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Eighth Circuit Holds No SORNA Registration Requirement after Leaving U.S.

Eighth Circuit Holds No SORNA Registration Requirement after Leaving U.S.

by Matt Clarke

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals held in August 2013 that the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) does not require a registered sex offender (RSO) who moves to a foreign country to notify the state of his change of address.

Robert D. Lunsford, a Missouri RSO, flew to the Philippines on a three-week round-trip ticket in 2011. He did not return to the United States or inform the Missouri sex offender registry of his change of address. He was arrested in the Philippines two months later and eventually deported to the U.S., where he was charged with failure to update his registration in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a).

Lunsford moved to dismiss the indictment on the grounds that SORNA did not require him to update his registration once he left the country; his motion was denied and he entered a conditional guilty plea. He then appealed the denial of the motion.

The Eighth Circuit observed that SORNA requires RSOs to keep their residency information current in each jurisdiction where they reside, are employed or are a student. An RSO who travels in interstate or foreign commerce without updating a registry as required by SORNA is in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a). Further, 42 U.S.C. § 16913(a) requires an RSO who changes his or her address to appear in person in at least one of the jurisdictions involved and inform them of the changes in registry information within three days of the move. However, the definition of “jurisdiction involved” in 42 U.S.C. § 16911(10) excludes foreign countries.

The government did not argue that Lunsford was a resident, student or employed in Missouri when he allegedly violated SORNA, which the plea agreement specified was “after he traveled in interstate and foreign commerce.” Therefore, “after Lunsford left the country, Missouri was not the location of his home or a place where he habitually lives, so Lunsford did not ‘reside’ in Missouri when he changed his residence.”

Although the National Guidelines for Sex Offender Registration and Notification provide that an RSO who leaves the country must inform the jurisdiction in which he has been registered, under 73 Fed. Reg. 38,030, 38,066-67 (July 2, 2008), the guidelines do not address the language of the statute which requires an RSO to keep the registry current where he or she “resides,” not “resided.”

Therefore, and disagreeing with the Tenth Circuit insofar as it may have held otherwise in United States v. Murphy, 664 F.3d 798 (10th Cir. 2011) [PLN, Aug. 2012, p.30], the Eighth Circuit held that an RSO who travels to another country and resides there does not violate SORNA by failing to update the registry of the jurisdiction where he previously lived.

The judgment of the district court was reversed and the case remanded with instructions to dismiss the indictment. See: United States v. Lunsford,725 F.3d 859 (8th Cir. 2013).


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Related legal case

United States v. Lunsford