Ford v. Belmar, ED109958

CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)
Writing for the CourtColleen Dolan, J.
PartiesGARY NELSON FORD, Appellant, v. COL. JON BELMAR, CHIEF OF POLICE AS CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER OF ST. LOUIS COUNTY, PURSUANT TO COUNTY CHARTER, AND JIM BUCKLES, SHERIFF OF ST. LOUIS COUNTY AS "CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIAL" AS DEFINED BY RSMO 589.404(3), Respondents.
Decision Date07 June 2022
Docket NumberED109958

GARY NELSON FORD, Appellant,
v.

COL. JON BELMAR, CHIEF OF POLICE AS CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER OF ST. LOUIS COUNTY, PURSUANT TO COUNTY CHARTER, AND JIM BUCKLES, SHERIFF OF ST. LOUIS COUNTY AS "CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIAL" AS DEFINED BY RSMO 589.404(3), Respondents.

No. ED109958

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Third Division

June 7, 2022


Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County Cause No. 18SL-CC04833 Honorable Virginia W. Lay Filed: June 7, 2022

OPINION

Colleen Dolan, J.

Gary Nelson Ford ("Petitioner") appeals the judgment denying his petition for removal from the sex offender registry. Petitioner contends the trial court misstated and misapplied the law by concluding that he must remain on the registry for his lifetime. We reverse and remand.

I. Background

In January of 2004, Petitioner was convicted after pleading guilty to three counts of child molestation in the second degree for subjecting a minor to sexual contact. It is undisputed that he was obligated to register as a sex offender under Missouri's Sex Offender Registration Act

1

("MO-SORA") for two reasons: (a) because child molestation is an enumerated registerable offense set out in MO-SORA and (b) because, pursuant to § 589.400.1(7), [1] he "has been or is" required to register for that offense under the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act ("SORNA").[2] Petitioner's obligation to register in Missouri and the sources of that obligation are not in question in this case, only the duration of his registration period.

Petitioner has been duly registered in Missouri since 2004. At that time, "[MO-]SORA treated all sexual offenses the same and imposed on all offenders a lifetime registration requirement, with limited exceptions." Bacon v. Missouri State Highway Patrol, 602 S.W.3d 245, 247 (Mo. App. E.D. 2020). Effective August 28, 2018, sexual offenders were divided into three tiers, each with a different registration period, and only adult tier III offenders are still required to register for their lifetimes. See §§ 589.400.1(1), 589.414.5 -.7, and 589.400.4(1)-(3). There is no dispute that Petitioner's child molestation conviction is a tier I offense subject to a 15-year registration period, which can be reduced to ten years if the offender maintains a clean record. See §§ 589.414.5(1)(n), 589.400.4(1), and 589.400.5.

Under the 2018 amendments, tier I and II offenders already on the registry are permitted to petition for removal. §§ 589.400.10 and 589.401. "The legislature intended for those currently on the registry to get the benefit of the new shorter registration time periods for offenses that are now deemed to be in the lower severity tiers." Bacon, 602 S.W.3d at 247. A tier I offender may file a petition for removal after ten years on the registry. § 589.401.4(1). In December of 2018, after almost 15 years on the registry, Petitioner filed a petition alleging that as a tier I offender he was eligible for removal. The Missouri State Highway Patrol and the other named defendants,

2

Colonel Jon Belmar and Sheriff Jim Buckles, (collectively "MSHP") presented no evidence at the hearing to contradict any of the facts alleged in the petition or otherwise attempted to show that Petitioner had not satisfied the statutory criteria for removal of a tier I offender. See § 589.401. MSHP argued only that, irrespective of his eligibility for removal based on his status as a tier I offender, because Petitioner was also obligated to register pursuant to § 589.400.1(7), he must remain on the registry for his lifetime. The trial court agreed, and the petition was denied on the ground that § 589.400.1(7) mandates lifetime registration.[3]

This appeal follows.

II. Standard of Review

We will affirm the judgment of the trial court in this case unless it is not supported by substantial evidence, is against the weight of the evidence, or erroneously declares or applies the law. Doe v. Isom, 429 S.W.3d 436, 439 (Mo. App. E.D. 2014) (citing Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo. banc 1976)). Petitioner contends the trial court misstated and misapplied MO-SORA and the case law interpreting it. This is a question of law involving statutory construction, which we review de novo, giving no deference to the trial court's conclusions. Id. Our primary obligation when construing a statute is to ascertain and give effect to the legislature's intent based on the plain and ordinary meaning of language used therein. Bacon, 602 S.W.3d at 248.

III. Discussion

As noted above, there is no dispute that Petitioner had an obligation to register under § 589.400.1(7). MSHP contends that § 589.400.1(7) has long been interpreted as requiring the

3

registrant to remain on the registry for his lifetime and insists this interpretation is applicable even to tier I offenders like Petitioner who are no longer subject to lifetime registration under the 2018 amendments. We disagree.

First, the plain language of § 589.400.1(7) does not now--nor has it ever--said anything about the duration of the registration required thereunder, only that the provisions of MO-SORA apply to anyone who "has been or is" required to to register under SORNA:

1. Sections 589.400 to 589.425 shall apply to
. . . (7) Any person who is a
...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT