Carr v United States

Congress in 2006 enacted the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) as part of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. The Act established a federal criminal offense covering, inter alia, any person who is required to register under [SORNA], travels in interstate or foreign commerce, and  knowingly fails to register or update a registration. 18 U. S. C. §2250(a). Question  to be decided in the case was whether §2250 applies to sex offenders whose interstate travel occurred prior to SORNA’s effective date and, if so, whether the statute run afoul of the Constitution’s prohibition on ex post facto laws.

  • 2250 provided: “(a) IN GENERAL.—Whoever— “(1) is required to register under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act; “(2)(A) is a sex offender as defined for the purposes of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act by reason of a conviction under Federal law (including the Uniform Code of Military Justice), the law of the District of Columbia, Indian tribal law, or the law of any territory or possession of the United States; or “(B) travels in interstate or foreign commerce, or enters or leaves, or resides in, Indian country; and “(3) knowingly fails to register or update a registration as required by the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act; “shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.”

Facts of the case: In May 2004, petitioner Thomas Carr pleaded guilty in Alabama state court to first-degree sexual abuse. He was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment, with all but two years suspended. Receiving credit for time previously served, Carr was released on probation on July 3, 2004, and he registered as a sex offender as required by Alabama law.

In late 2004 or early 2005, prior to SORNA’s enactment, Carr relocated from Alabama to Indiana but did not comply with Indiana’s sex-offender registration requirements. Later Carr came to the attention of law enforcement in Fort Wayne, Indiana, following his involvement in a fight.

 Federal  prosecutors filed an indictment in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana charging Carr with failing to register in violation of §2250. Carr moved to dismiss the indictment, asserting that because he traveled to Indiana prior to SORNA’s effective date, it would violate the Ex Post Facto Clause to prosecute him under §2250. The District Court denied Carr’s motion, and Carr entered a conditional guilty plea, preserving his right to appeal. He received a 30-month prison sentence.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit concluded, there was no ex post facto problem so long as the defendant had “reasonable time” to register after SORNA took effect but failed to do so. (551 F. 3d, at 585) Since  Carr remained unregistered five months after SORNA became applicable to him, the Seventh Circuit affirmed his conviction.

Government argued that the statute was triggered by a sex-offense conviction, which must be followed by interstate travel, and then a failure to register under SORNA. Only the last of these events must occur after SORNA took effect; the predicate conviction and the travel may both have predated the statute’s enactment. Carr, in contrast, asserted that the statutory sequence began when a person becomes subject to SORNA’s registration requirements. The person must then travel in interstate commerce and thereafter fail to register. According to Carr all of these events necessarily postdate SORNA’s enactment because a sex offender could not have been required to register under SORNA until SORNA became the law.

Held: The Supreme Court held that Carr’s interpretation was in line with the statutory text. That §2250 set forth the travel requirement in the present tense rather than in the past or present perfect which reinforced the conclusion that pre enactment travel fell outside the statute’s compass. The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.