Fallen v. United States, No. 19-0233 (D.C. Ct. App. 2023)
Nature of Case: The United States charged appellant with three counts of misdemeanor child sexual abuse in violation of D.C. Code § 22-3010.01 and one count of misdemeanor sexual abuse in violation of D.C. Code § 22-3006. Appellant filed a jury trial demand arguing that the combined severity of the penalties he faced denote these are serious offenses that entitled him to a jury trial under the Sixth Amendment. The trial court denied the motion.
At the bench trial, the trial court dismissed one count of misdemeanor child sexual abuse and found appellant guilty of the remaining two counts of misdemeanor child sexual abuse and one count of misdemeanor sexual abuse. Appellant was sentenced to three concurrent 180-day periods of incarceration, with partial execution suspended, and placed on 18 months of supervised probation. A condition of probation was compliance with SORA registration and verification requirements.
Appellant appeals the trial court’s denial of his demand for a jury trial. Appellant argues that the combination of penalties he faced, including ten years of sex offense registration and community notification mandated by the Sex Offender Registration Act of 1999 (SORA), is a severe penalty that warrants a jury trial under the Sixth Amendment.
Holding: The D.C. Court of Appeals concluded that SORA registration is a severe penalty sufficient to trigger the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. In so holding, the Court noted that SORA registration is enmeshed in the criminal proceeding; it is a direct, statutorily mandated requirement that follows from conviction and is ordered by the trial court that imposes sentence. The Court further noted that extensive social science research has shown that registration and notification schemes impose serious negative consequences for registrants.