Supreme Court reverses Tenth Circuit on sex offender registration
Supreme Court reverses Tenth Circuit on sex offender registration

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday ruled unanimously [opinion, PDF] in Nichols v. US [SCOTUSblog materials] that the Sex Offender Notification and Registration Act (SONRA) [DOJ backgrounder] did not require an individual to update his registration in Kansas once he departed the state and moved to a foreign country, overruling the Tenth Circuit. In 2003 Lester Nichols was charged [SCOTUSblog op-ed] with traveling in interstate commerce with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor. Under SORNA, Nichols was required to register as a sex offender in Kansas, which he did after he elected to reside there in 2011. In 2012 Nichols abruptly moved to the Philippines and did not update his residency information with Kansas authorities. He was arrested in the Philippines for not registering, and the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit [official website] affirmed his conviction. In Monday’s ruling, the court focused its decision on a straightforward reading of 42 USC § 16913(a) [text], which states, in relevant part: “A sex offender shall register, and keep the registration current, in each jurisdiction where the offender resides.” The court emphasized the use of the present tense limits the application of the statute. The government argued that Kansas qualified as a jurisdiction that Nichols was required to notify within three days of his departure, because under section (c) of the relevant statute, a sex offender must notify at least one jurisdiction involved of any modification to one’s name, residence, employment, or student status. The court rejected the government’s attempt to work-around the language in section (a), and the court stated: “We are thus reassured that our holding today is not likely to create ‘loopholes and deficiencies’ in SORNA’s nationwide sex-offender registration scheme.” The declaration is timely as a new law was enacted in February by US President Barack Obama [official website] called the International Megan’s Law to Prevent Child Exploitation and Other Sexual Crimes Through Advanced Notification of Traveling Sex Offenders [Congressional bill summary] that will require sex offenders to notify the US government when they leave the US or intend to travel in foreign commerce.

The court heard oral argument [JURIST report] in US v. Nichols in March.