JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday clarified which sex offenders must be included in the state registry and upheld the four-year prison sentence of a Hannibal man who didn't properly notify police after moving several times.
Starting in 1995, sex offenders have been required to have their names included in a state database. But the state high court has ruled that those whose only offense happened before 1995 cannot be forced to register because the continuous registration requirement did not exist when the sex offense occurred.
William D. Holden, 48, pleaded guilty in 1995 to sodomizing a 5-year-old girl in April 1994. He was released from prison in 2001 and moved to Hannibal after registering as a sex offender. But Holden moved from a basement to another home and then to his car without notifying the Marion County Sheriff's Department within 10 days. He was sentenced to four years in prison in 2007.
Holden's attorney, public defender Irene Karns, argued that Holden shouldn't have been required to register as a sex offender because he had no way of knowing that such registration would have been required when the sodomy occurred in 1994.
Karns said Holden had been properly registering but was unaware of the 10-day requirement. Holden ran into legal trouble when renewing his sex offender registration in August 2007, after he told police that he had moved twice — once more than a month earlier and a second time about two weeks before he re-registered .
Attempts to reach Karns for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.
The state Supreme Court in a 7-0 opinion ruled the sex offender registration requirements applied to Holden because the trigger is the conviction and not the date of the actual offense.
That clarified previous rulings on the sex offender registry, which had created some confusion over whether the focus should be on the date of the guilty plea or conviction or on the date of the offense.
Judge William Ray Price, writing for the court, noted that the sex offender registration requirement had been in place for several months when Holden pleaded guilty.
"So long as the plea or conviction occurs after the effective date of the statute, as in this case, the registration requirements are not retrospective in operation, regardless of the date the underlying offense was committed," Price wrote.
Even though the whole court agreed Holden is required to follow the sex offender registration requirements, two judges raised concerns about imprisoning those who voluntarily register but don't do so properly.
Judge Richard Teitelman said Missouri might be creating an incentive for sex offenders to ignore the registration requirements by sending people to prison for not doing so properly.
"If the purpose of the registration requirements is to permit the authorities and the public to stay apprised of an offenders' residence, then it may prove unwise to impose harsh punishments on those offenders, like Mr. Holden, who undertake good faith but technically erroneous efforts at compliance," wrote Teitelman, who was joined by Judge Michael Wolff.
Holden currently is serving his sentence at the South Central Correctional Center in Licking.