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United States v. Sanders

September 16, 2010

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
WALTER S. SANDERS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. No. 09 CR 20-Barbara B. Crabb, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rovner, Circuit Judge

ARGUED FEBRUARY 18, 2010

Before EASTERBROOK, Chief Judge, and KANNE and ROVNER, Circuit Judges.

In 2008, Walter S. Sanders, having previously been convicted of a sex offense in Wisconsin, relocated to Mississippi without notifying the sex offender registry in Wisconsin or registering as a sex offender in Mississippi. Following his arrest in 2009, he was charged with violating the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act ("SORNA") by traveling in interstate commerce without updating his sex offender registration. See 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a); 42 U.S.C. § 16913. He pleaded guilty to that charge while reserving his right to challenge the district court's denial of his motion to dismiss the indictment. On appeal, Sanders has renewed his contention that SORNA's registration requirement, § 16913, exceeds congressional authority under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, U.S. CONST. art. I, § 8, cl. 3. On the basis of our recent decision in United States v. Vasquez, 611 F.3d 325 (7th Cir. 2010), we affirm Sanders' conviction.

In October 2000, Sanders was convicted of second-degree sexual assault involving the use of force in Dane County, Wisconsin. Given the nature of the offense, he incurred a lifelong duty to register as a sex offender in Wisconsin regardless of whether he remained in the State. See Wis. Stat. 301.45. He was given a sex offender registration form advising him of this obligation; his signature on the form constituted an acknowledgment that he had read it. Sanders was initially sentenced to three years of probation conditioned on serving one year in jail, but in 2002 his probation was revoked and he was sentenced to a prison term of 66 months. He was released from prison in June 2004 and registered as a sex offender as required by Wisconsin statute.

Sanders subsequently relocated to Mississippi to be near his mother. At that time, he notified the Wisconsin authorities of his intent to leave the state, and upon arrival in Mississippi he registered as a sex offender there as well. In July 2006, he was stabbed repeatedly during an altercation. As a result of an injury to his colon, he underwent a temporary colostomy. Doctors subsequently advised Sanders that his colon could be repaired and the colostomy reversed, but Sanders did not have the resources to pay for the procedure at that time.

Sanders returned to Wisconsin in February 2007 after his father, who lived in Wisconsin, offered to help pay for his surgery. Sanders notified Wisconsin's sex offender registry of his return. Sanders consulted on multiple occasions with physicians at the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison regarding persistent problems resulting from his colostomy; they agreed that his colostomy should be reversed. As it turned out, however, the financial assistance that his father had promised him did not materialize. On the advice of his doctors in Madison, Sanders opted to return to Mississippi, where he was eligible for medical care subsidized by a state fund for the victims of crime.

Sanders returned to Mississippi early in January 2008, without the permission of the probation officer who was supervising Sanders in a matter unrelated to his 2000 sexual assault conviction. Sanders underwent surgery in Mississippi on March 3, 2008 and was discharged from the hospital several weeks later. The following August, he signed a lease on an apartment in Greenville, Mississippi. But Sanders did not update his sex offender registration in Wisconsin, nor did he re-register as a sex offender in Mississippi.

An arrest warrant was eventually issued for Sanders in Wisconsin when he never responded to a registered letter that was sent in October 2007 to his last known Wisconsin address for purposes of updating his sex offender registration. He was tracked down in Greenville in January 2009 and arrested.

SORNA, enacted as part of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, P.L. No. 109-248, 120 Stat. 587 (Jul. 27, 2006), imposes a federal obligation on anyone convicted of a sex offense (a crime that has an element involving a sexual act or sexual contact with another) to register in each jurisdiction in which he resides, works, or attends school by providing his name, social security number, home and work addresses, and vehicle description(s), and to keep his registration current. 42 U.S.C. § 16913; see also §§ 16911(1) (defining "sex offender"); 16911(5)(A)(i) (defining "sex offense"); § 16914 (listing information sex offender must provide). As relevant here, SORNA also makes it a federal offense for an offender to ignore his duty to register or to up-date his registration when he travels in interstate commerce:

Whoever-

(1) is required to register under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act;

(2) . . .

(B) travels in interstate or foreign ...


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