Doe v. Department of Justice, No. 22-855 (C.D. Cal. 2023)
Nature of Case: Plaintiffs John Doe and the Alliance for Constitutional Sex Offense Laws (“ACSOL”) filed a case against the United States Department of Justice and Merrick Garland, Attorney General of the United States, in his official capacity. The case involves the federal Sex Offense Registration and Notification Act (“SORNA”) and a recent final rule (the “Rule”) adopted by the Department of Justice in December 2021, which went into effect on January 7, 2022.
For some background, SORNA is spending clause legislation which sets forth standards for states and territories to follow in implementing registration and notification obligations. The Federal government incentivizes states to adopt SORNA’s registration and notification standards by conditioning federal funding on the jurisdictions’ substantial implementation of its requirements. The Federal government does not maintain its own registration system, and individuals cannot comply with SORNA by providing information directly to the federal government. Instead, SORNA relies on the registration systems established by states to collect the required information. Some states, however, do not require registrants to provide the same information required under SORNA.
In the recent Rule, among other things the Department of Justice stated that a registrant may be prosecuted for a failure to comply with SORNA’s requirements under 18 U.S.C. 2250, even if they are not in violation of state law. However, if a required registrant is unable to provide the information required by SORNA because of “circumstances beyond their control” the required registrant may assert an impossibility defense in the event of prosecution.
In response to the DOJ’s Rule, Plaintiffs filed complaints alleging violations of (1) the Due Process Clause, (2) the First Amendment, (3) the Administrative Procedure Act, and (4) the non-delegation doctrine and separation of powers. Plaintiffs subsequently moved for a preliminary injunction.
Holding: District Court for the Central District of California granted a preliminary injunction, enjoining the federal government from prosecuting California residents under 18 U.S.C. § 2250 for a violation of SORNA without first obtaining certification from the State of California that the individual was required to register under California state law and, in a prosecution for a failure to provide specific required information, that California law allows the individual to furnish that information to state authorities. In its opinion, the Court concludes that the government violates due process by relieving itself of the burden of proving an essential element of the crime of failure to register, specifically, that such registration was possible under state law.