Sex offender registry snafu

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LOREN BENOIT/Press David Cobleigh, 54, of Coeur d’Alene, holds court records, letters, and documents from police in California and Idaho. Cobleigh says he was falsely accused in 2005 in California of having sex with a 17-year-old girl in a case that was dismissed — and Idaho State Police are now coercing him into registering as a sex offender, he said, although he has never had to register anywhere else.

COEUR d’ALENE — David Cobleigh wears a small camera pinned to his shirt.

He wants his activities recorded because he is unsure what hairpin turn he may come up against next.

There have been a lot of switchbacks and bumps over the past 13 years, and the latest one, what he calls a false accusation coupled with threats from Idaho State Police, is taking a toll on his health.

Cobleigh, 54, accuses Idaho State Police of coercing him into registering as a sex offender although he has never had to register anywhere else, for any reason.

Cobleigh said he was falsely accused in 2005 in California of having sex with a 17-year-old girl. He pleaded no contest to a felony charge of sexual contact with a minor — in California the charge can be a felony or a misdemeanor — and he was placed on probation without serving time.

While he was on probation, he fought the case and was eventually exonerated when the 17-year-old admitted to authorities she had fabricated the incident, California court records show.

His no contest plea, he says, was an effort to stay out of jail so he could help bring the false charge to light, which took several years.

The felony was reduced to a misdemeanor before the charge was dismissed.

Cobleigh was not required in California to register as a sex offender, and after moving to Idaho seven years ago, the same held true.

In November, however, he applied for a concealed carry permit in Kootenai County. That’s when the threats from law enforcement began, he said.

His attorney, Michael Palmer of Coeur d’Alene, puts it like this:

“I am not aware of a case that says someone whose underlying charge was outright dismissed and who never had to register, is subject to registration in Idaho,” Palmer told First District Judge Lansing Haynes at a hearing in Coeur d’Alene last month.

Palmer, on Cobleigh’s behalf, petitioned the court to review the case, while Patrick Denton, deputy attorney general representing Idaho State Police, asked the court to dismiss the petition.

Cobleigh was convicted, Idaho State Police contends, therefore he must register as a sex offender.

“In Idaho, a person who is convicted in another jurisdiction must register,” says a letter from the state police.

Instead of dismissing the petition, as Denton requested, Haynes opted to hear the matter. He asked both parties to file briefs supporting their positions for a June hearing.

Denton said his agency stands on case law that supports ISP’s position.

“We don’t care if this thing has been set aside, reduced, dismissed later on; if you enter in a guilty plea or found guilty ... the registration requirement applies,” Denton told the court. “We have every single ability to ... stand on the merits of this case.”

Cobleigh, who documented the sexual allegation starting with transcripts of interviews with investigators in Trinity County, California, feels intimidated enough to wear a body camera, and wonders if authorities are tracking his movements.

“I record everything because I don’t know what’s going to happen to me,” he said.

Cobleigh said Idaho State Police, which operates the state’s sex offender registry, are threatening to send him to prison for 10 years, the maximum penalty for failing to register.

By administrative fiat, he said, Idaho has overturned a judge’s ruling.

“They {ISP] changed the (California) ruling, they changed the sentencing, they re-charged me after a judge dismissed my case outright,” he said. “It’s administrative, so I have no rights.”

The court records he has kept fill six large-ring binders and include letters from police in California and Idaho, documents from investigators including interviews with the alleged victim, a video, and voluminous evidence showing he was exonerated.

“The charges were all made up from a love-struck girl,” he said. “All the charges against me were dropped, because I am not guilty.”

Meanwhile, Cobleigh cannot leave the area and is prohibited from traveling because Idaho requires him to register if he changes locales. Other places prohibit him from registering because he has no convictions, he said.

“I’m like a prisoner here,” he said. “Idaho has taken away all the civil rights and constitutional rights I have.”

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