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Justices Side With Sex Offender in Registry Case

(CN) - The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a convicted sex offender did not have to update his status on the federal sex offender registry after he moved to another country.

Kansas Lester Nichols was convicted of a sex offense in 2003 and was imprisoned until March 2012. Upon his release, he updated his information on a federal registry created by the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act every three months.

That is, until November 2012, when he moved to the Philippines without telling authorities. Nichols was eventually arrested in Manila and deported, and upon his arrival back in the United States, he was charged with not updating his residency status under the Act.

Nichols moved to dismiss the indictment on the grounds that the Act did not require him to update his status after he moved to the Philippines, and that Congress violated the nondelegation doctrine when it gave unrestrained discretion to the U.S. Attorney General to decide whether the Act applies to those convicted before its enactment.

The trial court refused to dismiss the case, prompting Nichols to enter a conditional guilty plea and immediately file an appeal. The 10th Circuit afforded the lower court's ruling.

However, a strikingly similar case played out in the Ninth Circuit, with a three-judge panel deciding for the plaintiff in that case.

Given the split among the circuits, the Supreme Court took up Nichols' case and on Monday reversed his conviction.

Writing for the unanimous court, Justice Samuel Alito said a straightforward reading of the Act does not require registry updates after a sex offender moves out of the United States.

That said, Alito hastened to add the ruling does not allow sex offenders to escape punishment for leaving the country without notice.

That's because Congress recently criminalized the failure of sex offenders to provide information about "travel in foreign commerce."

"We are thus assured that our holding today is not likely to create loopholes and deficiencies" in the nationwide sex offender registration scheme, Alito said.

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