Carr: Federal Supreme Court Holds That Liability under 18 U.S.C. § 2250 Cannot Be Predicated on Pre-SORNA Travel

This morning the United States Supreme Court held that 18 U.S.C. § 2250, a part of of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), does not apply to sex offenders whose interstate travel occurred prior to SORNA’s effective date in July 2006. This case resolves a circuit court split in which the Eleventh Circuit, which hears appeals from federal cases in Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, took the opposite view.

In an opinion by Justice Sotomayor, the Court explained that the three elements of Section 2250 (requirement to register, interstate travel, and failure to register) “must be satisfied in sequence.” The interpretation that the statute does not impose liability unless a person travels and fails to register after becoming subject to SORNA’s requirements accords with the text of the statute, which sets forth the travel requirement in the present tense. The Court also noted that Section 2250 is just one of several provisions of SORNA and that SORNA’s overall structure also indicates that Section 2250 should be limited to its specific purpose, rather than expanded to tackle all of SORNA’s broader intent.

The Court noted that because Section 2250 liability could not be predicated on pre-SORNA travel, the Court needed not address whether the statute violated the Ex Post Facto Clause.

The Court’s opinion, as well as a concurring opinion by Justice Scalia and a dissent by Justice Alito and joined by Justices Thomas and Ginsburg, is available here.