Supreme Court Justices: sex offender International travel

Members of the Supreme Court on Tuesday appeared skeptical of the federal government’s argument that a registered sex offender should be required to notify authorities when moving to another country.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was known as the court’s swing vote before the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last month, noted that the defendant in the case moved to a country not covered under the Sex Offender Registration and Notifications Act (SORNA). The law requires sex offenders to inform “at least one jurisdiction involved” of any change of address.

“The Philippines is not a jurisdiction under SORNA,” Kennedy said.

The case, Nichols v. United States, focuses on Lester Nichols, a convicted sex offender who moved from Kansas to the Philippines in November 2012, eight months after he was released from prison. A month later, he was arrested and deported back to the U.S. for failing to update his sex offender registry.

Curtis Gannon, assistant to the solicitor general at the Department of Justice, argued on behalf of the government that Nichols was required to notify Kansas of his change of address within three business days of his move because Kansas was “an involved jurisdiction.”

Several of the justices, including Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Chief Justice John Roberts, grappled Tuesday with the language in the statute that defines an involved jurisdiction.

Roberts said the statute is an “awful lot to ask a layperson to parse” in order to avoid the maximum 10-year sentence for violating SORNA.

In trying to understand the statute, Breyer questioned whether Nichols would have had to notify Kansas if he had been living in the Philippines for 15 years and then moved to Thailand

“Why not Kansas?” he asked. “That was a jurisdiction that was involved.”

Gannon said Kansas would only remain involved if the national registry said Nichols still lived in Kansas.

Kagan wondered why the U.S. is even bothering to extradite sex offenders back to the U.S. from other countries if they are only required to say they are leaving the state, not where they are going in the world.

She said it seems like the attitude would be “good luck, good riddance.”

Justice Clarence Thomas, who asked questions for the first time in 10 years during a gun rights case on Monday, remained silent for Tuesday’s arguments.

See also More information including transcript of oral arguments


2 comments for “Supreme Court Justices: sex offender International travel

  1. March 3, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    According to Jamie Fellner, director of the, US Program researcher at Human Rights Watch, “current laws are ill-conceived and poorly crafted. Protecting children requires a more thoughtful and comprehensive approach than politicians have been willing to support.” In many states, registration covers everyone convicted of a sexual crime which can range from child rape to consensual teenage sex, and regardless of their potential future threat to children. Unfettered public access to online sex-offender registries with no “need-to-know” information to irresponsible and even unlawful ways. There is little evidence that this form of community notification prevents sexual violence. Residency restrictions banish former offenders from entire towns and cities, forcing them to live far from homes, families, jobs and treatment, and hindering law-enforcement supervision. Residency restrictions are counterproductive to public safety and harmful to former offenders.

    Sex offender laws reflect public concern that children are at grave risk of sexual abuse by strangers who are repeat offenders. As the report documents, however, the real risks children face are quite different: government statistics indicate that most sexual abuse of children is committed by family members or trusted authority figures, and by someone who has not previously been convicted of a sex offense.

    In addition, the laws reflect the widely shared but erroneous belief that “once a sex offender, always a sex offender.” Authoritative studies indicate that nine out of ten adult offenders DO NOT reoffend. Moreover, treatment can be effective even for people who have committed serious sex crimes.

    “Politicians didn’t do their homework before enacting these sex offender laws,” said Sarah Tofte, US program researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Instead they have perpetuated myths about sex offenders and failed to deal with the complex realities of sexual violence against children.”

    As of January 22, 2015, Utah Statistics indicate:

    ~ Number of registered sex offenders in Utah: 7,154
    ~ Percent compliant with sex offender registry laws: 96 percent
    ~ Number of registered sex offenders in Utah under supervision by Federal or Adult Probation and ~ Parole: 1,954
    ~ Number of registered sex offenders in Utah currently in jail or prison: 2,385
    ~ Number of sex offenders in Utah no longer on supervision but still required to register:
    ~ 2,815

  2. March 10, 2016 at 12:46 pm

    Friday, March 4, 2016

    No, Senator Grassley, the Adam Walsh Act does NOT need to be re-authorized

    Mr. Grassley, like you, we grieve with families of children who are victimized and abused, and we especially grieve that virtually all of this type of crime is committed by the family members and others close to their young victims. Like you, we would like to see a strong commitment to keeping our nation’s children safe.

    Unlike you, however, we have seen no evidence of this commitment for the past twenty-five years. Such a commitment must be based on solid research, on facts and evidence, and on the reality of both child sexual abuse and of those who are the abusers.

    The Adam Walsh Act is ill-conceived legislation, contraindicated by empirical evidence, which fails to address the crime of child sexual abuse because it does not target those who commit child sexual abuse.

    The rhetoric and the reality of the AWA are light years apart. The rhetoric says the AWA “was enacted in response to multiple, notorious cases involving children who had been targeted by adult criminals, many of them repeat sex offenders.” The reality is that the cases that drove the legislation are the rarest of rare crimes. They are crimes of murder. They are crimes that would not have been prevented by the AWA or by a thousand sex offender registries.

    The reality is that the crime that set John Walsh upon his crusade, the murder of his son, was not committed by a person on the sex offender registry at all.

    The reality is that the 800,000 persons on sex offender registries across the nation — ranging in age, according to the various registries, from nine years old to well over a hundred – have not killed anyone. The reality is that the vast majority of them are not repeat offenders but one-time offenders who, after completion of their sentences, live in our communities without ever committing another offense.

    The reality is that the many, many millions of dollars and many millions of law-enforcement hours expended in public notification and public registration of those who have committed sexual crimes do not advance public safety. A huge and growing body of evidence attests that they do not affect the rate of first time sexual offenses, of repeat offenses, or of child sexual offenses.

    And so we grieve also, Mr. Grassley.

    We grieve that our priorities have become focused on ineffective punishments rather than prevention programs. Last January, a coalition including both sexual assault prevention and victims’ groups called for the creation of a stable funding stream dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse and exploitation. The group asked for funding to equal at least one percent – ONE percent! — of the millions currently spent on “after-the-fact” responses like sex registries and civil commitment. They are still waiting.

    We, like you, grieve for Jetseta and Dru and Megan. We also grieve for other rare cases of children falling victims to repeat offenders, those in more recent years who were not “saved” by the registry or the AWA, those like Jaycee and Chelsea and Cherish.

    And we grieve for the deaths of those who were murdered for no reason other than that they were on a public registry, targeted and slaughtered for an offense long ago paid for, such as were Gary and Jerry and Jeremy and his wife Christine, killed just because she was with him when vigilante murderers found him, and Hugh Edwards, who wasn’t even on the registry but was mistaken for someone who was.

    We grieve for the registrants who have paid for their crimes and want nothing more than to be allowed to live law-abiding lives but cannot find a job or even a place to live. We grieve for their families, especially their children, who suffer ostracism and ridicule and abuse due to the crimes of their parents.

    We grieve especially for the children of continuing and new sexual abuse who will grow up to know that their society chose to ignore their plight, invisible and easy to ignore, in favor of a very public and popular demand for policies and laws and legislation that wasted millions and accomplished nothing.

    And we grieve for that society, which is OUR society, and for what it has become.

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