Friday, February 07, 2014

Nolo contendere plea “without adjudication” held a SORNA predicate

US v. Bridges:  In this appeal, the Fourth Circuit addressed the issue of whether a nolo contendere plea in the State of Florida to an attempted sexual battery charge, counts as a predicate offense under SORNA, and held that it does.

William Bridges entered a plea in 1999 to a charge of attempted sexual battery upon a child under 16 with adjudication of guilt withheld.  As a result of this judgment, Mr. Bridges was required to register as a sex offender under Florida law, and he was placed on probation for a year.  At some point, he failed to report to his probation officer, and the state revoked his probation; he served just over two months for the revocation.
In 2010, Mr. Bridges moved to Virginia and registered there as a sex offender.  In 2011, he moved to Michigan without updating his registration with a new address. Mr. Bridges did not register as a sex offender with his new address.  Mr. Bridges received an indictment in 2012 for traveling in interstate commerce without updating his sex offender registration.  He moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that his nolo contendere plea without adjudication meant that he had not actually been “convicted” of a sex offense for the purposes of SORNA.  The district court disagreed; Mr. Bridges entered a conditional guilty plea in order to challenge the denial of his motion to dismiss.

The Fourth Circuit panel discussed how Congress left the statutory term “convicted” undefined in SORNA, so that the Attorney General could issue guidelines and regulations for the interpretation and implementation of SORNA, which guidelines have the force and effect of law.  Here, the panel cites that so long as “the sex offender is nevertheless required to serve what amounts to a criminal sentence for the offense,” he is “‘convicted’ of a sex offense and falls within the ambit of SORNA’s registration requirements.”  The panel pointed to his two-year probation term pursuant to his plea, and the fact that Mr. Bridges served three days in jail for the plea, as penal consequences.

Additionally, the Fourth Circuit determined that “without adjudication” does not work to exempt Mr. Bridges from registering as a sex offender.  It reached this conclusion after reviewing decisions from the Eleventh and Eighth Circuits, which held that Floridian nolo contendere pleas with adjudication withheld do constitute “convictions” under federal law.

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