Backgrounder on the Sex Offender Notification and Registration Act (SORNA)

The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), passed as part of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, created standards for sex offender registration and notification programs in states, tribes, and territories.  SORNA requires sex offenders to register regularly and in-person, usually at their local law enforcement agency, and notify the authorities if they travel or move.  Also, juvenile offenders convicted of certain violent sex offenses must be registered and placed on a law enforcement registry (for life, or 25 years if reduced by a court). 

Penalty for Non Compliance

States and territories which had not “substantially implemented” SORNA by July 27, 2011 are required to forfeit 10 percent of their Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) award annually, beginning in FY12.  A tribe which fails to implement within a “reasonable” time will be forced to cede operations of its sex offender registry to the state in which the tribe resides.

Current Implementation Status

33 jurisdictions:

  • 15 states: Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyoming;
  • 16 tribes: Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, Ohkay Owingeh, Osage Nation, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Pueblo of Isleta, Tohono O'odham Nation, Upper Skagit Indian Tribe;
  • 2 territories:  Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

Remaining Barriers to Implementation

States have encountered difficulties in compliance in the following areas:

  • The frequency with which offenders must register in-person with local law enforcement
  • The length of time juvenile offenders must remain on the registry
  • The SORNA tiering requirements for criminal offenses
  • The offender information which must be disclosed to the public
  • Retroactive application of the law

Tribal Issues

SORNA merges state-tribal law enforcement responsibilities in a manner that could breach tribal sovereignty and shift the cost of tribal compliance to the states.  The statute should clarify that:

  • States may not be penalized for lack of tribal cooperation or compliance
  • Tribes in PL 280 states have the option of becoming registration and notification jurisdictions

Proposed Amendments to SORNA

Call your members and urge support of the following:

  • Keeping Registrations Current- Allows states and tribes to determine how often – and by what method – a sex offender must verify their registration information.  This would relax the current requirement that all offenders register in-person (quarterly for Tier III, semi-annually for Tier II, and annually for Tier 1). (Scott-VA)
  • Definition of Convicted (Juvenile registration)- Allows states the discretion to decide whether or not to include juvenile offenders under SORNA. (Scott- VA)
  • Classification of Sex Offenders (waiver of tiering structure)- Allows the Attorney General to waive SORNA’s three-tiered structure for any jurisdiction that has developed a comparable three-tier system of classification and registration, links to SORNA, and uses the information sharing portal. (Jackson Lee- TX)
  • Failure to Comply with SORNA (Flexible penalty.  Also, tribal compliance.)- Allows the Attorney General discretion in penalizing states for non-compliance with SORNA.  Authorizes, but does not mandate, a penalty up to 10 percent of a state’s Byrne JAG award.  Requires the AG to establish a protocol for administering the penalty fairly across jurisdictions and to take into account the nature and number of issues preventing the jurisdiction from substantially implementing SORNA.  Also specifies that a state cannot be found out of compliance because a tribe within its borders is out of compliance. (Scott- VA)
  • Applicability of SORNA (retroactivity)- Allows jurisdictions to decide whether or not they will apply SORNA retroactively to offenders convicted before the enactment of the statute. (Scott-VA)
  • Election by Indian Tribes- Removes the requirement which gives states jurisdiction over tribes if tribes do not elect to run their own SORNA registries, or if they fail to substantially implement the requirements of SORNA. (Scott- VA).

For more information, please contact Susan Parnas Frederick or Jennifer Arguinzoni at (202)-624-5400.