- Professor Tessa Dysart, Regent Law
Given the understandable public fear of sexual predators, policies concerning sex offenders have often become politicized. Many critics say these policies have too often swept up consensual conduct and conduct by those as young as 10 years old into the same regulatory framework as the most horrific sexual assaults committed by adults. A growing body of research indicates that placement of youths on public sex offender registries, sometimes for the rest of their lives, can have a serious impact on their ability to secure employment and housing, that of their current and future family members. In 2006, Congress passed the Adam Walsh Act, which threatens states with the withholding of tangentially related federal funds if they do not comply with the federal policy it set forth on public registration of not only adults, but also juveniles, including lifetime registration. Dozens of states have declined to comply with this federal mandate, citing both federalism and cost concerns. On this Teleforum, several experts in the field discussed the impact of current juvenile sex offender registration policies at the federal and state levels as well as proposals for reforms.
On March 1, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Lockhart v. United States. Petitioner Avondale Lockhart pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography. Because Lockhart had a prior state-court conviction for first-degree sexual abuse involving his adult girlfriend, his presentence report concluded that he was subject to a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence enhancement, which is triggered by prior state convictions for crimes “relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward.” Lockhart argued that the limiting phrase “involving a minor or ward” applied to all three state crimes, so his prior conviction did not trigger the enhancement. Disagreeing, the District Court applied the mandatory minimum. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed.
By a vote of 6-2, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Second Circuit. Justice Sotomayor delivered the opinion of the Court, holding that the phrase “involving a minor or ward” in §2252(b)(2) modifies only “abusive sexual conduct.” Thus, Lockhart’s prior conviction for sexual abuse of an adult was encompassed by §2252(b)(2) and the 10-year mandatory minimum applied.
Justice Sotomayor’s majority opinion was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Alito. Justice Kagan filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Breyer joined.
To discuss the case, we have Erin Sheley, who is Assistant Professor at University of Calgary Faculty of Law.
On April 4, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Nichols v. United States. Petitioner Nichols, a registered sex offender who moved from Kansas to the Philippines without updating his registration, was arrested, escorted to the United States, and charged with violating the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). SORNA makes it a federal crime for certain sex offenders to “knowingly fai[l] to register or update a registration,” and requires that offenders who move to a different State “shall, not later than 3 business days after each change of name, residence, employment, or student status,” inform in person “at least 1 jurisdiction involved . . . of all changes” to required information. After conditionally pleading guilty, Nichols argued on appeal that SORNA did not require him to update his registration in Kansas. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed his conviction.
By a vote of 8-0 the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Tenth Circuit, holding that SORNA did not require Nichols to update his registration in Kansas once he departed the State. Justice Alito delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
To discuss the case, we have James Barta, who is an Associate at MoloLamken LLP.
Sexual assault on campus is a serious issue—so serious that it is difficult for some to speak plainly about it. As a result, disagreements abound—even about issues as fundamental as the definition of sexual assault. This panel will discuss the nature and extent of sexual assault on campus. It will examine the Department of Education’s “Dear Colleague” letter of April 4, 2011 on sexual violence, the numerous investigations that it has opened in colleges and universities around the country, and the effect they are having on campus. It will also discuss the new "Only Yes Means Yes," laws recently adopted in California and being considered around the country. Among the questions that will be addressed are: How dangerous are our college campuses? From where does the U.S. Department of Education derive the authority to address this issue? Is due process being accorded to those who are accused of sexual assault?
The Federalist Society's Civil Rights Practice Group presented this panel on "Sexual Assult on Campus" on Friday, November 14, during the 2014 National Lawyers Convention.