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USA v Roberson

5-21-2014:

USA v Roberson

This case addresses an important question of interpretation of first impression in the federal courts of appeals. Defendant James Roberson appeals from a district court denial of his motion to dismiss and from his criminal conviction for his failure to register as a sex offender under SORNA, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act. 18 U.S.C. § 2250.

At the time of his federal indictment in July 2012, Roberson stood convicted, in 1998, of the Massachusetts crime of indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of 14. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, § 13B. He did not appeal from that conviction; nor did he ever register as a sex offender at any time between 2010 and 2012, though he had been notified of his obligation to do so.

Four months after his federal SORNA indictment, on November 16, Roberson moved to withdraw his guilty plea to the sex crime in the state court. Roberson did not and does not allege that he was innocent of the indecent assault. But he did allege that his guilty plea had entered after a constitutionally defective procedure. The local prosecutor did not oppose the motion because the plea judge had utilized incomplete and inadequate plea-colloquy procedures before June 16, 2000 and there was no independent evidence that the proper plea procedures were followed during Roberson's March 4, 1998 plea hearing.1 The local state district court allowed the unopposed motion on January 11, 2013. We assume arguendo that Roberson's plea colloquy was constitutionally defective.

On February 15, 2013, Roberson moved to dismiss his federal charges on the basis that he no longer had a predicate sex offense to support a SORNA violation. More specifically, he argued that because of the constitutional defect, he was never "validly" convicted. He argued that his case is governed by Burgett v. Texas, 389 U.S. 109 (1967), and not by Lewis v. United States, 445 U.S. 55 (1980).

Agreeing with the district court, we hold that SORNA's registration requirement applied to Roberson as a person who "was convicted" of a sex offense, 42 U.S.C. § 16911(1), enforced by 18 U.S.C. § 2250, regardless of whether that conviction is later vacated, when federal charges have been brought for conduct before the vacation of conviction. We also reject Roberson's additional challenges.

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