SORNA - basic history and provisions.

AuthorMcPherson, Lori
PositionSex Offender Registration and Notification Act

THE SEX OFFENDER Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) is found in title I of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, and is designed to create a seamless system of sex offender registration and notification across the country. The 50 States, five principal U.S. Territories and the District of Columbia are required to implement SORNA by the required deadline, or face a 10 percent reduction of their funding under the Byrne/JAG grant program. (1) Of the federally-recognized Indian tribes that were eligible to opt-in to SORNA, approximately 195 have elected to become SORNA-implementing jurisdictions and must implement SORNA in a timely manner, or face delegation of their sex offender registration, notification and enforcement efforts to the States in which they are located. (2)


Five jurisdictions have substantially implemented SORNA: Delaware, Florida, Ohio, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. Numerous additional jurisdictions are actively working with the Department of Justice's Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking (SMART) to substantially implement SORNA's provisions. The current implementation deadline is July 26, 2011. (3)


How could SORNA impact the local prosecutor? Whether or not your jurisdiction intends to implement SORNA, the local practitioner should be aware of the implications of SORNA on both their open and closed cases.


Generally speaking, persons convicted of sex offenses are ordered to register as a sex offender in the course of their sentencing proceeding. The actual "notice form" explaining a sex offender's detailed registration responsibilities might come from a jurisdiction's courts system, probation and parole officers, corrections officials, or other law enforcement agents. It is this "notice form," usually acknowledged and signed by the sex offender, which forms the basis of any future failure to register prosecution. (4)

In light of SORNA, what kind of notice should the prosecutor ensure that the convicted sex offender receives? SORNA itself requires that any implementing jurisdiction provide the following notice to a person required to register as a sex offender:

An appropriate official shall, shortly before release of the sex offender from custody, or, if the sex offender is not in custody, immediately after the sentencing of the sex offender, for the offense giving rise to the duty to register--

(1) inform the sex offender of the duties of a sex offender under [the jurisdiction's registration and notification system as well as SORNA] and explain those duties; [and]

(2) require the sex offender to read and sign a form stating that the duty to register has been explained and that the sex offender understands the registration requirement[.]

One of the benefits to the local prosecutor of following such a notice procedure is that any such notified sex offender who travels in interstate commerce and thereafter fails to register would be subject to the enforcement provisions of the federal failure to register statute, 18 U.S.C. [section]2250. The U.S. Marshals Service is tasked with enforcement of 18 U.S.C. [section]2250, and hundreds of [section]2250 cases have been prosecuted on the federal level. As with any other failure to register prosecution, the viability of these cases can hinge on whether or not a sex offender has been given proper notice of their duty to register under the applicable law. In the case of the non-compliant sex offender, proper due process notice under SORNA as described above will effectuate this possible enforcement capacity. In the case of a compliant sex offender, it will ensure the safety of the community and assist law enforcement beyond the borders of the jurisdiction in which the prosecutor serves by providing that offender notice of their registration responsibilities should they choose to relocate to another jurisdiction for their residence, work, or school.


If your jurisdiction substantially implements SORNA, in what ways might you be required to...

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