The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act

The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, also known as SORNA, is part of a comprehensive federal law that requires states to maintain a system for monitoring and tracking convicted sex offenders following their release into the community. The Act makes it a federal crime to knowingly fail to register with a state's authorities, or to fail to update registration at specified times, in accordance with the law's requirements.

SORNA applies to all 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as to Native American tribes and nations and U.S. territories in the Pacific. The Department of Justice monitors each jurisdiction's compliance with SORNA, and regularly reports on how the law has been implemented. Below, you'll find more information on the development of SORNA, how the Act works, and the consequences of failing to comply with its requirements.

Background Behind SORNA

The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act was passed by Congress in 2006 under Title I of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. The law was enacted 25 years after the murder of Adam Walsh, a six year old boy who was abducted from a shopping mall in Florida and was later found murdered. Although no one was ever tried for the crime, Florida police closed that case in 2008 when they announced that a convicted serial killer who had died in 1996 while imprisoned for other murders was the likely killer.

How SORNA Works

While each state defines for itself what types of crimes are considered sex offenses -- as well as what the appropriate punishment is for each crime -- SORNA categorizes those offenses into three "tiers" according to the length of prison term the law requires, aggravating circumstances, the age of the victim, and other factors. Each tier imposes certain reporting requirements on the offenders. Below is a general outline of how each tier defines a particular crime, as well as the obligations it imposes on sex offenders after release from prison.

Tier III Offenses

This is the most serious of the three tiers under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act. A Tier III crime is one that is punishable by at least a year in prison and is accompanied by aggravated sexual abuse or abusive sexual contact when committed against a minor under 13 years old. A crime can also fall into this category if it involved the kidnapping of a minor not accompanied by a parent or guardian, or if it was committed after the offender had committed a Tier II crime. Offenders convicted of Tier III crimes have a lifetime reporting requirement, meaning that the offender must register with local authorities every time he or she changes address or moves to a different jurisdiction.

Tier II Offenses

Like a Tier III offense, a crime is considered a Tier II offense if it's punishable by imprisonment for at least a year. However, a Tier II offense is one that involves sex trafficking, coercion or enticement, transporting another with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, or abusive sexual activity with a minor of 13 years or older. It can also involve the use of a minor in a sexual performance, soliciting a minor to engage in prostitution, or producing or distributing child pornography. Conviction of a Tier II crime carries a 25-year reporting requirement.

Tier I Offenses

Tier I crimes are defined as those offenses that do not fall into the other two tiers. Tier I offenders must register for 10 years if they have a "clean record," meaning the offender must not be convicted of any subsequent offense punishable by a year or more in prison, or of any sexual offense, and must successfully complete any required parole period or sexual offender treatment program. Otherwise, an offender must register for 15 years after release from prison.

Failure to Register Under SORNA

Under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, state convicted sex offenders who knowingly fail to register or update their registration can be prosecuted. Offenders may be required to pay fines and can face up to 10 years in prison. If an offender fails to register, and also commits a violent federal crime, he may face up to 30 years in prison.

Free Case Review

As you can see, there are significant penalties for failing to register under SORNA. To understand whether this applies to you and what you can do to ensure your compliance, contact a local criminal defense attorney. You can speak with one today and even receive a free review of your case.

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