Wyoming’s state investigative agency wrongly made a Casper man register as a sex offender, the Wyoming Supreme Court has ruled.
The Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation in 2019 required James Bullard Minter to register as a sex offender when a federal background check indicated that Minter was convicted of a sexual battery charge 20 years earlier in Georgia, according to a Friday ruling by the Wyoming Supreme Court.
Wyoming residents convicted of sexual battery are not required to register as sex offenders. However, DCI argued, a harsher charge with which Georgia authorities had charged Minter initially indicated that his battery victim was a child, which would align Minter’s conviction with a registerable equivalent in Wyoming law.
The Wyoming Attorney General’s Office told DCI to get Bullard registered “until we can get court documents,” wrote the DCI Sex Offender Registration Unit supervisor in a Dec. 12, 2019, message to the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office.
“Even though it is a misdemeanor he will still have to register,” wrote the supervisor. “Can you please contact him and let him know he needs to register(?)”
The state Supreme Court ruled DCI violated Wyoming law, which requires DCI to register sex offenders.
The agency cannot require people to register while it is contemplating whether they’re registerable sex offenders, says the ruling.
The Natrona County Sheriff’s Office at first agreed to register Minter, though the Natrona County District Attorney’s Office later argued on Minter’s behalf in court, saying DCI didn’t know enough about Minter’s sexual battery charge to make him register.
DCI did not comment following a message from Cowboy State Daily
The Form Becomes The Reason For The Form
Facing a new felony charge for failing to register, Minter on Dec. 27, 2019, filled out a sex offender registration form at the sheriff’s office. He reported that the victim of his sexual battery conviction had been 9 years old.
DCI concluded that because the victim was 9, Minter’s sexual battery charge in Georgia was equivalent to Wyoming’s second-degree sexual abuse of a minor felony, which is a registerable offense.
The Supreme Court, however, said DCI used Minter’s sex-offender registration form to gain information implicating him as a sex offender.
Minter had argued in court that DCI “improperly relied on the information (he) provided on his registration form, both because it should not have compelled him to supply it, and because it went beyond the actual elements … (of) his conviction.”
Charged But Not Convicted
Minter also said DCI should not have extrapolated facts, like the victim’s age, from his initial, more severe charge of which Georgia authorities did not convict him.
The high court agreed, saying DCI should have relied on the facts and statements in Minter’s sexual battery conviction alone to determine whether he’s a sex offender.
DCI had argued before the court that it acted rightfully under a Wyoming law allowing the agency to register sex offenders under the most serious sex-offender category until the agency learns more exact categorizing details of their convictions.
The state Supreme Court countered, saying that provision still only allows for registration of proven sex offenders, as exhibited by their convictions.
“If the facts and circumstances that may be considered under (that law) include dismissed charges, there is no limit to DCI’s ability to require registration based on unproven conduct,” reads the Supreme Court’s order.
“The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers Wyoming) has cautioned against such an expansive interpretation,” the order continues. There’s a “potential inequity of imposing consequences based on unproven factual allegations where ethe defendant has pleaded guilty to a lesser offense.”
When the Natrona County District Attorney’s Office argued on Minter’s behalf earlier in his appeal, it said he’s behaved himself for 20 years.
“He has had no criminal activity or convictions since serving his sentence in Georgia. For 20 years he has remained a law-abiding citizen,” argued the District Attorney’s Office. “To require him to register 20 years later with no further criminal involvement seems unjust.”