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SCOTUS: Sex offender didn’t have to notify registry before leaving country

Lester Ray Nichols v. United States, USSC No. 15-5238, 2016 WL 1278473, (April 4, 2016), reversing United States v. Nichols, 775 F.3d 1225 (10th Cir. 2014); Scotusblog page (including links to briefs and commentary)

In a unanimous opinion of limited impact, the Supreme Court holds that a prior version of SORNA did not require a registered sex offender to notify his state registration authority before moving out of the country.

Lester Ray Nichols lived in the Kansas City area. He was required to, and did, register as a sex offender until 2012, when he abruptly moved to the Philippines. When he didn’t show up for his mandatory sex offender treatment back home, his supervised release was revoked and he was arrested and brought back to the U.S.

He was convicted of violating SORNA, which requires a registered offender changing residence to “appear in person in at least 1 jurisdiction involved pursuant to subsection (a) and inform that jurisdiction of” the change. Subsection (a), in turn, notes three possible “involved” jurisdictions:  “where the offender resides, where the offender is an employee, and where the offender is a student.” A foreign country is not a “jurisdiction” under the statute.

The Court now holds that the plain text of SORNA precludes Nichols’s conviction:

A person who moves from Leavenworth to Manila no longer “resides” (present tense) in Kansas; although he once resided in Kansas, after his move he “resides” in the Philippines. It follows that once Nichols moved to Manila, he was no longer required to appear in person in Kansas to update his registration, for Kansas was no longer a “jurisdiction involved pursuant to subsection (a)” of §16913.

The Government had offered some creative readings of the statute, which the Court rejects as either adding new clauses to the statutory text (“[t]o supply omissions transcends the judicial function”) or as being inconsistent with “ordinary English usage.”

In any case, this decision will not affect many people because, as the Court points out, Congress has recently amended the statute to require offenders to provide information regarding foreign travel plans.

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