Monday, June 13, 2016

Interstate domestic violence conviction creates basis for registration requirement under SORNA

US v. Faulls:  In this appeal, the Fourth Circuit considered whether conviction for the crime of interstate domestic violence required the defendant to register as a sex offender under SORNA.  Appellant Thomas Faulls received several charges stemming from the several attacks he made on his soon-to-be-ex-wife, including kidnapping, interstate domestic violence, and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence.  Faulls appealed the district court’s requirement that he register as a sex offender under SORNA.

Faulls argued that the district court erred plainly in requiring him to register as a sex offender, because interstate domestic violence is not one of the enumerated crimes that qualifies as a sex offense under SORNA.  The Fourth Circuit, however, found that the SORNA also provides other definitions for sex offense, including an offense with an element “involving a sexual act or sexual contact with another.” The government argued that Faulls’ interstate domestic violence conviction satisfied this definition, and the Fourth Circuit agreed, finding further that the offense of interstate domestic violence contained a penalty enhancement for offenders whose qualifying violence conduct constitutes sexual abuse, including aggravated sexual abuse, which the jury found Faulls committed here.

The jury’s finding of aggravation created a statutory question of whether that finding was an “element” of Faulls’ “offense” which implicated the categorical and modified categorical approaches for a determination of what constitutes a sex offense under SORNA.  Ultimately, the Fourth Circuit determined that the offense of interstate domestic violence can create a registration requirement, depending upon which underlying crime of violence the district court relies.

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