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Ferguson v. Mississippi Department of Public Safety

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

September 25, 2018

CHELSEY FERGUSON, APPELLANT
v.
MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY, APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 03/03/2017

          WARREN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. ISADORE W. PATRICK JR. JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: PAUL E. ROGERS

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: ANTHONY LOUIS SCHMIDT JR. LORA ELIZABETH HUNTER

          BEFORE GRIFFIS, P.J., BARNES AND GREENLEE, JJ.

          GREENLEE, J.

         ¶1. Although the Warren County Circuit Court had previously granted Chelsey Ferguson's petition to expunge her misdemeanor sex offense, it denied her subsequent petition for relief from the duty to register as a sex offender. Ferguson appeals and argues that (1) the Mississippi Department of Public Safety had no authority to challenge her petition for relief; and (2) the circuit court's decision conflicts with the Mississippi Supreme Court's opinion in Stallworth v. State, 160 So.3d 1161, 1164 (¶13) (Miss. 2015), which provides that the expungement of a registrable offense returns one to her pre-conviction status. We agree with the latter assertion. Because Ferguson did not have to register as a sex offender before her conviction, she does not have to register after the expungement. Id. Accordingly, we reverse the circuit court's judgment and render a judgment in Ferguson's favor.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. In May 2011, Ferguson pled guilty to the misdemeanor offense of disseminating sexually oriented material to a minor. The circuit court gave Ferguson the maximum possible sentence: one year in the county jail. Miss. Code Ann. § 97-5-27(1) (Rev. 2014). But the circuit court suspended all of Ferguson's sentence and placed her on probation for a year. As a result of her conviction, Ferguson had to register as a sex offender. Miss. Code Ann. § 45-33-23(h)(vii) (Rev. 2015).

         ¶3. Approximately five years later, she filed a successful expungement petition. After the expungement, the Mississippi Department of Public Safety Criminal Information Center (MDPS) sent Ferguson's attorney an "Expunction Resolution Notice," stating that MDPS could not process the expungement order because Ferguson's conviction could not be expunged. Thus, MDPS refused Ferguson's request for relief from her prior obligation to register as a sex offender.

         ¶4. Ferguson responded by filing the complaint that has led to this appeal. She named MDPS as the sole defendant. After a hearing, the circuit court entered an order stating that Ferguson "fail[ed] to state an actionable claim upon which relief can be granted . . . ." In other words, the circuit court held that Ferguson's expungement did not relieve her of the obligation to register as a sex offender. Following her unsuccessful post-trial motion, Ferguson appeals. She argues (1) MDPS had no authority to challenge her request for relief from the obligation to register as a sex offender; and (2) the circuit court erred when it effectively held that she still had to register despite the expungement of her misdemeanor conviction.

         ANALYSIS

         I. MDPS could participate in Ferguson's case.

         ¶5. Framing the issue as though it pertains to standing, Ferguson essentially argues that MDPS had no authority to contest her complaint for relief from the duty to register as a sex offender. Her position is based on ...


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