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State ex rel. A.N.

Supreme Court of Louisiana

October 22, 2019

STATE OF LOUISIANA IN THE INTEREST OF A.N.

          ON SUPERVISORY WRIT TO THE JUVENILE COURT, PARISH OF ORLEANS

          CRICHTON, J. [*]

         We granted the writ in this matter primarily to address the constitutionality of mandatory lifetime sex offender registration as applied to a juvenile.[1] This appeal arises from an application for post-conviction relief in which the juvenile argued that mandatory lifetime sex offender registration pursuant to R.S. 15:542, [2] as applied to a fourteen-year-old juvenile, violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition of inflicting "cruel and unusual punishments." U.S. Const. amend. VIII. Finding that A.N. did not have a right to file for post-conviction relief because he was not in custody at the time of his application, we affirm the denial of A.N.'s post-conviction relief application by the juvenile court. Since A.N. is denied relief on the basis of custody, all remaining issues presented by his writ application, including whether R.S. 15:542 is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment, are moot.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         A.N. was adjudicated delinquent in Orleans Parish Juvenile Court for the crime of aggravated incest[3] involving his sister, J.N. The petition charging A.N. alleged that J.N. was between the ages of seven and eleven and that A.N. was between the ages of twelve and sixteen when the offending acts occurred. The investigation began in 2011 when J.N. submitted a poem she wrote for school expressing her anger at her older brother for molesting her. J.N.'s teacher passed the poem to a social worker who later confirmed with J.N. that she had been sexually abused by her brother. A.N. admitted that he and J.N. engaged in sexual acts but stated it was consensual.

         Prior to the delinquency hearing in March 2012, A.N. filed a motion to be exempt from sex offender registration, or, in the alternative, to declare R.S. 15:542, et seq., which requires lifetime sex offender registration for certain juvenile offenders, unconstitutional as applied to a fourteen-year-old. The juvenile court denied the motion. A.N. was ultimately adjudicated delinquent for committing aggravated incest in violation of R.S. 14:78.1. As a result of this adjudication and a finding that A.N. was fourteen years old at the time of the offense, the juvenile court ordered A.N. to be placed in secure care with the Office of Juvenile Justice until he turned twenty-one years old, to register as a sex offender for the remainder of his life pursuant to R.S. 15:542, and to participate in "sexual predators counseling." On appeal, A.N. argued that the sex offender registration and notification requirements as applied to a juvenile offender are punitive and not rehabilitative. He also argued that the evidence was insufficient to establish that the aggravated incest occurred after he turned fourteen years of age and, therefore, he should not be subject to sex offender registration and notification requirements upon release from custody. [4] The court of appeal upheld his adjudication and disposition, and this Court denied writs. State in Interest of A.N., 12-1144 (La.App. 4 Cir. 8/28/13), 123 So.3d 824, 825, writ denied, 13-2287 (La. 11/8/13), 125 So.3d 1095. Because the juvenile was twenty years old at the time of the adjudication and was released early, he was held in secure care for only six months.[5] He remains, however, subject to the requirement that he maintain sex offender registration for life pursuant to R.S. 15:542.

         A.N. timely filed a petition for post-conviction relief in juvenile court on November 7, 2014, challenging the constitutionality of sex offender registration as applied to a juvenile. Notably, the petition does not list a place of confinement or a custodian to be served, as A.N. was no longer in secure care. The juvenile court held a hearing on January 11, 2018 and summarily denied the application for post-conviction relief. The judge read the victim's poem-which contained the allegations of abuse that began the initial investigation in 2011-into the record and stated that she was "not going to reconsider [her] decision at that time that [A.N.] register as a sex offender."

         The court of appeal denied A.N.'s writ application, finding that his arguments were without merit for the following reasons: (1) pursuant to C.Cr.P. art. 928, it is within the discretion of the district court to dismiss an application for post-conviction relief without requiring an answer; (2) the previous denial of A.N.'s Eighth Amendment challenge on direct review is the law of the case;[6] and (3) A.N. is not in custody and therefore cannot seek post-conviction relief. State in Interest of A.N., 18-0219 (La.App. 4 Cir. 8/23/18) (unpub'd).[7]

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         There are several threshold issues this Court must examine before we can reach the merits of A.N.'s application - i.e., the Eighth Amendment question. Finding that A.N. was not in custody at the time of his post-adjudication petition and as such not entitled to post-adjudication relief, we ultimately do not reach the constitutional issue.

         Venue

         As a preliminary matter, the Attorney General argues that the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court was an improper venue to determine whether to relieve A.N. of sex offender registration. The Attorney General cites R.S. 15:544.1, which provides in pertinent part:

Any petition for injunctive relief or for declaratory judgment regarding the application or interpretation of the registration and notification requirements of this Chapter . . . shall be filed through ordinary civil proceedings in the district court for the parish where the state capitol is situated.

(emphasis added).

         Thus, according to the plain language of R.S. 15:544.1, the 19th Judicial District Court is the proper venue for challenging the "application or interpretation" of the registration requirements set forth in Title 15, Chapter 3-B, which includes R.S. 15:542. See also State v. Cook, 16-1518 (La. 5/3/17), 226 So.3d 387 (finding that defendant should have brought action in 19th J.D.C. where alleging R.S. 15:540, et seq., does not apply to those found not guilty of a sexual crime by reason of insanity). In the instant case, however, A.N. does not seek relief regarding the "application or interpretation" of R.S. 15:542. Instead, A.N. (1) concedes that, as written, R.S. 15:542 does apply to him, and (2) that such application violates the Eighth Amendment. Since the issue presented by A.N.'s petition and writ application to this Court is not one of application or interpretation, R.S. 15:544.1 is inapplicable. The juvenile court, therefore, was a proper venue for A.N.'s petition for post-conviction relief, and this argument is without merit.

