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Rhode Island Department of Attorney General v. Lafrance

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Providence

December 17, 2019

RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT OF ATTORNEY GENERAL
v.
PAUL LAFRANCE

          For Plaintiff: Bethany A. Laskowski, Esq.

          For Defendant: Michael J. Zarrella, Esq.

          DECISION

          LANPHEAR, J.

         Paul LaFrance (Petitioner) brings this appeal from an October 30, 2018 decision of the Drug Court Magistrate (Magistrate) upholding his Risk Level II sex offender classification order issued by the Rhode Island Sex Offender Board of Review (the Board). Petitioner argues that he should have been classified as a Risk Level I sex offender. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 8-2-39.2(j). For the reasons set forth herein, the Court affirms the decision of the Magistrate.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         On October 7, 2014, Chariho High School officials became aware of a possible inappropriate relationship between a sixteen-year-old female student and Petitioner. See Richmond Police Narrative. Petitioner's victim, a former student of Petitioner, was interviewed multiple times by the Richmond Police Department and eventually disclosed that she and Petitioner had been engaging in a sexual relationship over the past months, when she was fifteen years old. Id. The relationship began two days before the previous school year ended when the two started talking on skype.com and kik.com. Id. The victim told Police that the conversations quickly turned sexual. Id. A subsequent search of Petitioner's phone revealed hundreds of messages between the parties as well as sexually explicit photos of a female juvenile. Id. The victim also disclosed that in July of that summer, Petitioner transported the victim in his car to a nearby pond where they engaged in oral sex. Id. Then in August of that summer, Petitioner again transported the victim to his house, where they engaged in oral sex. Id.

         On December 12, 2015, Petitioner pled nolo contendere to two counts of third-degree sexual assault and one count of indecent solicitation of a child. He received a five-year sentence at the ACI with two years to serve and three years suspended with probation. While at the ACI, Petitioner was notified by the Board that they determined he was a "moderate" risk to reoffend and was therefore labeled a Risk Level II sex offender. See Board Letter. In making its decision, the Board considered the Petitioner's scores from three tests: the STATIC-99R, the STATIC-2002R and the STABLE-2007. The STATIC-99R and the STATIC-2002R scores found Petitioner to be a below average risk to reoffend and the STABLE-2007 score found Petitioner to be a moderate risk to reoffend. However, the Board also examined other factors such as the details of the offense, the details of the arrest, significant crime considerations, victim selection, prior history, criminal history, and Petitioner's support systems. The Board also noted that Petitioner would blame his victim at times, stating she initiated oral sex in July and texted him in August asking to meet. Petitioner appealed the Board's decision to a Superior Court magistrate and a hearing was held on October 30, 2018. In support of his appeal, Petitioner submitted the report and offered testimony of Peter Loss, a social worker who specializes in working with sex offenders. Mr. Loss stated that Petitioner would be "more than manageable on a Level I rating;" however, the Magistrate found other language in Mr. Loss's report troubling. Magistrate's Tr. 17, Oct. 30, 2018. Specifically, Petitioner referred to the incident as a "mistake" and not a crime; Petitioner placed responsibility on his victim; and Petitioner took advantage of a young woman who was "struggling with life and sexuality" and therefore vulnerable. Id. at 18-19.

         In a thorough, well-reasoned decision, the Magistrate affirmed the findings of the Board. Petitioner appealed to this Court.

         II

         Standard

         Section 8-2-39.2(j) of the Rhode Island General Laws governs the Superior Court review of a magistrate's decisions and provides:

"A party aggrieved by an order entered by the drug court magistrate shall be entitled to a review of the order by a justice of the superior court. Unless otherwise provided in the rules of procedure of the court, such review shall be on the record and appellate in nature. The superior court shall, by rules of procedure, establish procedures for reviews of orders entered by a drug court magistrate, and for ...

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