The highly technical SORNA statute – a dubious component in efforts to prevent sexual violence – continues to accrue appellate drubbings. In United States v. Lunsford, issued on August 5, 2013, the Eighth Circuit held that an individual subject to sex offender registration is not required under SORNA to notify the registry of a change of residence if he relocates after travelling overseas.
Lunsford, a registered sex offender in Missouri, had boarded a flight to the Philippines and did not return. Months later, he was arrested and deported back to the United States where he was charged with violating SORNA’s provision requiring sex offenders to update their registration. He entered a conditional plea, and appealed the district court’s denial of his motion to dismiss the indictment. Strictly interpreting the applicable statutory text, the Eighth Circuit reversed, holding SORNA did not require Lunsford to update his registration.
Under SORNA, a change of residence triggers an obligation on the part of a sex offender to update a “jurisdiction involved” with the address of his new residence. SORNA’s definition of “jurisdiction” excludes foreign countries, so Lunsford was not required to register in the Philippines. Nor was he required to register the change of residence in Missouri, since Missouri is only a “jurisdiction involved” when a sex offender “resides” there. “‘Resides’ is a present-tense verb, and ‘the present tense generally does not include the past.’” Since Lunsford did not change his residence and trigger a reporting obligation until after he left the United States, Missouri was no longer the location of his home or a place where he habitually lived. Thus, Lunsford did not “reside” in Missouri when he changed his residence.