(CN) – The Supreme Court announced Monday that it will hear a narrow constitutional challenge to federal sex offender regulations.
The law, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, increased punishments for sex offenders, keeping them in the registry for decades and strictly limiting their freedom of movement after they finish serving their prison sentences.
But in enacting the law, Congress did not clarify how it should apply to sex offenders convicted before its passage.
Historically, courts have held that it is unconstitutional for the government to apply a new criminal law retroactively to punish an offender who committed his crime before the law’s passage.
But in 2003, the Supreme Court rejected this principle during a challenge to Alaska’s sex offender registration act. Although the state applied the law retroactive, the high court held Alaska’s actions did not violate the clause.
Herman Gundy, the petitioner in the current case, was convicted of a sex offense before the Act’s passage, decided to challenge the federal law’s retroactivity under the nondelegation doctrine.
Under this theory, Congress infringes upon the constitutional separation of powers when it delegates too much legislative authority to another branch of government.
Gundy asserts that Congress delegated an unconstitutional amount of power to the attorney general by allowing him to determine how to apply the act retroactively.
Gundy was arrested in the Bronx on Oct. 24, 2012, and charged with traveling between Pennsylvania and New York before properly registering as sex offender in the latter state. A federal court dismissed the case, finding the Gundy was not “required to register” within the meaning of the law at the time of his alleged interstate travel, but the Second Circuit reversed that decision.
Gundy was retried, and convicted of failing to register as a sex offender before his alleged travels. The court sentenced him to time served and five years of supervised release. On June 22, 2017, the Second Circuit
issued an unpublished summary order upholding his conviction.
As is their custom, the justices did not explain their rationale for taking up the case.