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United States v. Under Seal, No. 12-4055

Decided: February 26, 2013

A juvenile defendant-appellant appealed part of his sentence that required him to register under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (“SORNA”).  Appellant claimed that requiring him to register contravened his confidentiality protection under the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act (“FJDA”) and violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.  The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the District Court did not err for imposing this condition of his sentence.

The defendant-appellant admitted to sexually abusing his two half-sisters, ages ten and six at the time.  He was charged with a one-count Information filed under seal in the District of South Carolina; the Information alleged that he was a juvenile under the age of eighteen and had committed an act of juvenile delinquency, aggravated sexual abuse.  He was sentenced to incarceration and juvenile delinquent supervision; he was also required to comply with the mandatory reporting requirements of SORNA.

The Fourth Circuit considered the conflict between the FJDA, requiring juvenile information to be kept confidential, and the mandatory reporting requirements of SORNA which requires typically confidential information about juveniles to be made public.  When two statutes conflict, a more specific statute controls over a more generalized provision; therefore, the Court concluded that the specific provision of SORNA which provides that juvenile sex offenders over the age of fourteen register controlled the outcome of this conflict.  This was further supported by Congressional intent where the legislative history showed in balancing between juvenile confidentiality and public safety, the policy choice was made to protect the public and potential victims by requiring minors to register.  The court also noted that the later in time statute should rule, and SORNA was enacted later than the FJDA.

The Court also considered the defendant-appellant’s argument that the SORNA reporting requirement violated the Eighth Amendment.  To determine whether SORNA’s requirements rose to the level of punishment, the court must consider whether the civil regulatory scheme is punitive in purpose or effect.  The court considered the seven factors from Kennedy v. Mendoza-Martinez, 372 U.S. 144, 168-69 (1963).  The court concluded that SORNA was a civil, nonpunitive regulatory scheme in purpose and effect, and therefore did not violate the Eighth amendment.  Therefore, the district court’s judgment was affirmed.

Full Opinion

-Jennifer B. Routh