U.S. v. Gonzalez-Medina – Failure to Register as a Sex Offender Can Result in Severe Consequences

Tags: Sex Crimes

Individuals who have been convicted of sex crimes and labeled “sex offenders” are bound by Alabama state and sometimes federal laws requiring registry with designated authorities.

Our Birmingham sex offender defense lawyers know these requirements are often burdensome, and it can be easy to run afoul of them. Unfortunately, courts tend to be quite unforgiving with regard to violations of these statutes, with penalties often including some amount of jail or prison time.

In Alabama, failure to register is considered a Class C felony, which means it’s punishable by up to 10 years in prison. It’s extremely important for those facing such allegations to immediately secure experienced legal representation.

Sex offenders must also abide by the national Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (or SORNA) of 2006. Although SORNA shares many similarities with state law, it is intended to close loopholes that existed. That means sex offenders today face tighter regulation than ever before.

It was an alleged violation of SORNA that led the Texas defendant in U.S. v. Gonzalez-Medina to be sentenced to 4.5 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.

The defendant appealed the conviction on numerous grounds, including that the underlying crime of which he’d been convicted was not a sex offense as defined under SORNA because of an age-differential exception.

Upon review, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the conviction.

According to court records, the defendant was born in Mexico either in 1979 or 1980. In 2005, he was convicted in Wisconsin of engaging in sexual intercourse with a child aged 16 or older. To this charge, he pleaded no contest, and served two months in jail.

Two years after that, he was convicted in a state court in Texas for aggravated assault, and sentenced to serve two years in prison. Just before his release from prison and deportation to Mexico, the defendant was notified by Texas authorities that he was required to register as a sex offender for life, so long as he resided in the U.S., as a result of the Wisconsin conviction. The defendant signed the sex offender registration form and was subsequently deported.

Three years later, federal agents discovered he was in a Texas jail, and had been living in Texas for a full year without having updated his sex offender registration following his illegal return to the U.S.

A federal grand jury indicted him for illegal re-entry and failure to register as a sex offender, per 18 U.S.C. 2250(a). The defendant pleaded guilty to the illegal re-entry charge, but fought the failure-to-register charge on the grounds that his crime wasn’t a sex offense, as defined by SORNA.

SORNA asserts a sex offense is a crime that has an element involving a sexual act or sexual contact with someone else. Under that broad definition, his actions would fall under this umbrella. However, there is also a provision of SORNA that allows an exception if the sex offense in question involved a victim who was 13 or older and a defendant who was less than 4 years older.

The defendant conceded he was more than four years older than the alleged victim in Wisconsin, but argued the court should use a categorical approach in applying this exclusion because there is no four-year age differential element in the Wisconsin law.

The district court denied the motion, and he was convicted as a bench trial.

Upon review, the appellate court declined to apply a categorical approach to the case, and held that because the defendant was more than four years older than the victim at the time of the crime, the age-differential exception was not applicable.

May v. Georgia – Mandatory Reporting Laws May Result in Professionals Facing Criminal Charges

Working as a teacher, social worker or medical professional, communications with children are to be handled with a certain degree of discretion.

However, some professionals are bound by law (specifically, Ala. Code 26-14-3) to report suspected child abuse – which includes sexual abuse. Our Birmingham sex crimes defense lawyers know that sometimes, though, the definition of what constitutes as “suspected” may vary.

In Alabama, if one of the listed professionals is found by a court to have knowingly failed to make a required report, he or she could be convicted of a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine, per Ala. Code 26-14-13 . This may not sound severe, but such a finding could impact the defendant’s current employment status or hinder future employment opportunities.

Many other states, including Georgia, have similar penalties for failure to report.

The case of May v. Georgia involves a high school teacher’s alleged failure to report a suspicion of sexual abuse. Complicating matters, however, was the fact that the 16-year-old alleged victim was no longer a student at the school, after having transferred to another district.

According to court records, the teacher conversed with her former student, during which time the student disclosed she had previously had a sexual relationship with a teacher’s aide for the school.

It was not disputed that this relationship involved sexual activities, which constituted sexual abuse as defined by state law. However, the teacher didn’t make any report to authorities regarding the accusation.

Sometime later, law enforcement learned of the alleged sexual relationship between the former student. Investigators also learned the teacher was told of the relationship and had failed to report it to authorities.

The teacher responded by asserting at the time of the disclosure the student was no longer enrolled at the school where the teacher worked. As such, the teacher argued, she held no duty to the student under state law to make a report.

The trial court rejected this argument, ruling a teacher is required to report abuse involving any child, even one with which the teacher has no relationship. That meant the prosecutors needed only to prove that the defendant was a teacher, that she knew or suspected one or more instances of child abuse, as defined by state law, that she failed to report the alleged abuse and that the alleged crime occurred in the county where the school was located.

The trial court then certified its denial of the teacher’s motion to the appellate court, which then certified it to the Georgia Supreme Court.

The state supreme court reversed, finding the trial court failed to consider the full context of the statute regarding mandatory reporting. One paragraph explicitly states that mandatory reporters who have reasonable cause to suspect abuse of “a child” must file a report with the appropriate authorities. On the surface, “a child” would appear to insinuate “any child.”

However, in other provisions of the statute, there are references to mandatory reporters who hold obligations to specific children, by way of the relationship between the professional and the child. For example, a doctor would be required to report on a suspected abuse of a child who is her patient, but not necessarily one who isn’t. That is, the obligation is limited to children to whom the mandatory reporter attends.

If you are facing criminal charges in Alabama, contact Alabama Criminal Lawyers at (205) 981-2450 or use our online contact form.

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