USA v. Jimmy Coleman
OPINION and JUDGMENT filed: AFFIRMED, decision for publication pursuant to local rule 206. Karen Nelson Moore, R. Guy Cole, Jr. (AUTHORING), Circuit Judges; Sandra S. Beckwith, U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Ohio.
RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION
Pursuant to Sixth Circuit Rule 206
File Name: 12a0085p.06
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Plaintiff-Appellee, No. 10-5283
Appeal from the United States District Court
for the Eastern District of Kentucky at Pikeville.
No. 09-00030-001—Amul R. Thapar, District Judge.
Decided and Filed: March 29, 2012
Before: MOORE and COLE, Circuit Judges; BECKWITH, District Judge.*
ON BRIEF: Matthew R. Malone, HURT, CROSBIE & MAY, PLLC, Lexington,
Kentucky, for Appellant. Charles P. Wisdom, Jr., Brandon W. Marshall, ASSISTANT
UNITED STATES ATTORNEYS, Lexington, Kentucky, for Appellee.
COLE, Circuit Judge.
Defendant-Appellant Jimmy Coleman entered a
conditional guilty plea to traveling in interstate commerce and failing to register as a sex
offender under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (“SORNA” or “the
statute”), 18 U.S.C. § 2250. He reserved the right to challenge the constitutionality of
the statute. On appeal, Coleman contends that SORNA, as applied to him, violates the
The Honorable Sandra S. Beckwith, Senior United States District Judge for the Southern District
of Ohio, sitting by designation.
United States v. Coleman
Ex Post Facto Clause and that it constitutes an invalid exercise of Congress’s powers
under the Commerce Clause. We disagree and AFFIRM.
On October 30, 2002, Jimmy Coleman was convicted of sexual battery, an
offense requiring him to register as a sex offender under Ohio law. Three days before
he was released from prison, in July 2005, Coleman signed a notice acknowledging his
duty to register personally in each county in Ohio, or any other state where he resided,
upon five days of arriving there. He did not register in Ohio. Some time before SORNA
went into effect, Coleman moved permanently to Kentucky and again did not register.
On April 28, 2009, he was arrested for a parole violation. Coleman had made sporadic
trips from Kentucky to West Virginia between May 2008 and mid-February 2009,
including several after SORNA became effective on August 1, 2008.
On August 6, 2009, the United States indicted Coleman on one count of violating
18 U.S.C. § 2250(a), failure to register as a sex offender. On September 24, 2009,
Coleman filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, challenging the constitutionality of
§ 2250(a). United States v. Coleman, Crim. No. 09-30-ART, 2009 WL 4255545, at *1
(E.D. Ky. Nov. 24, 2009). The motion was denied. Id. On December 8, 2009, Coleman
pleaded guilty to violating § 2250(a). He reserved the right to appeal the district court’s
denial of his motion to dismiss the indictment. This appeal follows.
Congress enacted SORNA as part of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and
Safety Act (“AWCPSA”). Carr v. United States, 130 S. Ct. 2229, 2232 (2010) (citing
Pub. L. No. 109-248, Tit. 1, 120 Stat. 590). The AWCPSA arose after previous, statecentered attempts to regulate the interstate movement of unregistered sex offenders had
failed. Congress found that the state-based regime “left loopholes and gaps,” United
States v. Gould, 568 F.3d 459, 473 (4th Cir. 2009), allowing sex offenders to evade
registration requirements “when the sex offender moves from one State to another.”
Carr, 130 S. Ct. at 2240 (quoting H.R. Rep. No. 109-218, pt. 1, at 26 (2005) (internal
United States v. Coleman
quotation marks removed)).
Consequently, by 2006, one fifth of all sex
offenders—more than 100,000 people—had become “missing” from the system. Id.
(quoting H.R. Rep. No. 109-218, pt. 1, at 26 (2005)).
