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SCOTUS accepts Indiana offender-registry case

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The nation's highest court has taken an Indiana case that asks whether someone can be criminally prosecuted under a federal sex-offense registry law if that defendant's underlying offense and move to another state predated the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act's passage.

At its daylong opening conference Tuesday, the Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari in Thomas Carr v. United States, No. 08-1301, a case from the Northern District of Indiana, Fort Wayne Division, that the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled on late last year.

The certiorari petition was filed April 22, 2009, with the government's opposition brief filed in August. The petitioner's reply brief is here.

The Carr case was the first its kind in the Circuit. It's now one of 10 cases the justices accepted, including two others from the 7th Circuit - one asks whether the Second Amendment is incorporated into constitutional clauses in order to be applicable to the states, thereby invalidating home handgun possession ordinances; the other case asks whether someone must file a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after the employer's use of the discriminatory practice or awareness of the practice.

In the Carr case, justices will delve into an issue that's been surfacing more nationally and has brought disagreement from state and federal courts. The 7th Circuit issued its ruling in December 2008, combining it with the related case of U.S. v. Marcus Dixon, No. 08-1438. Judges found that 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 and that time frame falls somewhere between zero days and five months.

The judges dismissed claims that federal law 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. Overall, the court determined 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.

But in its certiorari petition, attorneys argue that the requirement violates the Ex Post Facto Clause of the U.S. Constitution and that failure to register under the federal law is not a continuing offense under the clause.

Fort Wayne attorney Stanley Campbell with law firm Swanson & Campbell is one of Carr's lawyers, joining a cast of defense and federal prosecuting attorneys from Washington, D.C., and other jurisdictions.

The high court hasn't yet set a date for arguments in this case.

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