Guilty Plea in Failure to Register as Sex Offender Case Did Not Waive Appeal – Commonwealth v. Batista

May 20, 2013 by David S. Seltzer

As a cyber crime defense attorney, I’ve written a lot here about post-conviction laws on sex offenders. Here in Florida, residency restrictions are so strict that it’s not uncommon for the offender to end up homeless, and the homelessness complicates the offender’s ability to comply with registration requirements. Because I’m so familiar with that situation, I was interested to see a Massachusetts case, Commonwealth v. Batista, in which a homeless ex-offender was charged with failing to verify his registration information. Because he was homeless, Alexis Batista had to appear at a police station every 30 days to verify his information. He pleaded guilty to failure to appear, and the court ultimately sentenced him to time served with no community parole supervision. The Court of Appeals added the parole, agreeing with prosecutors that it was legally required, but the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reversed.

Batista’s underlying crime was rape of a child and indecent assault and battery on an individual over age 14. He was convicted in 2006. After his release, he had to appear at a police station every 30 days to verify his registration information, because he was homeless. He failed to appear in January of 2011. The complaint subsequently brought by prosecutors included language noting that people charged with failure to verify who had been convicted of an enumerated offense shall be penalized with community parole supervision for life (CPSL). Batista pleaded guilty and suggested that he be sentenced to only time served (about 30 days); the judge accepted this. The prosecutors then petitioned for a mandate forcing the judge to add CPSL, arguing that it was required by law. One justice from the Supreme Judicial Court vacated the sentence and remanded it, and Batista appealed.

Both sides agreed that CPSL is required in Batista’s situation—his prior conviction for rape of a child was adequate to give rise to CPSL. But Batista alleged that prosecutors failed to expressly allege in their complaint that he had a prior conviction for one of the enumerated offenders. The prosecutors agreed, but said Batista had waived his right to make that argument when he pleaded guilty. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed. Under case law, the prosecution argued, a knowing and voluntary guilty plea waives appeals that are not jurisdictional. But those cases concerned defendants who wanted to withdraw their pleas later, the court said, whereas Batista is arguing to keep his sentence as originally imposed. As an appellee, the court said, Batista may raise any grounds apparent in the record, including one that, until now, he hadn’t needed to argue. It reversed the single judge’s ruling.

This is a good example of how people charged with a serious sex crime are often made to continue doing time long after they finish their prison sentences. The opinion doesn’t say why Batista ended up homeless, but in general, starting over is hard for a former felony offender. With a felony conviction on his record, he may have had trouble getting a job; residency restrictions might have limited his ability to live with family members. And life on the streets can make it tough to get to the police station on time, making a sex offender registration violation more likely. I believe these cases will be common until states take a hard look at whether post-conviction restrictions truly serve their citizens’ safety.

If you’re charged with a serious crime involving computers, technology or the Internet, don’t wait to call Seltzer Law, P.A. for help. You can reach us through our website or call 1-888-THE-DEFENSE.

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