As a Birmingham criminal defense lawyer, I have seen how the law can be used to the prosecution's advantage. While I believe that every person accused of a crime should be considered innocent until proven guilty, I know that society can sometimes convict an individual in their own minds, as well as in the media, long before a verdict is rendered.
One area of the law that seems to favor the state is the apparent retroactive use of the sex offender statute. This has been the subject of many a heated debate within and outside of the halls of justice. But this is not just an academic question. There is real merit in asking whether or not the U.S. Supreme Court should overturn the retroactive application of this law.
Take the case of Thomas Carr, who was arrested in Alabama back in 2003 for inappropriate behavior with a 14-year-old girl. According to reports, the man was accused of touching the teen over her clothes. At the time, Carr pled guilty to 1st-degree sexual abuse. For his punishment, he was jailed and subsequently released from prison in July 2004 based on credit for time previously served.
As dictated by Alabama law, he registered himself as a sex offender three days after his release. Not long after, Carr moved to Ft. Wayne, Indiana, where he was arrested three years later for his involvement in a fight.
After checking Carr's criminal history, Indiana authorities discovered his previously conviction for a sex offense in Alabama, after which they realized that he had not registered as a sex offender under Indiana state law or the federal statute called the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA).
Under Indiana law, sex offenders who fail to register with the state within 10 days are subject to a year in prison, but SORNA requires sex offenders to register three days after they move — failure to comply in a timely manner can result in up to 10 years behind bars.
Although Carr was obviously in violation of Indiana law as it stood at the time of his arrest in 2007, he claimed that he should not have been subjected to punishment under SORNA, due mainly to the fact that the law only went into effect more than a year after his move to Indiana (and three years after his Alabama conviction).
The argument here is that it was impossible for Carr to take into account what the federal law was because it didn't exist at the time of the second crime, as per the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, an organization that supports Carr's position.
Much more is involved, but the main takeaway here is that criminal defendants, especially those accused of sexually-based crimes, have a tough enough time getting a fair shake. This is why it is always important to retain a qualified and experienced criminal attorney to review your case and provide you with as many options before facing that jury.
Breaking a Law…That Doesn't Exist Yet, Newsweek.com, February 23, 2010