June 27, 2011

Supreme Court Decides United States v. Juvenile Male

On June 27, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court decided United States v. Juvenile Male, No. 09-940, vacating as moot the Ninth Circuit's decision holding that the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), 42 U. S. C. §16901 et seq., violates the Ex Post Facto Clause of the Constitution, Art. I, §9, cl. 3, when applied to juveniles adjudicated as delinquent before SORNA's enactment.  

A Juvenile Male pleaded "true" to charges under the Federal Delinquency Act, 18 U.S.C. § 5031, that he had abused a younger child on an Indian reservation and was sentenced to two years of juvenile detention followed by juvenile detention until he was 21.  While the Juvenile Male was in detention, Congress passed SORNA, which requires sex offenders (including juvenile offenders in some circumstances) to register in their local jurisdictions, and an Attorney General's interim rule extended those requirements to sex offenders convicted before SORNA's enactment.  In subsequent court proceedings, the court imposed on the Juvenile Male a "special condition" requiring him to register and keep current as a sex offender until he turned 21.  The Juvenile Male appealed the condition to the Ninth Circuit.  While the appeal was pending, the Male turned 21, and the registration condition expired by its own terms.  The Ninth Circuit subsequently issued a decision on the merits, which ruled the SORNA requirement unconstitutional under the Ex Post Facto clause but did not address mootness.  The government petitioned for certiorari, and the Supreme Court certified a question to the Montana Supreme Court concerning the collateral consequences of the SORNA condition.  The Montana Supreme Court replied that the Male's duty to register in Montana was independent of any conditions imposed by the federal court order. 

Based on this set of circumstances, the Supreme Court vacated the Ninth Circuit's decision as moot and remanded for dismissal.  The Court held that because the order at issue had expired, because the Male suffered no collateral consequences from the order, and because he would never again be subject to such an order, the Ninth Circuit had had no live controversy before it at the time of its decision.  The circuit court thus lacked authority under Article III to decide the case on the merits. 

The Court issued a per curiam decision in the case.  Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor would have remanded the case to the Ninth Circuit for that court's consideration of mootness in the first instance.  Justice Kagan took no part in the consideration of the case. 

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