determination was posted on the Registry on August 7, 2014.

         Almost a full year later, Mr. Ledet submitted a formal appeal of the Bureau's Tier II determination and requested an administrative hearing by letter dated August 4, 2015. On October 14, 2015, a hearing was held on the merits of Mr. Ledet's Tier II classification and, after argument, witness testimony, admission of evidence, and the submission of post-hearing briefs, a Decision and Order was rendered and signed by an ALJ on December 3, 2015. In detailed written reasons, the ALJ affirmed the Bureau's determination. After the ALJ denied Mr. Ledet's request for reconsideration, Mr. Ledet filed a petition for judicial review of the ALJ's decision in the Nineteenth Judicial District Court on February 11, 2016. The district court reviewed the administrative record and the parties' memoranda, as well as heard oral arguments on May 23, 2017. On March 28, 2018, the district court signed an amended judgment denying Mr. Ledet's petition and rendering judgment in favor of the Bureau, thereby affirming the ALJ decision and finding that the ALJ's decision was not arbitrary and capricious. Mr. Ledet now appeals to this court for review of the district court and the ALJ's decisions.[2]

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A district court's judicial review of a final administrative decision is governed by the APA and its standard of review as set forth in La. R.S. 49:964(G):

The court may affirm the decision of the agency or remand the case for further proceedings. The court may reverse or modify the decision if substantial rights of the appellant have been prejudiced because the administrative ...

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