Citing “a strong public interest in finding [unregistered sex offenders] and having
them register with current information,” H.R. Rep. No. 109-218, pt. 1, at 24 (2005),
Congress enacted the AWCPSA. By this law, Congress created a national registry of sex
offenders, allowing all states to access information from a single database. Additionally,
the AWCPSA enhanced registration requirements and interstate monitoring, so that “if
the sex offender either moves to a new State, works in a new State, or attends school in
a new State, the new State is required to notify the other State that the sex offender is
doing so in that State.” Id. at 26. SORNA enforces the requirements of the AWCPSA,
(a) IN GENERAL.—Whoever—
(1) is required to register under the Sex Offender Registration and
(2) . . . (B) travels in interstate or foreign commerce, or enters or
leaves, or resides in, Indian country; and
(3) knowingly fails to register or update a registration as required
by the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act;
shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or
18 U.S.C. § 2250. Each of SORNA’s elements “must be satisfied in sequence,
culminating in a post-SORNA failure to register.” Carr, 130 S. Ct. at 2235 (internal
quotation marks omitted). While SORNA applies retroactively to all individuals
convicted of sexually oriented offenses regardless of the date of conviction, the elements
of travel and of failure to register must both take place after the Attorney General made
SORNA applicable to pre-enactment offenders on August 1, 2008. United States v.
Stevenson, — F.3d —, Nos. 10-1043, 10-1117, 2012 WL 573326, at *1 (6th Cir. Feb.
23, 2012); United States v. Utesch, 596 F.3d 302, 311 (6th Cir. 2010); see Reynolds v.
United States, 565 U.S. —, 132 S. Ct. 975, 980 (2012) (SORNA does not apply to pre-
United States v. Coleman
enactment offenders until the Attorney General so specifies); Carr, 130 S. Ct. at 2233
(“Liability under § 2250, we hold, cannot be predicated on pre-SORNA travel.”).
Coleman challenges the district court’s application of SORNA to him as
unconstitutional. First, he claims that SORNA violates the Ex Post Facto Clause of the
Constitution, U.S. Const. art. I, § 9, cl. 3 by punishing him on the basis of pre-enactment
conduct. Second, Coleman claims that SORNA is unconstitutional because it regulates
conduct that falls outside the scope of Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause,
U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 3.
A. Standard of Review
We review the denial of a motion to dismiss the indictment for an abuse of
discretion. United States v. Middleton, 246 F.3d 825, 841 (6th Cir. 2001). We review
a district court’s determination of the constitutionality of federal statutes de novo.
United States v. Napier, 233 F.3d 394, 397 (6th Cir. 2000).
B. Ex Post Facto Clause Challenge
The Ex Post Facto Clause prohibits Congress from passing any law that
(1) retroactively imposes punishment for an act that was not punishable when
committed, (2) retroactively increases the punishment for a crime after its commission,
or (3) deprives one charged with a crime of a defense that was available at the time the
crime was committed. Collins v. Youngblood, 497 U.S. 37, 42 (1990). Coleman
contends that, because the sentences for SORNA violations are tailored to the nature of
the defendant’s prior sex-offense convictions, SORNA actually punishes the prior sex
offense and not the failure to register. Thus, applying SORNA to individuals who
committed the underlying sex offense prior to its effective date retroactively increases
the punishment for the subject offense after its commission, bringing it into the second
category of Ex Post Facto Clause violations. In United States v. Felts, we held that such
an application of SORNA does not violate the Ex Post Facto Clause. — F.3d —, No.
11-5237, 2012 WL 762977, at *5 (6th Cir. Mar. 12, 2012).
