Issues: ,

Intro

NICHOLS v. UNITED STATES, (2016)

United States Supreme Court
No. 15-5238
Argued: March 1, 2016 Decided: April 4, 2016

Syllabus: The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) makes it a federal crime for certain sex offenders to “knowingly fai[l] to register or update a registration,” 18 U. S. C. §2250(a)(3), and requires that offenders who move to a different State “shall, not later than 3 business days after each change of name, residence, employment, or student status,” inform in person “at least 1 jurisdiction involved pursuant to [42 U. S. C. §16913(a)] . . . of all changes” to required information, §16913(c). A §16913(a) jurisdiction is “each jurisdiction where the offender resides, . . . is an employee, and . . . is a student.”

Petitioner Nichols, a registered sex offender who moved from Kansas to the Philippines without updating his registration, was arrested, escorted to the United States, and charged with violating SORNA. After conditionally pleading guilty, Nichols argued on appeal that SORNA did not require him to update his registration in Kansas. The Tenth Circuit affirmed his conviction, holding that though Nichols left Kansas, the State remained a “jurisdiction involved” for SORNA purposes.

Held: SORNA did not require Nichols to update his registration in Kansas once he departed the State. Pp. 4-8.

(a) SORNA’s plain text dictates this holding. Critical here is §16913(a)’s use of the present tense. Nichols once resided in Kansas, but after moving, he “resides” in the Philippines. It follows that once Nichols moved, he was no longer required to appear in Kansas because it was no longer a “jurisdiction involved.” Nor was he required to appear in the Philippines, which is not a SORNA “jurisdiction.” §16911(10). Section 16913(c)’s requirements point to the same conclusion: Nichols could not have appeared in person in Kansas “after” leaving the State. SORNA’s drafters could have required sex offenders to deregister in their departure jurisdiction before leaving the country had that been their intent. Pp. 4-6.

(b) The Government resists this straightforward reading. It argues that a jurisdiction where an offender registers remains “involved” even after the offender leaves, but that would require adding the extra clause “where the offender appears on a registry” to §16913(a). Also unconvincing is the claim that §16914(a)(3)’s requiring the offender to provide each address where he “will reside” shows that SORNA contemplates the possibility of an offender’s updating his registration before he actually moves. That provision merely lists the pieces of information to be updated; it says nothing about an obligation to update in the first place. Finally, the Government’s argument that Nichols actually experienced two “changes” of residence–first, when he turned in his apartment keys in Kansas, and second, when he checked into his Manila hotel–is inconsistent with ordinary English usage. Pp. 6-7.

(c) Although “the most formidable argument concerning the statute’s purposes [cannot] overcome the clarity [found] in the statute’s text,” Kloeckner v. Solis, 568 U. S. ___, ___, n. 4, the Court is mindful of those purposes and notes that its interpretation is not likely to create deficiencies in SORNA’s scheme. Recent legislation by Congress, as well as existing state-law registration requirements, offers reassurance that sex offenders will not be able to escape punishment for leaving the United States without notifying their departure jurisdictions. Pp. 7-8.

775 F. 3d 1225, reversed.

ALITO, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.