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Dixon v. Missouri State Highway Patrol

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District

September 24, 2019

DANNY JOE DIXON, Respondent,
v.
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL, et al., Appellants.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Andrew County The Honorable Michael J. Ordnung, Judge

          Before Division One: Cynthia L. Martin, P.J., and Victor C. Howard and Alok Ahuja, JJ.

          ALOK AHUJA, JUDGE

         In 2003, Danny Dixon pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct in the third degree, a class C misdemeanor. He was given a suspended imposition of sentence, and successfully completed his two-year probationary period. As required by Missouri law, Dixon registered as a sex offender beginning in 2003. In 2018, he filed a petition in the Circuit Court of Andrew County to have his name removed from the sex offender registry. The circuit court granted Dixon's petition, and ordered that he be removed from the registry. The Missouri State Highway Patrol appeals. It argues that the circuit court erred in granting Dixon's removal petition because Dixon is a "tier III" offender subject to a lifetime registration obligation under §§ 589.400.4(3) and 589.401.3.[1] We conclude that Dixon is a "tier I" offender, and that he was accordingly eligible for removal from the sex offender registry after ten years. See § 589.401.4(1). Because the Highway Patrol does not otherwise dispute that Dixon met the conditions for removal from the registry, we affirm the circuit court's judgment.

         Factual Background

         In July 2003, Dixon told a fifteen-year-old girl over the telephone that she sounded and looked sexy, and asked her about her sexual activity. Dixon was forty-seven years old at the time. He was charged in the Circuit Court of Andrew County with sexual misconduct in the third degree, a class C misdemeanor, in violation of § 566.095, RSMo 2000. Dixon pleaded guilty in November 2003. The circuit court suspended imposition of sentence and placed Dixon on probation for 2 years. He was successfully discharged from probation in November 2005. Due to his conviction, [2] Dixon was required to register as a sexual offender. He has continuously registered since his guilty plea in 2003.

         On August 28, 2018, Dixon filed a petition in the Circuit Court of Andrew County pursuant to § 589.401, seeking to have his name removed from the sex offender registry. After holding an evidentiary hearing, the circuit court granted Dixon's petition. The court concluded that Dixon's conviction made him a "tier I" offender, and that he was accordingly entitled to petition for removal from the registry because more than ten years had elapsed since he was first required to register. The court noted that "[t]he Prosecuting Attorney of Andrew County . . . has no objection to the relief requested by [Dixon]; and the victim in this matter, having previously been contacted by the prosecuting attorney, has no objection to [Dixon]'s name being removed from the sexual offender registry." The circuit court's judgment found that Dixon: had successfully completed his probation for the underlying offense; had fully complied with his registration obligations; was "not a current or potential threat to public safety"; and had "in all respects complied with the requirements of Section 589.401" to be removed from the sex offender registry. Accordingly, the court ordered that Dixon's name be removed from the sex offender registry, and declared "that he has no further requirements to register thereunder."

         The Highway Patrol appeals.

         Standard of Review

         "An appellate court will reverse a judgment of a trial court when it is not supported by substantial evidence, is against the weight of the evidence, or erroneously declares or applies the law." Petrovick v. State, 537 S.W.3d 388, 390 (Mo. App. W.D. 2018) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

         "Questions of statutory interpretation are reviewed de novo." Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). "Any time a court is called upon to apply a statute, the primary obligation is to ascertain the intent of the legislature from the language used, to give effect to that intent if possible, and to consider the words in their plain and ordinary meaning." State ex rel. Hillman v. Beger, 566 S.W.3d 600, 604–05 (Mo. 2019) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). "This Court interprets statutes in a way that is not hypertechnical but instead is reasonable and logical and gives meaning to the statute and the legislature's intent as reflected in the plain language of the statute at issue." IBM Corp. v. Dir. of Revenue, 491 S.W.3d 535, 538 (Mo. 2016) (citation omitted).[3]

         Analysis

         The Highway Patrol argues that the circuit court erred in removing Dixon's name from the sex offender registry, because the offense of which he was convicted rendered him a "tier III" offender, meaning that he was required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

         Deciding this appeal requires that we review the history of the offense of which Dixon was convicted, and the history of the sex offender registration statutes.

         A.

         Dixon pleaded guilty in 2003 to an offense which was then called "sexual misconduct in the third degree." At the time of his guilty plea, § 566.095, RSMo 2000, provided:

1. A person commits the crime of sexual misconduct in the third degree if he solicits or requests another person to engage in sexual conduct under circumstances in which he knows that his requests or ...

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