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7th Circuit rules on sex offender registration

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A reasonable grace period is required before the federal government can enhance a convicted sex offender's punishment for not registering after a move to a new state, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today.

That timeframe falls somewhere between zero days and five months, according to the ruling in the consolidated cases of U.S. v. Marcus Dixon, 08-1438, and U.S. v. Thomas Carr, No. 08-2008.

In deciding a case that's the first of its kind in this Circuit, the federal appellate panel dismissed claims that the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act was unconstitutional on several fronts and instead focused mostly on the notice received from the federal government before a criminal failure to register with state authorities is enhanced to a federal crime.

The court reversed the judgment against Marcus Dixon with direction to acquit while affirming the decision in Thomas Carr's case.

Both were convicted in the Northern District courts - Dixon after a bench trial in 2007 for failure to register with state authorities after moving to Indiana in 2006 before the regulation was adopted; Carr after pleading guilty and moving to the state.

The law in question imposes criminal penalties on any state or federally convicted sex offender who, among other things, knowingly fails to register as a sex offender. Congress gave the U.S. Attorney General authority to specify when that timeframe to register applies. Dixon was charged and ultimately convicted on grounds that he didn't register on or about Feb. 27, 2007 - the date the rule was adopted; Carr had not registered by July 2007.

But while Dixon should have known that he needed to register, his ex post facto rights were violated because the federal law imposes on that existing crime a new federal criminal penalty on top of any state punishment for not registering, the court wrote.

"Whatever the minimum grace period required to be given a person who faces criminal punishment for failing to register as a convicted sex offender is, it must be greater than zero," Judge Richard Posner wrote, referring to the government's charge that he didn't register on or near the same time the rule was passed.

Carr's case was different, as he had about five months to register and failed to do so, Judge Posner wrote, noting that it was a sufficient grace period.

"Remember that on our interpretation of the statute as filled out by the regulation, the duty to register does not come into force on the day the Act becomes applicable to a person, or on the next day or next week, but within a reasonable time..."

Overall, the court determined that the law isn't unconstitutional and any convicted sex offender must register even if they came to the state prior to the federal law's passage.

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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