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Name: Johnson v. Dept. of Justice
Case #: S209167
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 01/29/2014

People v. Hofsheier (2006) 37 Cal.4th 1185, is overruled because there is a rational basis to mandate different sex offender registration requirements for unlawful sexual intercourse offenders and unlawful oral copulation offenders. Johnson pled guilty to one count of unlawful oral copulation in violation of Penal Code section 288a, subdivision (b)(2), which mandated sex offender registration. Relying on Hofsheier, which found the mandatory registration required for a section 288a, subdivision (b)(1) offense violated equal protection, Johnson sought relief from the registration requirement. The petition was denied in superior court but granted by the Court of Appeal. Review was granted. Held: Reversed. In Hofsheier, the court found those offenders convicted of nonforcible oral copulation with a minor 16 or 17 years old, which mandates registration, were similarly situated to offenders convicted of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor (Pen. Code, § 261.5), for which registration is discretionary. Hofsheier concluded there was no rational basis for this disparity and that mandatory registration for a section 288a, subdivision (b)(1) offense violated equal protection. Thereafter, the Courts of Appeal extended Hofsheier’s holding to additional nonforcible sex offenses covered by section 290, thus denying significant effect to that section. Section 290’s registration requirement seeks to promote the state’s interests in controlling crime, preventing recidivism, and allowing police to track sex offenders. The problems of teen pregnancy and its associated costs, in addition to the possible stigma of registration, that might interfere with employment and the support of children, provides a plausible basis for treating unlawful sexual intercourse offenders differently from other types of sex offenders. Since Hofsheier was decided, the Legislature has not added unlawful sexual intercourse to the list of mandatory registration offenses. In light of the legitimate purposes of sex offender registration, the different treatment between section 261.5 and 288a offenders does not “so lack rationality that it constitutes” a denial of equal protection.

The overruling of Hofsheier is retroactive unless restricted on grounds of equity and public policy. “A decision of a court overruling a prior decision is typically given full retroactive effect.” However, an appellate court may restrict retroactive application based on grounds of equity and public policy. There is no reason to “deny retroactive application where, as here, a sex offender has taken no action in justifiable reliance on the overruled decision.”