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Media Alerts - United States v. Hill - Eighth Circuit
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June 10, 2016
  United States v. Hill - Eighth Circuit
Headline Eighth Circuit panel affirms decision concerning meaning of "sex offense" for purposes of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act

Area of Law Criminal Law

Issue(s) Presented Whether the district court properly denied Defendant's motion to dismiss the indictment against him for failing to register as a sex offender.

Brief Summary Defendant pleaded guilty in South Carolina state court to "willfully, maliciously, and indecently expos[ing] his person in a public place, on the property of others, or in the view of any person on the street or highway." S.C. Code Ann. § 16-15-130(A)(1). As such, the court ordered him to register in both sex offender and child abuser registries in South Carolina, which he did. Afterward, Congress enacted the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) to more uniformly protect the public from sex offenders throughout the U.S. SORNA criminalizes a sex offender's knowing failure to register or update certain information within three business days of changing residence. 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a); 42 U.S.C. § 16913(a), (c). Defendant moved from South Carolina to Arkansas after SORNA was enacted, but did not update his sex offender registry information for several months, resulting in his indictment.

The district court denied Defendant's motion to dismiss the indictment, and this appeal followed. Defendant primarily argued that the district court should have dismissed the indictment because his South Carolina conviction did not trigger SORNA's reporting requirements. Defendant contended that his conviction for indecent exposure did not make him a "sex offender" obligated to register because it was not a "sex offense" as defined by SORNA. SORNA defines a "sex offender" as "an individual who was convicted of a sex offense, " and in turn defines in relevant part a "sex offense" as "a criminal offence that is a specified offense against a minor," which includes "conduct that by its nature is a sex offense against a minor." 42 U.S.C. § 16911.

On appeal, a panel of the Eighth Circuit disagreed with Defendant. It rejected Defendant's argument that the court must only look at the crime's statutory definition, and not at the facts underlying the conviction, in determining whether it meets the definition of a "sex offense." Instead, the Eighth Circuit adopted the approach taken by three other federal circuits and held that when determining whether a prior offense constitutes "conduct that by its nature is a sex offense against a minor" under SORNA, a court should employ a circumstance-specific approach. Using this approach, a court should consider any reliable evidence about the circumstances under which the crime was committed. The court held that this approach is compelled by the text and purposes of SORNA.

Applying the circumstance-specific approach to this case, the court determined that Defendant committed a "sex offense" within the meaning of SORNA because his victim was an eleven-year-old girl. Therefore, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the motion to dismiss the indictment.

The full text of the opinion may be found at

Panel Circuit Judges Arnold, Shepherd, and Wollman

Date of Issued Opinion April 29, 2016

Decided Affirmed

Docket Number 15-3193

Counsel Ashleigh Buckley for the United States and Chistopher Aaron Holt for Defendant

Author Circuit Judge Arnold

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor Joelle Larson, University of Minnesota Law School

    Posted By: Joelle Larson @ 06/10/2016 03:34 PM     8th Circuit  

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