The question posed to the Louisiana Supreme Court: Is someone relieved of the duty to register as a sex offender if a judge sets aside a conviction after probation?
The court's answer: No.
"Louisiana's sex offender registration and notification law has from its beginning … distinguished between acquittals and dismissals entered after a period of probation," the Supreme Court wrote last week in a 4-3 decision.
The high court majority noted that the law was amended in 2017 but said the change only clarified the statute.
"We find that the sex offender registration and notification law has imposed a duty, to register and provide notice, on a person convicted of certain sex offenses despite an order of dismissal after a probationary period from its original enactment," the court added.
The ruling came in the case of Mark A. Davidson, who pleaded guilty in Quachita Parish in 2005 to two counts of video voyeurism. He was given a two-year suspended sentence and put on probation for three years.
After completing his probation early in 2007, a district court judge set aside Davidson's conviction under Article 893 of the Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure and dismissed the prosecution against him.
Davidson moved in 2007 to Florida, where he registered as a sex offender.
Considering moving back to Louisiana, Davidson filed a lawsuit against the state in the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge. He argued that setting aside his conviction eliminated his duty to register as a sex offender in Louisiana.
State District Judge Tim Kelley sided with Davidson on the registration issue in 2019. The state appealed, and the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal reversed Kelley's ruling last summer.
Now, the Supreme Court has affirmed the appellate decision.
One of the high court's dissenters, Justice Jeff Hughes, wrote that Article 893(E)(2) "provides that `[t]he dismissal of the prosecution shall have the same effect as acquittal.'"
Hughes added that criminal statutes are to be strictly construed against overly broad and untimely enforcement.
The 1st Circuit had said in its ruling that the language of Article 893(E)(2) "indicates that an art. 893 dismissal, which necessarily follows a proper adjudication of guilt by plea or conviction, is not an acquittal, but merely has the same effect."
Davidson has not yet returned to Louisiana, the Supreme Court said in its decision.