In People v Dowdy, __ Mich __ (#140603, 7/11/2011) the Michigan Supreme Court held that homelessness is not a bar to compliance with the Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) because homelessness does not preclude an offender from entering a police station and reporting to a law enforcement agency regarding the offender’s residence or domicile.
The SORA is a conviction-based registration statute that requires individuals convicted of certain “listed offenses” to register as sex offenders. An offender’s registration disclosure includes information regarding where the offender lives, identifying information, and a summary of the offender’s convictions. Offenders are also required to sign a form acknowledging their obligations as sex offenders under SORA.
The SORA defines “residence” for “registration and voting purposes” as that place at which a person habitually sleeps, keeps his or her personal effects, and has a regular place of lodging. If a person has more than 1 residence, or if a wife has a residence separate from that of the husband, that place at which the person resides the greater part of the time shall be his or her official residence for the purposes of this act. Thus, a person’s “residence” under SORA is a combination of three things: that place where a person (1) habitually sleeps, (2) keeps personal effects, and (3) has a regular place of lodging.
It is entirely consistent with the SORA for a sex offender to identify, for example, a vacant house or a park as a “residence” if it is, in fact, “that place at which” the sex offender “habitually sleeps, keeps his or her personal effects, and has a regular place of lodging.”
Unlike “residence,” “domicile” is not defined in SORA. Although this Court has, in several circumstances, treated the terms “residence” and “domicile” as synonymous, the terms were accorded different meanings under the common law. Michigan courts have defined domicile” as “‘that place where a person has voluntarily fixed his abode not for a mere special or temporary purpose, but with a present intention of making it his home, either permanently or for an indefinite or unlimited length of time.’” Similarly, a domicile is “the place where a person has his home, with no present intention of removing, and to which he intends to return after going elsewhere for a longer or shorter time.” More significant to the instant case is that it has long been the law of this state that “[e]very person must have a domicile somewhere.” A person may have only one domicile, which continues until the person acquires a different one.
Even if a homeless sex offender with transient sleeping arrangements cannot establish a “residence” as SORA defines it, the offender is still capable of reporting sufficient information regarding where the offender lives for purposes of identifying a “domicile.” Although it may be difficult to verify where an offender is domiciled, as noted, difficulties in verifying an offender’s information do not excuse the offender from complying with SORA’s requirements. Moreover, SORA enables the Michigan State Police to respond to such situations by empowering it to “specify other satisfactory proof of domicile or residence.” Indeed, the Michigan State Police has exercised this
statutory authority by promulgating an order that permits homeless sex offenders to register their domicile as “123 Homeless.” An offender thus satisfies the offender’s statutory obligation by appearing at a law enforcement agency and advising the authorities of where the offender lives. Pursuant to SORA and the Michigan State Police order, the law enforcement agency can accept as “satisfactory proof” of the offender’s “domicile” the state, city, zip code, and county in which the offender lives and must add that information to the “123 Homeless” designation in the registry. Thus, when the homeless sex offender’s “domicile” is registered as “123 Homeless” in the city in which the offender lives, that is the offender’s statutory domicile for purposes of SORA.