Why State of Residence Only Background Checks Just Aren’t Enough

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In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that a convicted sex offender in Alabama did not by law have to register in the state of Indiana because his conviction pre-dates the 2006 passage of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA).   Thomas Carr, convicted in Alabama in 2004 of first degree sexual abuse of a minor, was arrested in Indiana and faced a 30 month prison sentence for failing to register as a sex offender in that state.  Carr took his case to the Supreme Court arguing that since his conviction pre-dated the SORNA law, imprisoning him for not registering would be unconstitutional.  The Supreme Court agreed.

One of the reasons the Justice’s agreed with Carr was the use of the word “travel” in the language of the Act.  Congress used the present tense of the word (travels), not the past tense (traveled) when referring to sex offenders who move from state to state.  In the Justice’s opinion, if Congress had wanted to make registration requirements retroactive, they would have used the word “traveled.” 

A very big mistake on Congress’ part or too narrow of a reading of the law?  Perhaps both.  Either way, a hard hit to law enforcement and the general public.

So, yet another very valid reason that running a background check in an applicant’s state of residence alone is not a good policy.  If Carr had applied for a position with a company in Indiana that only conducted state of residence background checks, they would not have known about his sex offender status in Alabama.  If running state of residence only checks, employers may miss some very key components of their applicants’ past that could alter their hiring decision by 180 degrees.

Registry law doesn’t apply to all sex offenders, Supreme Court rules

A sex offender who moved from Alabama to Indiana in 2004 does not have to register with authorities because his move predates the registry law Congress enacted in 2006, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.

By Warren Richey – June 1, 2010

A national sex offender registry law does not apply to interstate travel by a sex offender that took place before Congress passed the registry statute in 2006, the US Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.

In a 6-to-3 decision, the high court rejected the Obama administration’s expansive reading of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). Instead, the majority justices embraced a narrower view of the law, while overturning a convicted sex offender’s 30-month prison sentence for traveling to another state and failing to register.

The decision triggered a heated dissent by three justices who warned that the ruling will impair the ability of law enforcement officials to locate and register some 100,000 convicted sex offenders who have eluded authorities.

“Under the court’s interpretation, the many sex offenders who had managed to avoid pre-existing registration regimes, mainly by moving from one state to another before SORNA’s enactment, are placed beyond the reach of the federal criminal laws,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote.

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    • Nick Fishman

      Thanks for the props. We’ve been blogging since 2005.