United States v. Thayer, No. 21-2385 (7th Cir. 2022)
Nature of Case: After molesting his daughter in 2003, defendant pled guilty to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct under Minnesota law. Defendant was sentenced to 33 months’ imprisonment and ten years’ probation and was required to register on Minnesota’s sex offense registry.
Defendant subsequently moved to Wisconsin. Defendant did not register on Wisconsin’s registry. Defendant was charged with failure to register under Federal SORNA in July 2020. Defendant moved to dismiss the indictment arguing that his Minnesota conviction did not qualify as a “sex offense” triggering an obligation to register under Federal SORNA based on a mismatch between Federal SORNA and the Minnesota statute underlying his conviction.
Three analytical frameworks guide courts in assessing whether a prior offense in another jurisdiction constitutes a “sex offense” within the meaning of Federal SORNA. The first and the second—the formal categorical approach and the modified categorical approach—require courts to ignore the defendant’s actual conduct and “look solely to whether the elements of the crime of conviction match the elements of the federal [ ] statute.” Gamboa v. Daniels, 26 F.4th 410, 415 (7th Cir. 2022) (internal quotations omitted). Whereas, the third method, the circumstance-specific approach, focuses on the facts—not the elements—of a prior conviction.
Defendant’s argument in this case, is that applying the categorical approach, the mismatch between the Minnesota statute and SORNA’s definition call for the dismissal of the indictment against him for failure to register under SORNA. The government argued, by contrast, that the circumstance-specific approach should apply.
The district court applied the categorical approach and dismissed the indictment against Defendant.
Holding: The Seventh Circuit vacated and remanded the district court’s order holding (1) as a matter of first impression that courts should employ circumstance-specific approach when determining whether conduct was a sex offense against a minor, as would render conviction a “sex offense” under SORNA; (2) Chevron deference did not apply to Department of Justice’s implementing regulations; (3) circumstance-specific approach applied when determining whether defendant’s sexual conduct fell under “Romeo and Juliet” exception to SORNA.
Jackson-Akiwumi, Circuit Judge, filed dissenting opinion.