The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that Congress can require sex offenders to register as sex offenders in the states where they live, study, and work, even after they have completed their sentences. The case involved a young man who was arrested for statutory rape after he had consensual sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was a 21-year-old member of the military. He served three months in prison and was later freed without any conditions. Years later when he moved from San Antonio to El Paso, Texas, he failed to update his change of address within the three-day period required by federal law.

The catch, however, was that the federal law, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act of 2006, was enacted after he had completed his sentence. SORNA states that a sex offender must continuously register in each jurisdiction where he lives, works and studies.

The man’s criminal defense in the case was that the government unconstitutionally applied SORNA’s registration requirements to him because he had been unconditionally released from prison before SORNA became law in 2006. Nevertheless he was convicted of failing to register and served a new sentence of one year and a day as his case made it to the Supreme Court.

According to the ruling, Congress has the power to apply SORNA’s requirements to a federal offender under the necessary and proper clause of the U.S. Constitution even if they completed their sentence prior to the time of SORNA’s enactment. The reasoning is that because he was subject to a federal registration requirement’ – the Wetterling Act – at the time of his offense, Congress could later modify the requirements.

Criminal charges carry with them repercussions that may affect many aspects of a Texas resident’s life, including employment and child custody arrangements. For this reason, Texas residents facing criminal charges may want to consult an experienced defense attorney to thoroughly prepare an extensive defense.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Sex offender loses fight over registry conviction,” Barbara Leonard, June 24, 2013.