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First Circuit Upholds SORNA Registration Requirements

By Robyn Hagan Cain on October 17, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) is a pain for those subject to it. A sex offender must register periodically in each jurisdiction where he resides, works, or goes to school, and he must periodically appear in person to update information and be photographed.

Despite the inconvenience, courts have overwhelmingly upheld SORNA requirements.

This week, the First Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a plethora of arguments against SORNA enforcement. Let's delve into why a regulated offender failed to persuade the Boston-based appellate court that he shouldn't have to comply with the registry requirements.

Appellant Brian Parks was convicted of sexual offenses in 1990 and 1996. He was notified in writing on September 21, 2006, of his duty to register under SORNA. He initially registered in Massachusetts, but then failed to register in Maine when, at some point in 2009, he moved. He was later sentenced to more jail time for knowingly failing to register.

By its own terms, SORNA's registration requirements applied automatically to individuals who committed a triggering sexual offense after the statute's enactment in July 2006. The Attorney General clarified in 2007 -- through the SMART regulations -- that SORNA should be applied to those who committed their triggering sexual offense before SORNA's enactment.

In Reynolds v. United States, the Supreme Court held that SORNA's prohibition of travel and failure to register applied to pre-SORNA sexual offenders like Parks only where the travel and nonregistration occurred after the Attorney General's approval had occurred, rather than from the date of SORNA'S enactment. Here, Parks had traveled in 2009, long after the SMART regulations became effective.

Parks also invoked the Ex Post Facto Clause in his appeal, arguing that SORNA's registration requirements impermissibly increased his punishment for his earlier sexual offenses. The Ex Poste Facto argument turned on whether SORNA should be deemed a civil regulatory measure aimed at forestalling future harm, or as a punitive measure. The First Circuit Court of Appeals joined every other circuit to consider this issue, finding that SORNA doesn't run afoul of the Ex Poste Facto prohibition.

SORNA may be inconvenient for sex offenders, but the federal appellate courts stand by the SORNA requirements.

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