When Does a Registered Sex Offender Not Have to Obey the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act?


In 2006, Congress enacted the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (“SORNA”).  That law makes it a federal crime for anyone (1) who is required to register under SORNA (2) who travels to another state or country (3) to knowingly fail to register or to update his registration.

Before SORNA went into effect, an individual named Thomas Carr, who was a registered sex offender in Alabama, moved to Indiana but failed to comply with Indiana’s registration requirements for sex offenders.  After SORNA went into effect, Carr was charged with violating it because of his failure to register in Indiana.

Carr filed a motion to dismiss his case on the ground that prosecuting him violated the Ex Post Facto Clause of the United States Constitution because he had traveled to Indiana before SORNA went into effect.  The judge denied his motion, so Carr appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.  That court also ruled against Carr on the ground that he had had a reasonable amount of time to register after SORNA went into effect but had still failed to do so.

Carr then appealed to the United States Supreme Court.  That court ultimately ruled in his favor in the case of Carr v. United States.  The High Court stated that SORNA applies to two categories of persons:

  1. Anyone who is a sex offender because he was convicted under federal law; and
  2. Anyone else who is required to register under SORNA and who travels to another state or country.

Because Congress used the word “travels” rather than “traveled” or “has traveled,” Congress thereby indicated that SORNO does not apply to those individuals who traveled to another state or country before that law went into effect.  And because Mr. Carr traveled from Alabama to Indiana before SORNA went into effect, he could not be prosecuted under that law even though he had continued to fail to register in Indiana after it went into effect in 2006.