Homeless Shelter May Be a Residence for Sex Offender Registration

Homeless Shelter

May Be a Residence for Sex Offender Registration

Benjamin Batson was convicted at trial of “failure to register as a sex offender” because he had not checked in with the sheriff’s office pursuant to RCW 9A.44.131(1)(d). He tried to “arrest judgment,” and was unsuccessful.  Mr. Batson said there was insufficient evidence that he lacked a “fixed residence,” requiring him to check in with the local sheriff once a week.  He appealed.

Mr. Batson had previously been convicted of a sex offense in Arizona. He lived in King County, Washington, at the time he allegedly failed to register.  He pled guilty to failing to register on a previous occasion in 2011.  Later, in December 2011, Mr. Batson registered with the King County Sheriff’s Office, listing the “St. Martin de Porres Shelter” as his residence.  He never provided any change of address.

Mr. Batson was again charged with failure to register in King County in 2013. The charging period was April 19, 2013 to September 8, 2013.  The State argued that during that time Mr. Batson lacked a fixed residence and therefore should have reported weekly to the King County Sheriff’s Office, which he had not done.  A “fixed residence” is required under RCW 9A.44.131(1).

The Appellate Court, in State v. Batson, 194 Wn. App. 326 (2016), held the State failed in its burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Batson lacked a fixed residence, which would then require him to report to the Sheriff.

The Court concluded that a shelter program like St. Martin de Porres could qualify as a fixed residence if (1) the shelter is designed to provide temporary living accommodations for the homeless; (2) assigns the offender a personal living space; and (3) the offender is permitted to store belongings in the living space.

At trial, the shelter’s program director said persons were assigned mats on a first come, first served basis, but then a spot was reserved as long as the resident wanted. If the resident missed a night, the resident lost his spot.

The State argued the shelter had no “personally assigned living space” because resident’s mats were in a “common living area.” The court found the arrangement appropriate and understandable.  The court ruled a “living space” could be in a “common living area”, and interpreted the statute in Mr. Batson’s favor.

The State also argued residents could not store personal belongings in their assigned living spaces because the residents were on mats in a common area. The State overlooked the program director’s testimony about storage in a separate room and on the main floor.  The State tried to show Mr. Batson wasn’t actually living at the shelter but did not have any direct evidence he was not living in the shelter.

This opinion may not affect many people, but it is a very sad description of modern society. The State noted that whenever Mr. Batson provided an address, it was either a shelter or a jail. But the court correctly concluded that some homeless shelters can be a fixed residence.  The problem of convicted sex offenders literally living on the street or in shelters for the rest of their lives is a public shame.  Public resources must be reallocated from incarceration of offenders to relocation and vocational training.

If you have a criminal matter and you would like to consult with a lawyer, please contact Jan Olson at Ellis, Li & McKinstry, PLLC at (206) 682-0565.