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Federal Judge: Adam Walsh Act Unconstitutional

February 16, 2009 Comments off

Jurist.law.pitt.edu : Federal judge rules sex offender residency law unconstitutional.
Bradenton.com (FL) : California Judge finds sex offender registration law unconstitutional.

A judge in the US District Court for the Eastern District of California [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] this week that the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act of 2006 (SORNA) [DOJ backgrounder, PDF], which makes it a federal crime for a sex offender [JURIST news archive] to attempt to move to another state while failing to register in a nationwide database, is unconstitutional. In the cases of Mark Anthony Valverde, and Nedde Max Murphy Jr., Judge Lawrence Karlton held [Sacramento Bee report] that the statute violates the Commerce Clause [US Constitution Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 text] of the US Constitution. Valverde had pleaded guilty to sexual assault charges in 2002 in California, and after being paroled in 2008, he was arrested when he fled to Montana before registering as a sex offender. In his order dismissing Valverde’s indictment, Karlton relied in part on the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] cases of United States v. Lopez and United States v. Morrison, saying:

Under the statute, a person may be prosecuted for failing to register in his home state, then crossing state lines and registering in the next state. The harm, therefore, may be entirely intrastate. Were this a sufficient jurisdictional element, there would be no limit to Congress’s ability to penalize any crime whatsoever, so long as the defendant at some point in the course of his life traveled across state lines. This appears to be a plain usurpation of the state’s police power; as the Court expressed in Morrison, there is “no better example of the police power, which the Founders denied the National Government and reposed in the States, than the suppression of violent crime and vindication of its victims.” As such, the jurisdictional language in [Section] 2250 cannot alone render the statute valid under the Commerce Clause.”

While the ruling is the minority position concerning SORNA, other District Courts have also found the statute unconstitutional on Commerce Clause grounds, including the Southern District of Florida [official website; NSCLC blog report] and the Northern District of New York [official website; NSCLC blog report]. Sex offender laws have been increasingly criticized [JURIST report] for limiting residence options and for promoting ostracization.
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In only the third such ruling in the nation, a Sacramento, Calif., judge has found to be unconstitutional a statute that makes it a federal crime for someone to fail to register as a sex offender and relocate from one state to another.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton found that, in enacting the 2006 Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, “Congress overstepped its authority under the (Constitution’s) commerce clause.”

Karlton made rulings this week in two prosecutions and threw them out, saying SORNA does not meet the U.S. Supreme Court’s standard for congressional jurisdiction over interstate commerce.