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South Carolina Sex Offender Registration Amendment Requires Actual Notice
In 2002, Zeb Eron Binnarr was convicted of sex crimes in South Carolina and required to register annually under the state's Sex Offender Registry Act (SORA).
Binnarr registered in February 2006 and was given notice of his obligation to register again the following year. Effective July 1, 2006, however, SORA was amended to require biannual registration, requiring Binnarr to re-register in August 2006.
Binnarr did not register in August 2006 and he was arrested in March 2007 for failing to register biannually.
At trial the state called Detective Denise Catlett, who testified that she managed the county's sex offender registry and was responsible for notifying offenders of the 2006 SORA amendment. Catlett claimed that the amendment was "all over the news" and "in the newspaper" for months, and "that she 'generally' sent letters via first-class mail to ... more than 800 registered sex offenders." She claimed Binnarr's letter "was not returned as undeliverable," though "the State failed to produce a copy of the actual letter."
Binnarr testified that he "did not receive any notice of the change in the law" and "denied receiving any of the letters sent by Catlett."
A jury found Binnarr guilty of failing to register as a sex offender and he was sentenced to a statutorily-mandated 90-day jail term. The Court of Appeals affirmed Binnarr's conviction because the legislature did not require the state to notify offenders about the SORA amendment.
The Supreme Court reversed, however, agreeing with Binnarr "that the Court of Appeals erred in declining to recognize that a defendant must have actual notice of the reporting requirements before he can be convicted of violating" the law. Given the "lack of direct or substantial circumstantial evidence" of "actual notice," the Court held that reversal was required.
"Because the change in the law imposed an additional registration requirement for sex offender registrants, who were formerly required to register annually," the Supreme Court found that "the Sheriff's Office needed to do more than passively rely on an unreturned letter to ensure compliance with the change in the law." See: State v. Binnarr, 400 S.C. 156, 733 S.E.2d 890 (S.C. 2012), rehearing denied.
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Related legal case
State v. Binnarr
|Cite||400 S.C. 156, 733 S.E.2d 890 (S.C. 2012), rehearing denied|
|Level||State Supreme Court|