December 31, 2013 By Stephen Klarich

Retroactive Federal Sex Offender Registration May Not Apply

If you have been convicted of a crime requiring sex offender registration, you should be aware that registration can be both, a state and federal requirement under certain circumstances. The federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) was signed into law by President George W. Bush on July 27, 2006. Retroactive application began to apply on or after August 1, 2008.

Most importantly, SORNA requires that state convicted sex offenders comply with federal registration requirements when they travel to other U.S. states and territories.

The following case involves a retroactivity interpretation of federal sex offender registration requirements. In December 2008, the defendant in this matter was prosecuted for being in violation of his federal duty to register in California where he initially committed sex offenses in 2001 even though he had resided in the State of Georgia since March 2008. His conviction was reversed and the Ninth Circuit instructed the lower court to find him not guilty.

United States v. DeJarnette (Case No. 11-10606, 9th Cir., December 20, 2013)

Federal Sex Offender Registration
If you are convicted of a sex crime, both federal sex offender registration and state registration may be required.

In 2001, Alexander DeJarnette pled guilty to sex offenses in federal Court for the Northern District of California, including three counts of transportation with intent to engage in prostitution and criminal activities, two of which involved minors. He was sentenced to 8 years in prison and released under federal supervision in 2006.

He was informed of his requirement to register as a sex offender by federal prison officials prior to his release. Terms of his supervised release also included that he was prohibited from leaving the judicial district in which he was convicted (California) without permission. Subsequently, in March of 2008, he relocated to Georgia. Later that year, he was apprehended and charged with failing to register in Northern California under SORNA.

The jury convicted DeJarnette after having been instructed by the trial court that “SORNA requires a sex offender to register initially in the jurisdiction in which he or she was convicted if this jurisdiction is different from the jurisdiction of residence.”

The defendant appealed his conviction for failure to register. He claimed that the District Court’s interpretation of SORNA as applied to him was incorrect, and that he resided in the State of Georgia during his 2008 indictment well before any retroactive application of SORNA became effective.

How Did the Ninth Circuit Rule?

The court held that the Attorney General has not “validly specified” that SORNA’s requirement of “initial registration” in the jurisdiction of the sex offense conviction applied to offenders like the defendant – offenders who were, at the time of SORNA’s enactment and implementation, already subject to sex offender registration obligations under a pre-SORNA scheme.

The court concluded that the jury instructions contained an error of law in that they permitted the jury to convict solely on the basis of a defendant’s failure to register in the jurisdiction of his sex offense conviction constituting what is known as “harmful error.”

Accordingly, the court reversed the defendant’s conviction and ordered the trial court to find for a judgment of acquittal. Said the Court:

“We conclude that the error is harmful, because the government provided no evidence [the defendant] resided, was employed or attended school in the Northern District of California during the charged period. Thus, absent the incorrect instruction regarding DeJarnette’s duty to register in the jurisdiction of his sex-offense conviction (the Northern District of California), the jury could not have returned a finding of guilt.”

What Does this Decision Mean For Federal Sex Offender Registration?

This decision highlights the importance of understanding your responsibilities to register as a sex offender, whether under a state or federal statutory scheme. All 50 states require registration for specified sex crimes.

However, a federal requirement may also exist. 18 U.S.C. § 2250 makes it a crime for federal sex offenders to knowingly fail to register or update a registration as required. Non-federally convicted sex offenders may also be prosecuted under this statute if the sex offender:

  • Knowingly fails to register or update a registration as required;
  • Engages in interstate travel or foreign travel; OR
  • Enters, leaves, or resides on an Indian reservation.

Therefore, if you were convicted in California of a state sex offense and you travel to another state or territory that has adopted SORNA (California hasn’t), not only may you be required to register under existing state law, but you may also have to register under federal law.

A sex offender who fails to properly register under federal law may face significant fines and up to 10 years in prison. Furthermore, if a sex offender knowingly fails to update or register as required and commits a violent federal crime, he or she may face up to 30 years in prison pursuant to SORNA.

Contact Wallin & Klarich if You Don’t Think You Should Have to Register

If you have any questions about registering as a sex offender under either state or federal law while you reside, are employed, or attend school in California, or if you believe you are not required to register, you should speak to the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich so that we can explain all of your legal rights and responsibilities.

With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, Wallin & Klarich has over 30 years of experience successfully petitioning the courts on behalf of our clients who are eligible to be relieved of this lifelong burden. Let us help you today.

Call Wallin & Klarich today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free telephone consultation. We will get through this together.

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