SCOTUS reverses 7th Circuit on sex offender registration

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The nation’s highest court reversed the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals today on an Indiana case, holding that that a federal sex offender registry law does not apply to those convicts whose interstate travel happened before the 2006 statute took effect.

In a 6-3 decision that divided the court’s traditional ideological lines, a majority of justices ruled on Thomas Carr v. United States, No. 08-1301, which the 7th Circuit had decided more than a year ago.

The case goes back to 2004, when petitioner Thomas Carr was first convicted of first-degree sexual abuse in Alabama and registered there after his release from custody. When Carr moved to Indiana at the end of that year, he failed to register here. That was discovered in July 2007 – after the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act had gone into effect in 2006 and made it a crime for convicted offenders to travel between states and not register locally. Carr later entered a conditional guilty plea in the Northern District of Indiana and appealed on an ex post facto claim.

In December 2008, the 7th Circuit ruled on the case -- the first of its kind in this Circuit -- and held that Carr’s rights weren’t violated because he had about five months to register and failed to do so. The appellate panel held 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.

But Carr appealed to the SCOTUS and six of the nation’s top justices disagreed, reversing that decision but not addressing the constitutional question presented. Justice Sonya Sotomayor authored the 18-page majority opinion with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices John Paul Stevens, Anthony Kennedy, and Stephen Breyer joining her. Justice Antonin Scalia concurred in part and with the final judgment, while Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined in a 15-page dissent.

“Having concluded that (18 U.S.C. §2250) does not extend to preenactment travel, we need not consider whether such a construction would present difficulties under the Constitution’s Ex Post Facto Clause,” Justice Sotomayor wrote, after the court analyzed the legislative intent and wording of the federal act.

But Justice Alito wrote that the majority “misinterprets and hobbles” the federal act provision and the rationale used to reach that conclusion is unsound based on the reading of the provision. Congress didn’t intend for the law to apply only to those traveling after the statute went into effect, but aimed the measure at targeting those “missing offenders” who may not have registered prior to the new law, he wrote.

“When an interpretation of a statutory text leads to a result that makes no sense, a court should at the minimum go back and verify that the textual analysis is correct,” Justice Alito wrote. “Here, not only are the Court’s textual arguments unsound for the reasons explained above, but the indefensible results produced by the Court’s interpretation should have led the Court to double-check its textual analysis.”

Justice Alito would have affirmed the 7th Circuit’s decision.


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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.