By CARRIE ANTLFINGER
MILWAUKEE (AP) – The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a homeless sex offender should not have been convicted of failing to report his address, arguing that he made efforts to find a home and that other monitoring procedures were available.
William Dinkins Sr. was sentenced to 10 years in prison for first-degree sexual assault of a child in 1988 in Dodge County. He was supposed to provide his address for the sex offender registry 10 days before his release from prison in 2008, but he couldn’t find a home.
He was then charged with failing to provide required information to the registry, a felony. A Dodge County judge determined that Dinkins tried to comply with the requirements by unsuccessfully reaching out to relatives, but still found him guilty during a bench trial.
The Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, and the Department of Justice appealed to Wisconsin Supreme Court arguing that Dinkins could have listed a park bench or other on-the-street location.
In the ruling Tuesday, the Supreme Court said the case isn’t about whether homeless sex offenders are exempt from registration requirements, but whether they could be convicted if they tried to comply.
The court agreed that homelessness is not a defense, but justices rejected claims that Dinkins was capable of complying by listing a park bench or other on-the-street location.
The ruling notes that the law isn’t intended to be punitive in nature. Justices said it’s unreasonable to believe lawmakers believed such a registrant should be prosecuted for a felony with a maximum prison sentence of six years.
The court also noted that the Legislature set forth an alternative procedure for monitoring the whereabouts of those who are unable to provide an address, including reporting to a police station and providing information about places the offender is frequenting.
The Department of Corrections has since instituted a new rule that requires a registrant who is unable to find a permanent residence to call the registry every seven days to report the “homeless status,” locations where he or she has been frequenting and the plan for the upcoming week, according to the ruling.
Dinkins’ situation was unusual because he spent his entire sentence in prison and wasn’t paroled early, so the state had no supervision authority over him when he was released, said his public defender, Steven Phillips. Under new laws, convicts are required have a term of supervision after prison.
Dana Brueck, spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, said the case is a matter of statutory interpretation and the Legislature could consider amending the law.
“Because this case involves the interpretation of state statutes, the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision is authoritative,” she said in an email Tuesday.