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Ferguson v. Mississippi Department of Public Safety

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

September 26, 2019

CHELSEY FERGUSON
v.
MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 03/03/2017

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

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: PAUL E. ROGERS NIKKI MARTINSON BOLAND.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: PAUL E. ROGERS

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: LORA E. HUNTER, ANTHONY L. SCHMIDT

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI

          CHAMBERLIN, JUSTICE

         ¶1. We granted the petition of the Mississippi Department of Public Safety (MDPS) for certiorari review of the Court of Appeals' decision that Chelsey Ferguson need no longer register under the Mississippi Sex Offenders Registration Law (the Act) due to the expungement of her misdemeanor sex offense. Ferguson v. Miss. Dep't of Pub. Safety, No. 2017-CA-00912-COA, 2018 WL 4572805, at *3–4 (Miss. Ct. App. Sept. 25, 2018). Because Mississippi Code Section 45-33-55 (Rev. 2015) exempts sex offenses from orders of expungement to the extent that the information concerning those offenses is authorized for dissemination under the Act, we reverse the Court of Appeals' decision and reinstate the circuit court's judgment.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY[1]

         ¶2. In 2011, Ferguson pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor offense of disseminating sexually oriented material to a minor. Miss. Code Ann. § 97-5-27 (Rev. 2006). As a result of her conviction, Ferguson had to register as a sex offender. Miss. Code Ann. § 45-33-25 (Rev. 2015).

         ¶3. Approximately five years later, she filed a successful expungement petition.[2] After the expungement, MDPS sent Ferguson's attorney an "Expunction Resolution Notice, " stating that it could not process the expungement order because "ANY CONVICTION FOR A SEX OFFENSE EXEMPTS AN EXPUNGEMENT UNDER THE 1ST OFFENDER STATUTE." Thus, MDPS refused Ferguson's request for relief from her obligation to register as a sex offender.

         ¶4. In response, Ferguson filed a complaint against MDPS, seeking to be relieved from her duty to register under the Act. The circuit court denied Ferguson's request.

         ¶5. Aggrieved, Ferguson appealed. After the close of briefing, we assigned the case to the Court of Appeals. Ferguson raised two assignments of error. First, she argued that MDPS had no authority to challenge her request for relief from the obligation to register. Second, she maintained that the circuit court erred by finding that she still had to register despite her expungement. We limit our review of the Court of Appeals' decision to the second issue. M.R.A.P. 17(h).

         ¶6. Addressing that issue, the Court of Appeals reversed the circuit court and held that Ferguson no longer had to register as a sex offender. Ferguson, 2018 WL 4572805, at *3–4. It based its reasoning on Stallworth v. State, 160 So.3d 1161 (Miss. 2015), in which the Court held that under Mississippi law a party had no duty to register under the Act when the party's sex-offense conviction had been expunged in a foreign jurisdiction. Id. Stallworth, though, dealt with a foreign sex-offense conviction that also had been expunged in the foreign jurisdiction. Because Section 45-33-55 exempts sex offenses from the laws of this state or court orders authorizing expunging criminal-history ...


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