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Vaughn v. State

Supreme Court of Wyoming

March 9, 2017

ALEX JORDAN VAUGHN, Appellant (Defendant),
v.
THE STATE OF WYOMING Appellee (Plaintiff).

         Appeal from the District Court of Park County The Honorable Steven R. Cranfill, Judge

          Representing Appellant: Office of the State Public Defender: Diane Lozano, State Public Defender; Tina N. Olson, Chief Appellate Counsel; Kirk A. Morgan, Senior Assistant Appellate Counsel. Argument by Mr. Morgan.

          Representing Appellee: Peter K. Michael, Wyoming Attorney General; David L. Delicath, Deputy Attorney General; James Michael Causey, Senior Assistant Attorney General; John A. Brodie, Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Mr. Brodie.

          Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL, DAVIS, FOX, and KAUTZ, JJ.

          DAVIS, Justice.

         [¶1] Appellant Alex J. Vaughn was adjudicated a delinquent juvenile for committing a serious sexual offense that required him to register as an offender under the Wyoming Sexual Offender Registration Act (WSORA). He subsequently failed to report changes in his address as required, and pled guilty to two felony counts for failing to do so. His plea was conditional and allowed him to appeal his convictions on constitutional grounds. We affirm.

         ISSUES

         [¶2] 1. Is Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-19-301(a)(iii) of the WSORA unconstitutional as applied to Appellant because it creates an irreconcilable conflict with Wyoming's Juvenile Justice Act (WJJA), Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-6-201 et seq.?

         2. Does Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-19-301(a)(iii) of the WSORA violate Appellant's right to equal protection under the Wyoming Constitution because qualifying adjudicated delinquents must register, while adults (or juveniles charged as adults) whose prosecutions are deferred pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-13-301 are not required to register?

         3. Does the WSORA's lifetime registration provision in Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-19-304(a) violate Appellant's right to due process (1) because it encroaches upon his protected right to reputation and confidentiality or (2) by creating an irrebuttable presumption that an offender's risk of reoffense is high?

         4. Does Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-19-301(a)(iii) of the WSORA violate the United States Constitution Art. 1, § 10 prohibition against enacting ex post facto laws?

         FACTS

         [¶3] As explained in more detail in the discussion below, see infra ¶¶ 13-15, the WSORA requires individuals who have committed certain sex crimes to register as sex offenders in Wyoming. See Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 7-19-301(a)(iii), (viii) & -302 (LexisNexis 2015). On July 1, 2011, the number of those subject to the act expanded, as the definition of "convicted" of a sex offense under WSORA was amended to include "adjudications as a delinquent for offenses specified in W.S. 7-19-302(j)." See 2011 Wyo Sess. Laws Ch. 179, § 1 (H.B. 23). This amendment not only affected qualifying juveniles from that point on, but also applied to those that had been previously adjudicated as delinquents for such serious sexual crimes. Id. The latter scenerio is where Appellant's circumstance falls.

          [¶4] A few months before the amendment, in May of 2011, Appellant, then 17 years old, appeared in juvenile court and was adjudicated a delinquent for a sexual offense as provided in the WJJA, § 14-6-201. He was placed at the Wyoming Boys School, released on December 1, 2012, and placed on supervised probation. After he completed the requirements it had ordered, the juvenile court closed and sealed his file in April of 2013.

         [¶5] Because the expanded definition of "convicted" applied to Appellant, he was required to register as a sex offender when the amendment went into effect in July of 2011. He apparently complied with the reporting requirements until 2014. On July 8, 2014, Vaughn reported in person to the Park County Sheriff's Office to register as a sex offender as required by the WSORA. He informed the deputies that he lived in an apartment complex in Cody, but he failed to return the required address verification form to the sheriff's office. As a result, two months later the sheriff reported Appellant to the Wyoming Sex Offender Registry as non-compliant. In October of 2014, an investigator with the Park County Sheriff's Office learned that Appellant had moved from the Cody apartment complex in August, and that he did not notify the sheriff's office of this move.

