Carr v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States

DOCKET NO.: 08-1301
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2009-2010)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 560 US 438 (2010)
GRANTED: Sep 30, 2009
ARGUED: Feb 24, 2010
DECIDED: Jun 01, 2010

Curtis E. Gannon - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the respondent
Charles A. Rothfeld - for the petitioner

Facts of the case

An Indiana federal district court convicted Thomas Carr of violating the Sex Offender and Registration and Notification Act. The Act imposes penalties on anyone who is a convicted sex offender, and traveling in interstate or foreign commerce, knowingly fails to register as a sex offender, unless he proves that "uncontrollable circumstances" prevented him from doing so. On appeal, Carr argued that he did not violate the act because he traveled before the Act was passed. The Seventh Circuit held that the Act does not require that the defendant's travel postdate its enactment, and, consequently, affirmed the district court.


1) Can a person be prosecuted under the Sex Offender and Registration and Notification Act when the defendant's offense and interstate travel both predate the Act's enactment?

2) Does the ex post fact clause preclude prosecution under the Sex Offender and Registration and Notification Act when the defendant's offense and interstate travel both predate the Act's enactment?

Media for Carr v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 24, 2010 in Carr v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 01, 2010 in Carr v. United States

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Sotomayor has our opinion this morning in case 08-1301, Carr versus United States.

Sonia Sotomayor:

The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act or SORNA establishes a federal criminal offense covering any person who one; is required to register under SORNA, Two; travels in interstate or foreign commerce and three; knowingly fails to register or update a registration.

This provision is codified at 18 USC section 2250.

We grant the certiorari to consider whether Section 2250 applies to sex offenders, who traveled before SORNA’s effective date, and if so whether the statute violates the Constitution's prohibition on ex-post facto laws.

We hold that liability under section 2250 cannot be predicated on pre-enactment travel and thus have no occasion to address the constitutional question.

Our decision follows from the text of the statute. Section 2250 sets forth three elements that must be satisfied and served in sequence.

First a person must be”required to register under SORNA”, second; the person must travel in interstate commerce and third; the person must failed to register as required.

The first of these elements are requirements to register under SORNA pre-supposes that SORNA has become the law.

The acts of traveling and failing to register must therefore also occur after SORNA’s enactment.

The statute’s use of the present tense, verb, travels, bolsters our conclusion.

We are not aware of any instance in which we have construed a present tense verb in a criminal statute to prohibit acts that were completed before the statute took effect.

The government contends that limiting section 2250 to post enactment travel is anomalous because it means that the statute will covers state sex offenders, less often than federal sex offenders or liable under section 2250 without proof of travel.

It is entirely reasonable however for Congress to have chosen to treat state and federal sex offenders differently, give, giving, given, the state's primary responsibility for punishing state offenders who failed to register.

The government also asserts that reading section 2250 to apply only to post SORNA travel is at odds with Congress’s goal of locating missing sex offenders.

Section 2250 however is not a stand-alone provision; many other provisions of SORNA advance this broad objective.

Considering the structure of the statute as a whole, we conclude that section 2250 serves a more specific function, is subject to federal prosecution sex offenders who after SORNA’s enactment undermine the statue's effectiveness by traveling across state lines.

Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Seventh Circuit.

Justice Scalia has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.

Justice Alito has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Thomas and Ginsburg join.