High court issues SORA decision

By Kathy Barks Hoffman
Associated Press

LANSING (AP) — Sex offenders must register and tell law enforcement where they can be found, even if they are homeless, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The court overturned a lower court ruling that a homeless sex offender shouldn’t be punished for not registering an address or giving his whereabouts to law enforcement.

Its four Republican members signed the majority opinion, sending the case back to Ingham Circuit Court.

“The Legislature intended SORA (Sex Offender Registration Act) to be a comprehensive system that requires all sex offenders to register, whether homeless or otherwise,” Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. wrote in the opinion. “An offender’s homelessness in no way prevents that offender from physically entering a law enforcement agency” and reporting where he’s living.

The three Democratic justices dissented, saying the majority’s opinion “defies” common sense.

“Defendant had no ‘residence’ as that term is used in SORA. He had no habitual place at which to sleep. He had no place at which he kept his personal effects. Nor did he have a regular place of lodging,” Justice Marilyn Kelly wrote for the minority. “A park bench, highway underpass or steam grate may qualify as a place where a homeless individual sleeps, but they hardly qualify as a ‘regular place of lodging’ under the statute.”

The case involves Randall Dowdy, who visited a Lansing shelter off and on until 2006, when he was told he could no longer go there because he was a convicted sex offender.

While living on the streets, he was charged with violating the Sex Offender Registration Act for not telling police where he was living.

An Ingham County judge dismissed the charges against Dowdy in 2008.

The Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal, reasoning that a homeless person doesn’t have what is considered a residence.

The Court of Appeals explained that “residence” referred to “a place, a dwelling, an abode, where an individual has a ‘regular place of lodging.’”

The court held that “[t]he provisional location where a homeless person happens to spend the night” does not satisfy the dictionary definitions of “lodging.”

In Monday’s opinion, the majority said the definition of “residence” merely contemplates a “place,” and that Dowdy had a legal duty under the law to report that place to police.

The minority said the law required him to report his “residence” or “domicile,” which it said he didn’t have.

Legislation requiring homeless sex offenders to notify police when they change where they are staying passed the Michigan Senate last year but failed to pass the House.