Nichols v. United States

PETITIONER: Lester Ray Nichols
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: United States District Court for the District of Kansas

DOCKET NO.: 15-5238
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2016- )
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

CITATION: 578 US (2016)
GRANTED: Nov 06, 2015
ARGUED: Mar 01, 2016
DECIDED: Apr 04, 2016

ADVOCATES:
Curtis E. Gannon - Assistant to the Solicitor General, for the respondent
Daniel T. Hansmeier - for the petitioner

Facts of the case

In 2003, Lester Nichols was charged with intent to engage in sex with a minor. In 2006, the Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) was passed, and the Attorney General issued a rule in 2007 that SORNA applied retroactively to convicted sex offenders. Under this rule, Nichols was required to register with SORNA and update his residency. In 2012, Nichols flew from Kansas to the Philippines without updating his location pursuant to SORNA. Authorities in the Philippines took Nichols into custody and returned him to the United States where he was charged with noncompliance with SORNA regulations regarding updating his residency. Nichols filed a motion to dismiss and argued that the Philippines are outside U.S. jurisdiction, so he was not required to update his location. The trial court dismissed his motion, and Nichols plead guilty. He then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which affirmed his conviction.

Question

Is a convicted sexual offender required to update his residency under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act if he moves outside of U.S. jurisdiction?

Media for Nichols v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 01, 2016 in Nichols v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 04, 2016 in Nichols v. United States

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Today's orders of the Court have been duly entered and certified and filed with the clerk.

Justice Alito has our opinion this morning in case 15-5238, Nichols versus United States which he has asked me to read for him.

Nichols versus United States comes to us on a Writ of Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

It involves an interpretation of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act or SORNA which requires individuals convicted of certain sex crimes to keep current their contact information in state's sex offender registries.

SORNA's provisions however do not apply overseas.

The question in this case is whether a sex offender who moves to a foreign country must update his registration in the state he departed.

Petitioner is a registered sex offender who moved from Kansas to the Philippines without notifying Kansas authorities.

He was arrested in Manila, escorted back to Kansas and charged with one count of failing to update his sex offender registration.

Under SORNA a sex offender must not later than three days after a change in residence appear in person to update his registration in at least one jurisdiction “where he resides, where he is an employee or where he is a student.”

Petitioner argued that once he moved to the Philippines he no longer resided, worked or studied in Kansas, and therefore had no obligation to update his registration there.

The District Court disagreed and the Tenth Circuit affirmed petitioner's conviction.

We now reverse. SORNA consistently uses the present tense requiring a sex offender to update his registration in a jurisdiction where he currently resides as an employee or as a student.

The statute does not require an offender to update his registration where he once resided nor where he still appears on a registry as the government urges.

Once petitioner moved to the Philippines he was not obligated to update his registration anywhere.

The government offers compelling policy reasons to resist this conclusion, but they are not enough to overcome the plain language of the statute.

Congress has we note, recently amended SORNA to require sex offenders to inform authorities of all foreign travel which would have captured petitioner's conduct here.

For these and other reasons described in our opinion we reverse the judgment of the Tenth Circuit.

Our decision is unanimous.