Federal Appeals Court Overturns Lower-Court Rulings that Found Sex Offender Registation Act Unconstitutional

          In the two cases of United States of America vs. Powers and United States of America vs. Buckius, both Mr. Powers and Mr. Buckius were indicted for failing to register as sex offenders as required by the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (otherwise known as "SORNA").  After being indicted, both defendants filed motions asking a United States District Judge from the Middle District of Florida to dismiss the charge of failing to register as a sex offender on the ground that SORNA was unconstitutional.  Both defendants argued that SORNA was unconstitutional because it violated the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution insofar as SORNA did not regulate activities that substantially affected interstate commerce and thus was beyond the scope of Congress's power under the Commerce Clause.

          Although it is rare for a judge to declare a law unconstitutional, the judge in both Powers's and Buckius's cases did just that!  Not surprisingly, however, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida decided not to go down without a fight.  It appealed both decisions to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.  That particular appellate court, which tends to be very conservative, overruled both Powers and Buckius and in so doing relied upon another Eleventh Circuit appellate case--United States of America v. Ambert--which was issued just twenty days before Powers and Buckius were decided.

          In the Ambert case, the defendant, like defendants Powers and Buckius, was indicted for failing to register as a sex offender pursuant to SORNA.  Ambert subsequently filed a motion asking a federal district judge to dismiss the charge against him on the following six grounds:

          1.  He was not bound by the criminal provisions of SORNA because his relevant travel dates occurred before the United States Attorney General decided on February 28, 2007 that SORNA's registration requirements apply to all offenders convicted before July 27, 2006;

          2.  SORNA is unconstitutional because it violates the Non-delegation Doctrine of the U.S. Constitution;

          3.  SORNA is unconstitutional because it violates the Ex Post Facto Clause of the U.S. Constitution;

          4.  SORNA is unconstitutional because it violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution;

          5.  SORNA is unconstitutional because it violates the Due Process Clause of the U. S. Constitution; and

          6.  SORNA is unconstitutional because it violated Mr. Ambert's right to travel.

          Unfortunately for Mr. Ambert, the federal district judge from the Northern District of Florida who decided his case did not find any of his arguments persuasive and therefore denied the motion to dismiss the charge pending against him.  Eventually, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals not only agreed with the lower-court judge that Ambert's case should not be dismissed but also relied upon Ambert in overturning Powers and Buckius.

          The decisions in Ambert, Powers, and Buckius are just three examples of how tough the law is today in the United States when it comes to the issue of sex offenders and the registration requirements for such individuals.

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