WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Monday that a convicted sex offender did not have to update his status on the federal sex offender registry after moving to a foreign country.
The justices sided with Lester Nichols, a Kansas man who moved to the Philippines in 2012 after his release from prison without telling authorities.
Nichols was arrested in Manila and brought back to the United States, where he was convicted of failing to update his sex-offender registration. A federal appeals court upheld his conviction, but the Supreme Court reversed that.
Writing for the court, Justice Samuel Alito said a straightforward reading of the 2006 Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act does not require registry updates after a sex offender moves out of the United States.
The justices took up the case to resolve an unusual split between appeals courts that had reached different outcomes in the cases of two men who lived within a few miles of each other — one in Kansas City, Kansas, the other in Kansas City, Missouri.
The federal appeals court in Denver upheld Nichols' conviction, but the federal appeals court in St. Louis said a convicted sex offender from Missouri did not have to register after he also moved to the Philippines.
Alito said the high court's ruling on Monday does not allow sex offenders to escape any punishment for leaving the country without notice. Congress recently criminalized the failure of sex offenders to provide information about "travel in foreign commerce." Alito said the new law would apply to Nichols' conduct and noted that Nichols' actions also violated state law in Kansas.
"We are thus reassured that our holding today is not likely to create loopholes and deficiencies," in the federal legislation designed to keep track of sex offenders, Alito said.
The case is Nichols v. United States, 15-5238.