         [¶6] An information charging Appellant with two felonies for failing to keep his sex offender registration information current was filed on December 1, 2014.[1] Appellant filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that the WSORA was unconstitutional. The district court denied Appellant's motion. He then entered a conditional guilty plea to the crimes charged pursuant to a plea agreement, reserving the right to appeal the district court's denial of his motion to dismiss. He was sentenced to not less than two nor more than four years of imprisonment, and he timely perfected this appeal.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         [¶7] Appellant's issues are all based upon claims that the WSORA is unconstitutional. "The question of whether a statute is constitutional is a question of law over which this Court exercises de novo review." Kammerer v. State, 2014 WY 50, ¶ 5, 322 P.3d 827, 830 (Wyo. 2014). Statutes are presumed to be constitutional, and we will resolve any doubt in favor of constitutionality. Id.

         DISCUSSION

         The WSORA and the WJJA

         [¶8] Appellant first argues that the non-penal, equitable and confidential character of the WJJA conflicts irreconcilably with the WSORA's registry requirements for adjudicated juvenile offenders. He contends this conflict creates a constitutionally impermissible ambiguity in these statutes, which ought to require that they be interpreted in his favor due to the rule of lenity.[2]

         [¶9] In order to address Appellant's first issue, we must necessarily interpret both the WSORA and WJJA. Rulings involving interpretation of statutes are reviewed de novo. In re HLL, 2016 WY 43');">2016 WY 43, ¶ 21, 372 P.3d 185, 189 (Wyo. 2016). Statutes that provide for the care and discipline of juveniles are generally given a liberal and practical construction in favor of the child's welfare. KP v. State, 2004 WY 165, ¶ 27, 102 P.3d 217, 225 (Wyo. 2004) (quoting TPJ v. State, 2003 WY 49, ¶ 25, 66 P.3d 710, 715 (Wyo. 2003)). The plain language of the statutes still controls our search for the legislature's intent, however. Id.

         [¶10] We construe statutory provisions in pari materia, which requires that we give effect to every word, clause, and sentence according to the interplay between the provisions. Cheyenne Newspapers, Inc. v. City of Cheyenne, 2016 WY 125, ¶ 11, 386 P.3d 329, 333 (Wyo. 2016). We consider all statutes relating to the same subject or having the same general purpose, and we strive to interpret them harmoniously. Id. "We presume that the legislature has acted in a thoughtful and rational manner with full knowledge of existing law, and that it intended new statutory provisions to be read in harmony with existing law and as part of an overall and uniform system of jurisprudence." Id. (quoting Robert L. Kroenlein Trust ex rel. Alden v. Kirchhefer, 2015 WY 127, ¶ 22, 357 P.3d 1118, 1126 (Wyo. 2015)).

         [¶11] With these principles in mind, we turn first to the WJJA, which Wyoming enacted in the mid-20th Century. See Wyoming Compiled Statutes, § 1-701 et seq., (Arthur A. Sandusky, comp. 1945, 1957 Cum. Supp.); 1951 Wyo. Sess. Laws Ch. 125 (H.B. 35). Cases under the WJJA are not criminal; rather, they are special proceedings. KP, ¶ 27, 102 P.3d at 225. These proceedings are therefore equitable and not punitive. They are intended to assure "treatment, training and rehabilitation" for children, and to "provide for the care, the protection and the wholesome moral, mental and physical development of children" coming within its provisions. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-6-201(c)(ii)(C) and (c)(iii); KP, ¶ 27, 102 P.3d at 225. Thus, "one of the purposes of a delinquency proceeding is '[t]o remove, where appropriate, the taint of criminality from children committing certain unlawful acts.'" K.C. v. State, 2011 WY 108, ¶ 16, 257 P.3d 23, 28 (Wyo. 2011) (quoting Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-6-201(c)(ii)(B)).