United States v. Coleman
C. Commerce Clause Challenge
Coleman’s second constitutional challenge alleges that SORNA exceeds the
ambit of Congress’s power “[t]o regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among
the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.” U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 3. In United
States v. Lopez, the Supreme Court articulated three broad categories of activity that
Congress may regulate through its commerce power:
First, Congress may regulate the use of the channels of interstate
commerce. Second, Congress is empowered to regulate and protect the
instrumentalities of interstate commerce, or persons or things in interstate
commerce, even though the threat may come only from intrastate
activities. Finally, Congress’ commerce authority includes the power to
regulate those activities having a substantial relation to interstate
514 U.S. 549, 558-59 (1995) (internal citations omitted). We invalidate statutes only if
they bear no rational relationship to any of these powers. United States v. Faasse, 265
F.3d 475, 481 (6th Cir. 2001) (en banc) (citing Hodel v. Va. Surface Mining &
Reclamation Ass’n, 452 U.S. 264, 276 (1981)).
Coleman argues that SORNA fits into none of the Lopez categories. He contends
that SORNA exceeds the first prong because, due to the fact that registration is not
required until after the offender exits the stream of interstate commerce to settle in a
given location, SORNA lacks a nexus to interstate commerce. He maintains that
SORNA exceeds the second prong because its focus on offender registration, as opposed
to offender travel, decouples it from any “instrumentality of interstate commerce” that
Congress constitutionally may regulate. Finally, he alleges that SORNA exceeds the
third prong because it regulates activity with no cognizable relation to interstate
commerce, as neither travel nor registry “substantially affect” commerce.
None of these arguments is availing. We find that SORNA fits comfortably
within the first two Lopez prongs. Accord United States v. George, 625 F.3d 1124,
1129-30 (9th Cir. 2010), vacated on other grounds, — F.3d —, No. 08-30339, 2012 WL
718297 (9th Cir. Mar. 7, 2012); United States v. DiTomasso, 621 F.3d 17, 26 (1st Cir.
United States v. Coleman
2010), vacated on other grounds in light of Reynolds by No. 10-8532, 2012 WL 538283
(Feb. 21, 2012); United States v. Vasquez, 611 F.3d 325, 330-31 (7th Cir. 2010); United
States v. Shenandoah, 595 F.3d 151, 160 (3d Cir. 2010), abrogated on other grounds by
Reynolds, 565 U.S. at —, 132 S. Ct. at 980; United States v. Guzman, 591 F.3d 83, 89-92
(2d Cir. 2010); United States v. Whaley, 577 F.3d 254, 259-61 (5th Cir. 2009); United
States v. Gould, 568 F.3d 459, 470-75 (4th Cir. 2009); United States v. Ambert, 561 F.3d
1202, 1210-12 (11th Cir. 2009); United States v. Lawrance, 548 F.3d 1329, 1337 (10th
Cir. 2008); United States v. May, 535 F.3d 912, 921-22 (8th Cir. 2008), abrogated on
other grounds by Reynolds, 565 U.S. at —, 132 S. Ct. at 980. We therefore decline to
address the third Lopez prong.
1. The First Lopez Prong
SORNA constitutes a valid regulation of the use of the channels of interstate
commerce. The “commerce” that Congress may regulate through the first Lopez prong
is not limited to economic matters, but rather may encompass “using the channels of
interstate commerce to bring ‘the spread of any evil or harm to the people of other states
from the state of origin.’” United States v. Al-Zubaidy, 283 F.3d 804, 811 (6th Cir. 2002)
(quoting Brooks v. United States, 267 U.S. 432, 436 (1925)). Where a statute lacks a
clear economic purpose, the inclusion of an explicit jurisdictional element suffices to
“ensure, through case-by-case inquiry, that the [violation] in question affects interstate
commerce.” Lopez, 514 U.S. at 561.
Indeed, we regard the presence of such a jurisdictional element as the touchstone
of valid congressional use of its Commerce Clause powers to regulate non-commercial
activity. To wit, after the Supreme Court struck down the civil remedies provision of
the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”), see United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S.
