State Police: More sex offenders are declaring homelessness to avoid registration

Last year, we reported about a Michigan Court of Appeals decision in People v Dowdy, in which the court held that homeless sex offenders didn’t have to register under SORA because they had no “domicile.”

Since the decision, the Michigan State Police has found that some sex offenders have used the case as a loophole to avoid registration and reporting: they are declaring themselves homeless. [Grand Rapids Press].

It’s no coincidence that the number of sex offenders who say they’re homeless has jumped 62 percent since the Michigan Court of Appeals in February ruled homeless sex criminals don’t have to register with the state, said Michigan State Police Sgt. Chris Hawkins.

"I just don’t think that’s coincidental," said Hawkins, a legislative liaison for the state police. "People are going to use homelessness as some sort of guise."

In some cases, police have found the declaration of homeless to be, eh, not up-to-date.

Grand Rapids Police Officer John Wetzel said his department recently issued an arrest warrant for a sex offender who said he was homeless but was instead living at a home in Benton Harbor.

A bill has passed the Michigan Senate that would require a homeless sex offender to register a regular location they can be found – whether as a shelter at which they regularly stay or an intersection – and update that within 10 days of moving further than a half-mile of that location. The bill is still pending in the House.

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Crime lab catastrophe continues

At the time of the Detroit crime lab closure in September 2008, there was a sense in criminal law circles that the sky was falling. An audit of the crime lab found an error rate of 10 percent in tested fired evidence. One in 10. That’s a lot of fired evidence.

But fired evidence isn’t always that important in a case, one veteran defense lawyer told me late in 2008. A case is about a body of evidence, and not just on piece. So while the lab errors were egregious, and certainly a signal of the dysfunction within the Detroit Police Department and its laboratory, it just wasn’t the end of the world, as far as he and his clients were concerned.

At the time, it may have been easy to nod and recognize the terrible problem, but shrug it off as something that’s far from a catastrophe. After all, since the crime lab’s closure, only periodically do we hear that a defendant is getting a new trial.

And as for the new evidence? Well, how bad could it be? The capable and diligent Michgan State Police have taken over the duties of testing that evidence and when Michigan Lawyers Weekly visited one of those laboratories where fired evidence was tested, along with DNA evidence, we saw no one running around with their hair on fire. So it’s all good, right?

Well, no.

According to a story in today’s The Detroit News, the “backlogs of forensic evidence at labs across the state (is) causing the justice system in Michigan to grind to a halt.” As of today, the backlog of rape kits dating back ot the mid-1990s is an astonishing 12,000.

That’s not a typo. Twelve. Thousand.

Think of that in terms of the number of women who have been violently victimized, then muster the courage to report it to police, only to have the most crucial evidence tossed aside to sit in storage for more than a decade.

It’s unthinkable. The sky has fallen.