116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — An Iowa City man convicted three decades ago of sexually abusing an 18-month-old toddler and causing her death by shaking her is asking to be added to the growing list of violators whose names are being scrubbed from the Iowa Sex Offender Registry.
Darren Farmer, 50, is among dozens of offenders who’ve asked to be taken off the registry since 2014, records show. For the most part, those requests are being granted.
The registry, created by state law as a way to deter repeat offenses, generally requires anyone adjudicated of a sexually motivated criminal offense against a minor, sexual exploitation or a sexually violent crime to register with the publicly available database. More than 6,000 people are listed on the state registry.
But defense lawyers have been arguing with increased success that the registry has markedly changed since it was created, and now the consequences of being listed are more severe and should not be applicable to some cases.
A Linn County jury in 1990 convicted Farmer, originally charged with first-degree murder and first-degree sexual abuse of involuntary manslaughter and second-degree sexual abuse. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Farmer’s lawyer, Phillip Mears of Iowa City, said during a Friday telephonic hearing that Farmer meets the criteria for being removed from the registry.
Farmer served 12 years in prison and was put on work release in 2003, the same year he was discharged from parole. He completed the sex offender treatment that was required in prison.
Farmer hasn’t had any sexual offenses or any criminal offenses since his 2003 release, and he scored at “low risk” to reoffend, based on February tests administered by the Iowa Department of Corrections, Mears said.
Farmer isn’t asking for his criminal record to be expunged, Mears said. He still is a felon and a sex offender. He is asking that he not be required to stay on the offender registry the rest of his life, as was ordered at his sentencing.
Registry has changed
Mears, in his written argument, stated the registry has changed in the years since Farmer’s conviction.
In the past, an offender had to report his address to the sheriff in the county where he lived and let the sheriff know when he moved.
Now, defendants have to physically report one to four times a year and are limited on where they can live. They must report relevant information, like their place of employment or school information. They must provide a DNA sample.
If they fail to follow the requirements, they can be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, Mears said in his brief.
Farmer and other sex offenders also now appear on the Iowa Sex Offender Registry page that is easily accessible to anyone on the internet, Mears added.
Mears argued that Farmer had met the statutory requirements — more than five years on the sex offender registry, completion of treatment, low risk to reoffend and lack of offenses and additional prison time.
Victim’s mother opposed
Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden said during the hearing that the mother of the victim is “adamantly opposed” to Farmer being removed from the registry.
Although Vander Sanden agreed with Mears that Farmer had met the “threshold of the statutory requirements,” be asked 6th Judicial District Chief Judge Lars Anderson to consider public safety.
Farmer didn’t just sexually abuse a child. He also unintentionally caused the child’s death, Vander Sanden said.
Vander Sanden also asked the judge to review a 1992 Iowa Court of Appeals decision upholding Farmer’s conviction. The original file of the case isn’t available anymore — it was one of the many destroyed in the 2008 flood that devastated downtown Cedar Rapids.
According to the appellate ruling, the prosecution said Farmer shook the toddler “so severely that he caused her death.” Testimony and evidence showed the toddler had been sexually abused within 24 to 48 hours of her death.
In the appeal, a judge noted there was “ample evidence of sexual abuse,” and a medical examiner testified the injuries from sexual abuse were “recent.”
Judge Anderson took the arguments under advisement and will issue a written ruling later.
Farmer’s request for modification isn’t unusual because Iowa lawmakers in 2009 changed the sex offender law by adding the provision for a modification — allowing offenders to be removed from the registry if they meet certain criteria.
Karin Hamilton, supervisor of the sex offender registry for the Iowa Department of Public Safety, said the law sets out that criteria:
- Low risk to reoffend, based on Iowa Department of Correction’s risk assessment.
- Certain number of years on registry based on classification of risk.
- Completion of sex offender treatment.
- Not incarcerated or new sex offense.
- If under supervision — parole — must have supervisor’s approval.
Hamilton said the department is a neutral party to these modifications, meaning it’s strictly up to a judge to decide.
A 2014 Iowa Supreme Court ruling refined the criteria, giving judges added guidance in determining modifications.
The law initially intended that only offenders under supervision were eligible for a modification, Hamilton said. Initially, the portion of the law allowing modifications for offenders not under supervision was intended for juveniles.
But that wasn’t the way the law was written. So the 2014 ruling opened the door to other offenders not under supervision to ask they be taken off the registry.
The number of offenders seeking modifications has increased each year since 2014:
2015: 38 petitions, 35 granted
2016: 49, all granted
2017: 46, 45 granted
2018: 58, 55 granted
2019: 62, 52 granted
2020: 52, 47 granted
2021: 32 to date, all granted
According to a recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling out of Humboldt County, involving Ronald Fortune, a sex offender who challenged a district court judge’s denial of modification, the court laid out additional limits on what factors a court can consider in these rulings.
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