         Service

         The Attorney General also argues that this matter should be remanded to the juvenile court for an evidentiary hearing because the Department of Justice was not served in the lower court proceedings. In support of this argument, the Attorney General cites C.C.P. art. 1880, which requires service upon the Attorney General of any written pleading challenging the constitutionality of state statutory authority in the context of a petition for declaratory relief. That article provides:

When declaratory relief is sought, all persons shall be made parties who have or claim any interest which would be affected by the declaration, and no declaration shall prejudice the rights of persons not parties to the proceeding. In a proceeding which involves the validity of a municipal ordinance or franchise, such municipality shall be made a party, and shall be entitled to be heard. If the statute, ordinance, or franchise is alleged to be unconstitutional, the attorney general of the state shall also be served with a copy of the proceeding and be entitled to be heard.

C.C.P. art. 1880 (emphasis added).

         Although A.N. did allege in his post-conviction petition that R.S. 15:542 is unconstitutional as applied to a fourteen-year-old juvenile, we find that C.C.P. art. 1880 does not mandate service upon the Attorney General in this case. Article 1880 is found within the Code of Civil Procedure, and the Attorney General fails to successfully argue why this particular civil procedural article should be applied to a post-conviction criminal proceeding established by and defined in the Code of Criminal Procedure.[8] Moreover, the reason for which the legislature would have mandated that parties provide notice to the Attorney General in a civil matter is clear, as civil matters generally involve disputes among private parties, and in such cases the State would not otherwise have any actual or constructive notice that a party is assailing the constitutionality of a "statute, ordinance, or franchise." In a criminal matter, by contrast, the State is always a party to the proceeding through its district attorneys. See C.Cr.P. art. 61 ("Subject to the supervision of the attorney general, as provided in C.Cr.P. art. 62, the district attorney has entire charge and control of every criminal prosecution instituted or pending in his district, and determines whom, when, and how he shall prosecute."); C.Cr.P. art. 927 ("If an application alleges a claim which, if established, would entitle the petitioner to relief, the court shall order the custodian, through the district attorney in the parish in which the defendant was convicted, to file any procedural objections he may have, or an answer on the merits if there are no procedural objections, within a specified period not in excess of thirty days.") Any concern we may have had that the Attorney General's interest should be represented in criminal court proceedings related to the constitutionality of a statute is thus quelled by our understanding that the State - through its acting district attorney - is on notice of any constitutional argument made in the district court, and the State's interests are thus represented in all criminal matters. State v. Hatton, 2007-2377 (La. 7/1/08), 985 So.2d 709, 721 (recognizing the purpose of procedural requirements for challenging the constitutionality of a statute is "to give the parties an opportunity to brief and argue the constitutional grounds and to prepare an adequate record for review."). Furthermore, nothing prohibits the Attorney General from exercising his statutory authority to participate in such proceedings if he believes the circumstances warrant his intervention. C.Cr.P. art. 62(B).[9] This argument is without merit.

         Post-Adjudication Relief

         Although the State does not argue otherwise, we must first address whether the Louisiana Children's Code provides a right to "post-adjudication" relief.[10]Children's Code art. 803 mandates that where procedures are not provided in Title VIII thereof, the court shall proceed in accordance with the Code of Criminal Procedure. See also Ch. C. art. 104 ("Where procedures are not provided in this Code, or otherwise by law, the court shall proceed in accordance with: (1) The Code of Criminal Procedure in a delinquency proceeding."). While Ch. C. art. 909 of that title permits a juvenile court to modify any order of disposition, such power does not provide relief to a juvenile equivalent to post-conviction relief, C.Cr.P. art 924, et seq., and is instead analogous to relief obtained through a motion to reconsider sentence. See C.Cr.P. art. 881.1; State v. J.R.S.C., 00-2108 (La. 6/1/01), 788 So.2d 424, 424-425 (noting that the sole difference between motions under the Ch. C. art. 909 and C.Cr.P. art. 881.1 "is that the juvenile may file his motion to modify the judgment of disposition at any time while the disposition is in force, whereas an adult offender's motion to reconsider sentence must be filed within 30 days of original sentencing unless the trial court enlarges that time period.").

         The key distinction between C.Cr.P. art. 924, et seq., and Ch. C. art. 909 is the ability in a post-conviction petition not only to seek modification of the sentence - in a juvenile proceeding, the "disposition" - but also to overturn the conviction - in a juvenile proceeding, the "adjudication." Applications for post-conviction relief are defined under C.Cr.P. art. 924 as "a petition filed by a person in custody after sentence following conviction for the commission of an offense seeking to have the conviction and sentence set aside." Id. (emphasis added). In Ch. C. art. 909, by contrast, the only possible relief to be granted is a modification of the disposition.

         For the foregoing reasons, it is clear that Title VIII of the Children's Code does not provide for post-conviction relief for a juvenile, i.e., post-adjudication relief. The legislature has therefore directed through Ch. C. art. 803 that the courts impute C.Cr.P. art. 924, ...


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