598, 613 (2000), we upheld various criminal provisions of the same statute in both AlZubaidy and United States v. Page, 167 F.3d 325, 325 (6th Cir. 1999) (en banc), cert.
denied, 528 U.S. 1003 (1999). In each case, the presence of a “jurisdictional element”
involving interstate travel brought the criminal provision unquestionably within the first
prong of Lopez. See Al-Zubaidy, 283 F.3d at 812 (“The language of the statute provides
United States v. Coleman
an explicit jurisdictional element requiring interstate travel, an element that reinforces
its category one justification . . . .”); Page, 167 F.3d at 334-35 (Moore, J., concurring)
(“Section 2261(a)(2) is similarly constitutional under the Commerce Clause because the
interstate domestic violence provision’s requirement of ‘the crossing of a state line . . .
plac[es] the [commission of a crime of violence causing bodily injury] squarely in
interstate commerce.’”) (quoting United States v. Bailey, 112 F.3d 758, 766 (4th Cir.
1997)) (alterations in Page). We have applied this same principle to other statutory
schemes. See United States v. Chesney, 86 F.3d 564, 570 (6th Cir. 1996) (finding that
the presence of a jurisdictional element defeated defendant’s challenge to a felon-inpossession statute).
SORNA fits comfortably within this rubric. It contains an express jurisdictional
element, conditioning conviction under SORNA on the government proving that the
defendant has used the channels of interstate commerce by traveling to another state or
country. See 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a)(2). Although not directed at economic activity,
SORNA targets “the spread of [an] evil or harm” via the channels and instrumentalities
of interstate commerce; namely, “the evasion of sex offender registration requirements
by sex offenders who have crossed jurisdictional lines.” Lawrance, 548 F.3d at 1337.
Thus, we join several of our sister circuits in finding that SORNA’s jurisdictional
element, coupled with its purpose, creates the requisite nexus to the use of the channels
of interstate commerce. See, e.g., George, 625 F.3d at 1130 (Ninth Circuit); DiTomasso,
621 F.3d at 26 (First Circuit); United States v. Hinckley, 550 F.3d 926, 940 (10th Cir.
2008), abrogated on other grounds by Reynolds v. United States, 565 U.S. at —, 132 S.
Ct. at 980; May, 535 F.3d at 922 (Eighth Circuit). That the culminating act—the failure
to register—does not occur until the defendant exits the stream of interstate commerce
is irrelevant to the constitutionality of the statute. Cf. Page, 167 F.3d at 334 (upon
inclusion of a jurisdictional element, “[a]ny arguably intrastate nature or timing of the
crime . . . is irrelevant”). Accordingly, SORNA bears a rational relationship to
Congress’s power to regulate the channels of interstate commerce.
United States v. Coleman
2. The Second Lopez Prong
SORNA also constitutes a valid regulation of the instrumentalities of interstate
commerce. As Lopez explains, the “instrumentalities of interstate commerce” include
“persons or things in interstate commerce.” 514 U.S. at 558. When Coleman traveled
across state lines, he became a “person . . . in interstate commerce.” Cf. Vasquez,
611 F.3d at 330; Shenandoah, 595 F.3d at 161; Guzman, 591 F.3d at 90; Gould, 568 F.3d
at 472; Ambert, 561 F.3d at 1211; Hinckley, 550 F.3d at 940; May, 535 F.3d at 921. As
with the first Lopez prong, it cannot be said that SORNA’s focus on Coleman’s failure
to register as a sex offender so decouples the regulated conduct from the
instrumentalities of interstate commerce that it becomes unconstitutional. Rather, it
suffices that the government must prove that Coleman was a “person . . . in interstate
commerce” during a particular period, i.e., between the time that Coleman’s duty to
register under SORNA arose and when he failed to perform that duty. See Carr, 130 S.
Ct. at 2233.
Thus, SORNA fits squarely within Congress’s Commerce Clause powers and the
district court did not abuse its discretion by failing to dismiss the indictment.
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