Overruling the Tenth Circuit, the US Supreme Court on Monday unanimously ruled that the Sex Offender Notification and Registration Act (SORNA) does not require an individual to update his registration in Kansas once he departed the State.
The Court was hearing a petition filed by Mr. Nichols who was a registered sex offender, convicted of traveling with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor. He was arrested in 2012, after he failed to update his registration on moving from Kansas to Philippines. After conditionally pleading guilty, Nichols had argued on appeal that SORNA did not require him to update his registration in Kansas. The Tenth Circuit had however affirmed his conviction, holding that though Nichols had left Kansas, the State remained a “jurisdiction involved” for SORNA purposes.
The US Supreme Court analyzed the text of §16913(a) of SORNA which reads as follows:
(a) A sex offender shall register, and keep the registration current, in each jurisdiction where the offender resides, where the offender is an employee, and where the offender is a student.
It emphasized on the use of present tense in the section. It thereafter concluded that once Nichols moved, he was no longer required to appear in Kansas because it was no longer a “jurisdiction involved.” Nor was he required to appear in the Philippines, which is not a SORNA “jurisdiction.” It similarly ruled that Section 16913(c) could not have required an individual to appear in person in Kansas “after” leaving the State.
The Court rejected Government’s argument that a jurisdiction where an offender registers remains “involved” even after the offender leaves. It noted that this interpretation is not likely to create deficiencies in SORNA’s scheme. It further observed that recent legislation by Congress “offers reassurance” that sex offenders will not be able to escape punishment for leaving the United States without notifying their departure jurisdictions.
Following the high-profile and horrific rape and murder of 7-year-old Megan Kanka by her neighbor, States in the early 1990’s began enacting registry and community notification laws to monitor the whereabouts of individuals previously convicted of sex crimes. SORNA is one such legislation which requires a sex offender to notify only one “jurisdiction involved”, which would then notify a list of interested parties, including the other jurisdictions.
Read the Judgment here.