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SORNA's Registration Requirements Do Not Apply to Convictions Involving the Transfer of Obscene Materials to a Minor

By Brandon Sample

On January 14, 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit decided that the registration requirements of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) do not apply to convictions under 18 U.S.C. § 1470, which prohibits the transfer of obscene materials to minors.

Matthew Mason Dodge was ordered to register as a Tier I sex offender under SORNA after pleading guilty to transferring obscene materials to girls over the internet he believed were under the age of 16. Dodge sent the girls e-mails containing nude photos and videos of himself, some of which depicted him masturbating or fondling his genitals. The “girls" Dodge thought he was sending the photos and videos to were actually undercover police officers. Dodge appealed the sex offender registration requirement.

The only provision in SORNA that might require Dodge to register, the Eleventh Circuit wrote, requires that Dodge be convicted of a "sex offense"—that is, a "criminal offense that is a specified offense against a minor." Dodge's conduct of transferring obscene materials to a minor, though, was not a “sex offense against" a minor, the court held. "Any definition of "against" requires a concept of contact or opposition," the court wrote.

While Dodge's actions may have been "offensive and deplorable," they “lack any element of an unwanted sexual assault, offense, or other violation that contacts or opposes a minor's rights," the court decided. Accordingly, the lower court's order requiring Dodge to register as a sex offender was reversed. See: United States v. Dodge, 597 F.3d 1347 (11th Cir. 2009).

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Related legal case

United States v. Dodge