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SCOTUS: Carr v. United States Decision Against SORNA

June 1, 2010

scotusblog.com: Carr v. United States (08-1301)
blogs.villagevoice.com: A Users Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court Rulings Handed Down Today.
Sentencing Law & Policy: Some intriguing who and how dynamics in the Carr ruling reversing sex offender’s SORNA conviction.
Sentencing Law & Policy: Sex offender prevails with challenge to SORNA conviction in Carr.

In Carr v. United States (08-1301), the Court, on a 6-3 vote, reverses and remands in an opinion by Justice Sotomayor. Justice Scalia concurs in part and in the judgment, but joins most of Justice Sotomayor’s opinion. Justice Alito dissents, joined by Justices Thomas and Ginsburg.

* Holding: The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, a 2007 law that requires sex offenders to register, does not apply to sex offenders whose interstate travel occurred before the Act went into effect.
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First,it is interesting and notable that the two former prosecutors on SCOTUS, Justices Sotomayor and Alito, wrote the majority and dissenting opinions. It is likewise interesting and notable that the two female Justices also split in this case. I cannot help but suspect that the sex offender context may have prompted Justice Ginsburg to be less sympathetic than usual to the appealing defendant here.

Both the majority and dissent note lots of circuit splits and lots of potential constitutional concerns with aspects of SORNA that are not directly addressed in the Carr opinion. I think this means we can and should expect a docket filled with at least a SORNA case or two in many future SCOTUS Terms.
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Case: 08-1301, Carr v. United States
Decision: Reversal
Opinion By: Sotamayor.

Who It Matters To: Sex Offenders, Potential Sex Offenders, Especially Sex Offenders Who Sex Offended Before February 2007.

Law Geeks Will Geek Out Over: The ex post facto clause, due process challenges.

Ruling: “The Court rules that a 2007 law (SORNA) that requires sex offenders to register does not apply to sex offenders whose interstate travel occurred before the Act went into effect.”

What it means: Carr involved a guy who didn’t register for SORNA, or the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, after he moved from Alabama to Indiana. This guy, Thomas Carr, had already registered as a sex offender in Alabama in 2004, but when he moved to Indiana, failed to register as one there, which law enforcement officials found out when he was busted for an unrelated crime in July 2007. Earlier that year, in February 2007, the Attorney General ruled that SORNA applied to all sex offenders, even those who were convicted before SORNA went into effect. Carr argued a defense of the constitution’s ex post facto clause, wherin, he’s protected because you can’t be retroactively punished by new laws. And the court ruled in his favor!

Who Wins: Those whose crimes aren’t actually crimes until after they’ve committed them.

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