24 June 2013

Law in Plain English: United States v. Kebodeaux

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

United States v. Kebodeaux

In 1999, Kebodeaux was convicted of statutory rape in whole in the military. He served his sentence and was discharged (and under no further control of the military or the federal government in general). In 2006, Congress enacted the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) that required registration of sex offenders, and he was convicted of failing to update his change of address when he moved. A panel of the Fifth Circuit affirmed his conviction, but it was reversed en banc. The questions before the Court were: (1) whether the court of appeals erred in conducting its analysis on the premise that respondent was not under a federal registration obligation until SORNA was enacted, when pre-SORNA federal law obligated him to register as a sex offender; and (2) whether the court of appeals erred in holding that Congress lacks the Article I authority to provide for criminal penalties as applied to a person who was convicted of a sex offense under federal law and completed his criminal sentence before SORNA was enacted. In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that SORNA’s registration requirements as applied to Kebodeaux fall within the scope of Congress’ authority under the Necessary and Proper Clause. The Court reasoned that, upon his release, Kebodeaux was still subject to the Wetterling Act and thus his release was condition.  As a result, Congress still had the power to require him to register. The practical impact of this decision affirms the power of Congress to exert control over offenders even after their sentences have been served.
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