         [¶12] Accordingly, "[t]he question for adjudication is whether the allegations contained in the petition alleging delinquency are true." K.C., ¶ 16, 257 P.3d at 28. If the allegations are found to be true, such a finding "is not deemed a conviction of guilt, but is a determination that judicial intervention is necessary for the best interest and welfare of the child and the public." Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-6-225(b).[3] "No order or decree pursuant to this act shall be deemed a conviction of a crime or impose any civil disabilities, nor shall it disqualify the child for any civil or military service application or appointment or from holding public office." Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-6-238. To prevent the public from knowing of an adjudication of delinquency, the WJJA requires that the case and all records flowing from it remain confidential, with certain strict exceptions. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-6-239.

         [¶13] Now that we have considered the WJJA's ethos and its requirements, we must examine the WSORA. As we briefly noted above, see supra ¶ 3, the WSORA requires individuals who have committed certain sexual crimes to register as sex offenders. In 1994, Wyoming joined the majority of other states in enacting legislation relating to sex offender registration. Kammerer, ¶ 6, 322 P.3d at 830. Originally the WSORA only applied to adults, but in 2011, the act was amended to include juveniles who were adjudicated delinquent for certain serious sexual offenses. See 2011 Wyo. Sess. Laws Ch. 179 (H.B. 23). The WSORA now includes the following language:

"Convicted" includes pleas of guilty, nolo contendere, verdicts of guilty upon which a judgment of conviction may be rendered and adjudications as a delinquent for offenses specified in W.S. 7-19-302(j). "Convicted" shall not include dispositions pursuant to W.S. 7-13-301.

Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-19-301(a)(iii) (emphasis added).

         [¶14] Under the WSORA, qualifying sexual offenders must register with the county sheriff in their county of residence. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-19-302(a). "The basic provisions of the Act require the registrant to provide identifying information, including the registrant's name, aliases, address, date and place of birth, social security number, place and address of employment, a DNA sample, and any internet identifiers." Kammerer, ¶ 7, 322 P.3d at 830. The offender is also required to "provide the date and place of his conviction, the crime for which he was convicted, the age of each victim, the name and address of educational institutions at which the registrant is employed or attending school, the license plate number and description of his vehicle, and any phone number at which the registrant may be reached." Id. (citing § 7-19-302(a)). The registrant must also be photographed and fingerprinted. Id.

         [¶15] The WSORA also establishes a central registry for offenders, and it requires that certain identifying information be made available to the public. Kammerer, ¶ 8, 322 P.3d at 831 (citing § 7-19-303(a), (c)(iii)). The limited notice provisions that apply to qualifying juveniles mandate that the offender's information "be provided . . . to residential neighbors within at least seven hundred fifty (750) feet of the offender's residence, organizations in the community, including schools, religious and youth organizations . . . ." Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-19-303(c)(ii). "In addition, notification regarding an offender employed by or attending school at any educational institution shall be provided upon request by the educational institution to a member of the institution's campus community . . . ." Id. However, unlike adult offenders, a juvenile's information is not made available to the general public on the internet. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-19-303(c)(iii). The method of disseminating information does not change when a juvenile sex offender reaches the age of majority, as Appellant had when he was charged in this case. Id.

         [¶16] After comparing the two acts, we understand how one might say there is an irreconcilable tension between the confidentiality requirements of the WJJA, and the requirement that information concerning an adjudicated delinquent be made available to a limited circle of the public under the WSORA. We further recognize that the limited public notification requirement for juveniles under the WSORA could stigmatize juvenile offenders. But as we dig deeper into the purpose of the WJJA, we perceive a congruency, rather than a conflict, between the two acts.

         [¶17] From its inception, the WJJA was intended to serve the best interests of children and to provide a path towards a promising future for delinquent youth.[4] In 1997, our legislature expanded the purpose of the WJJA to provide for the "protection of the public and public safety." 1997 Wyo. Sess. Laws Ch. ...


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