Nichols v. United States, 15–5238.

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtJustice ALITO delivered the opinion of the Court.
Citation194 L.Ed.2d 324,136 S.Ct. 1113
Parties Lester Ray NICHOLS, Petitioner v. UNITED STATES.
Docket NumberNo. 15–5238.,15–5238.
Decision Date04 April 2016

136 S.Ct. 1113
194 L.Ed.2d 324

Lester Ray NICHOLS, Petitioner

No. 15–5238.

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued March 1, 2016.
Decided April 4, 2016.

Daniel T. Hansmeier, Kansas City, KA, for Petitioner.

Curtis E. Gannon, Washington, DC, for Respondent.

Melody Brannon, Federal Public Defender, Daniel T. Hansmeier, Appellate Chief, Timothy J. Henry, Paige A. Nichols, Kansas Federal, Public Defender, Kansas City, KA, for Petitioner.

Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., Solicitor General, Leslie R. Caldwell, Assistant Attorney General, Michael R. Dreeben, Deputy Solicitor General, Curtis E. Gannon, Assistant to the Solicitor General, James I. Pearce, Attorney, Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for Respondent.

Justice ALITOdelivered the opinion of the Court.

Lester Ray Nichols, a registered sex offender living in the Kansas City area, moved to the Philippines without notifying Kansas authorities of his change in residence. For that omission Nichols was convicted of failing to update his sex-offender registration, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a). We must decide whether federal law required Nichols to update his registration in Kansas to reflect his departure from the State.

136 S.Ct. 1116



Following the high-profile and horrific rape and murder of 7–year–old Megan Kanka by her neighbor, States in the early 1990's began enacting registry and community-notification laws to monitor the whereabouts of individuals previously convicted of sex crimes. See Smith v. Doe, 538 U.S. 84, 89, 123 S.Ct. 1140, 155 L.Ed.2d 164 (2003); Filler, Making the Case for Megan's Law, 76 Ind. L.J. 315, 315–317 (2001). Congress followed suit in 1994 with the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, 108 Stat. 2038, 42 U.S.C. § 14071 et seq. (1994 ed.). Named after an 11–year–old who was kidnapped at gunpoint in 1989 (and who remains missing today), the Wetterling Act conditioned federal funds on States' enacting sex-offender registry laws meeting certain minimum standards. Smith, 538 U.S., at 89–90, 123 S.Ct. 1140. "By 1996, every State, the District of Columbia, and the Federal Government had enacted some variation of" a sex-offender registry. Id., at 90, 123 S.Ct. 1140.

In 2006, Congress replaced the Wetterling Act with the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), 120 Stat. 590, 42 U.S.C. § 16901 et seq. Two changes are pertinent here. First, Congress made it a federal crime for a sex offender who meets certain requirements to "knowingly fai[l] to register or update a registration as required by [SORNA]." 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a)(3); see Carr v. United States, 560 U.S. 438, 441–442, 130 S.Ct. 2229, 176 L.Ed.2d 1152 (2010). Second, Congress amended the provisions governing the registration requirements when an offender moves to a different State. The original Wetterling Act had directed States to require a sex offender to "register the new address with a designated law enforcement agency in another State to which the person moves not later than 10 days after such person establishes residence in the new State, if the new State has a registration requirement." 42 U.S.C. § 14071(b)(5) (1994 ed.)(emphasis added). Congress later amended this provision to direct States to require a sex offender to "report the change of address to the responsible agency in the State the person is leaving, and [to] comply with any registration requirement in the new State of residence." 42 U.S.C. § 14071(b)(5) (2000 ed.)(emphasis added).

SORNA repealed this provision of the Wetterling Act. 120 Stat. 600. In its place, federal law now provides:

"A sex offender shall, not later than 3 business days after each change of name, residence, employment, or student status, appear in person in at least 1 jurisdiction involved pursuant to subsection (a) and inform that jurisdiction of all changes in the information required for that offender in the sex offender registry." 42 U.S.C. § 16913(c)(emphasis added).

Subsection (a), in turn, provides: "A sex offender shall register, and keep the registration current, in each jurisdiction where the offender resides, where the offender is an employee, and where the offender is a student." § 16913(a). A sex offender is required to notify only one "jurisdiction involved"; that jurisdiction must then notify a list of interested parties, including the other jurisdictions. §§ 16921(b)(1)–(7). The question presented in this case is whether the State a sex offender leaves—that is, the State where he formerly resided—qualifies as an "involved" jurisdiction under § 16913.


In 2003, Nichols was convicted of traveling with intent to engage in illicit sexual

136 S.Ct. 1117

conduct with a minor, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2423(b). Although his offense predated SORNA's enactment, Nichols was nevertheless required upon his eventual release in December 2011 to register as a sex offender in Kansas, where he chose to settle. 28 CFR 72.3 (2015). Nichols complied with SORNA's registration requirements—until November 9, 2012, when he abruptly disconnected all of his telephone lines, deposited his apartment keys in his landlord's drop-box, and boarded a flight to Manila. When Nichols was a no-show at mandatory sex-offender treatment, a warrant was issued revoking his supervised release. With the assistance of American security forces, local police in Manila arrested Nichols in December 2012, and federal marshals then escorted him back to the United States, where he was charged with one count of "knowingly fail[ing] to register or update a registration as required by [SORNA]," 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a)(3). After unsuccessfully moving to dismiss the indictment on the ground that SORNA did not require him to update his registration in Kansas, Nichols conditionally pleaded guilty, reserving his right to appeal the denial of his motion.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed. 775 F.3d 1225 (2014). Following its own precedent in United States v. Murphy, 664 F.3d 798 (C.A.10 2011), the panel held that when a sex offender " 'leaves a residence in a state, and then leaves the state entirely, that state remains a jurisdiction involved' " under § 16913. 775 F.3d, at 1229. Over four dissenting votes, the court denied Nichols's petition for rehearing en banc. 784 F.3d 666 (C.A.10 2015). In adhering to Murphy, the Tenth Circuit reentrenched a split created by the Eighth Circuit's decision in United States v. Lunsford, 725 F.3d 859 (2013). Remarkably, Lunsford also involved a sex offender who moved from the Kansas City area—on...

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