Reynolds v. United States

PETITIONER: Billy Joe Reynolds
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Division

DOCKET NO.: 10-6549
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 565 US (2012)
GRANTED: Jan 24, 2011
ARGUED: Oct 03, 2011
DECIDED: Jan 23, 2012

Candace Cain - for the petitioner
Melissa Arbus Sherry - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the respondent

Facts of the case

Billy Joe Reynolds pleaded guilty to one count of knowingly failing to register and update a registration, in violation of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). On appeal, he challenged the constitutionality of SORNA and the legality of the Interim Rule implementing that law. He also argued that his guilty plea should be invalidated because he is "actually innocent" of violating SORNA's registration requirements. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit rejected his arguments and affirmed the conviction.


1. Does Reynolds have standing under SORNA to raise claims concerning the Attorney General's Interim Rule?

2. Is review by the Court necessary to resolve a split among the circuit courts?

Media for Reynolds v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 03, 2011 in Reynolds v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 23, 2012 in Reynolds v. United States

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Breyer has the opinion of the Court today in 10-6549, Reynolds versus United States.

I will announce the opinion for him.

The federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act requires those convicted of certain sex-related crimes to provide state governments with information such as names and current addresses for inclusion on state and federal sex offender registries.

The Act includes pre-Act offenders among those whom it regulates, but it also says that the "Attorney General shall have the authority to specify the applicability of the Act's registration requirements to sex offenders convicted before its enactment."

The basic question before us arises out of facts and circumstances that are complex, but for purposes of this exposition, we can simplify the context with the following hypothetical.

A defendant is convicted of a sex crime before the Act becomes law.

The Act then becomes law.

The defendant subsequently fails to carry out the Act's requirements.

All of this takes place before the Attorney General has issued a rule that specifies that the Act applies to pre-Act offenders such as the defendant before us.

These facts raise a legal question of whether the Act's requirement apply to pre-Act offenders who failed to comply with the Act's requirements in the period after the Act became law, but before the Attorney General validly specify the applicability of the Act to pre-Act offenders.

We conclude that the Act's requirements do not apply to this group of pre-Act offenders.

Our conclusion rests in part upon the language of the statute.

We also note that a contrary reading will create uncertainties about just how the statute applies to pre-Act offenders, uncertainties that the Attorney General would be well suited to resolve.

And we explain how our reading likely furthers various practical congressional objectives.

Our opinion discusses these and related matters.

Now, as noted we hold that the relevant statutory requirements do not apply to pre-Act offenders prior to the time the Attorney General issued valid regulations specifying their applicability.

We reverse a contrary holding by the Third Circuit.

Justice Scalia has issued a dissenting opinion which justice Ginsburg has joined.