Thursday, December 18, 2014

Labyrinthine sex offender registration requirements confound another defendant

US v. Collins - In this appeal, Dwaine Collins challenged his failure to register conviction on the grounds that the government failed to prove that he knew he had an obligation to register.

Collins, an illiterate man, committed the offense that triggered his 10-year registration obligation in 1998 in North Carolina.  After his release from prison, Collins relocated to Ohio where he registered.  In 2002, Collins failed to register, and moved to Parkersburg, WV.  Nine years later, he was arrested in Ohio for an attempted theft, and he received a state failure to register charge dating back to 2002.  A state court judge in Ohio had suggested to Collins in his state court proceeding that the time period for registration could have expired.  After serving a state sentence in Ohio, Collins returned to WV, where he did not register.  Approximately a year and a half later, he received the instant federal indictment for failing to register under SORNA.

The district court determined that Collins knowingly failed to register, finding ample evidence of Collins’ knowing avoidance of his obligation to register.  It held that the knowledge element of the SORNA offense was satisfied as long as Collins knew that he had to register under some scheme, federal or state, but not SORNA specifically.  The district court also determined that the state court judge was merely advising Collins, not giving him a binding legal opinion on Collins’ registration requirements going forward.  The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s findings.

Collins also appealed the reasonableness of his sentence.  He received a sentence of 30 months’ imprisonment, to be followed by a term of supervised release of 10 years.   Pursuant to the Sentencing Commission’s recent clarifying amendment that the supervised release term associated with a SORNA offense is not a “sex offense,” the Fourth Circuit vacated the supervised release portion of Collins’ sentence and remanded for further proceedings.

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