A sex offender who moved from Alabama to Indiana in 2004 does not
have to register with authorities because his move predates the
registry law Congress enacted in 2006, the Supreme Court ruled on
A national sex offender registry law does not apply to interstate
travel by a sex offender that took place before Congress passed the
registry statute in 2006, the US Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.
In a 6-to-3 decision, the high court rejected the Obama
administration's expansive reading of the Sex Offender Registration
and Notification Act (SORNA). Instead, the majority justices
embraced a narrower view of the law, while overturning a convicted
sex offender's 30-month prison sentence for traveling to another
state and failing to register.
The decision triggered a heated dissent by three justices who
warned that the ruling will impair the ability of law enforcement
officials to locate and register some 100,000 convicted sex
offenders who have eluded authorities.
"Under the court's interpretation, the many sex offenders who had
managed to avoid pre-existing registration regimes, mainly by moving
from one state to another before SORNA's enactment, are placed
beyond the reach of the federal criminal laws," Justice Samuel Alito
Lawyers for convicted sex offender Thomas Carr had claimed the
government's retroactive enforcement of SORNA violated the
Constitution's ban on ex post facto laws. But the high court did not
reach that constitutional question.
No retroactive enforcement, court rules
Instead, the majority justices found that the statute, as written
by Congress, did not authorize retroactive enforcement.
"Taking account of SORNA's overall structure, we have little
reason to doubt that Congress intended [the statute] to do exactly
what it says: to subject to federal prosecution sex offenders who
elude SORNA's registration requirements by traveling in interstate
commerce," wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor in the majority opinion.
Justice Sotomayor said Congress chose to use the present-tense
word "travels" in the statute, rather than the past-tense word
"traveled." If Congress wanted the law to apply to travel undertaken
before the law's passage, it would have used the past tense, she
Mr. Carr, a convicted sex offender, had argued that the law was
unconstitutional because it sought to punish earlier actions
committed prior to passage of the statute. Under SORNA, a defendant
may face up to 10 years in prison if he or she is a convicted sex
offender who travels from one state to another and who knowingly
fails to register with authorities.
Case history of Thomas Carr
Carr was arrested in February 2003 in Alabama for touching a 14-
year-old girl over her clothes. He pled guilty in May 2004 and was
sentenced to two years in prison with credit for time already