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United States v. Robbins

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

September 3, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
NATHAN ROBBINS, aka Nathan L.H. Robbins, Defendant-Appellant.

Argued: June 20, 2013.

Appeal from an August 3, 2012 judgment convicting defendant-appellant Nathan Robbins for failing to register under SORNA, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a). Robbins challenges SORNA as unconstitutional in light of the Supreme Court's decision in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, 132 S.Ct. 2566 (2012). Because SORNA, at least as applied to Robbins, regulates activity involving travel in interstate commerce, we AFFIRM.

JAMES P. EGAN (Lisa A. Peebles, on the brief) Federal Public Defender's Office, Northern District of New York, Syracuse, N.Y., for Defendant-Appellant.

BRENDA K. SANNES, Assistant United States Attorney (Lisa M. Fletcher, Assistant United States Attorney, on the brief), for Richard S. Hartunian, United States Attorney, Northern District of New York, Syracuse, N.Y., for Appellee.

Before: CALABRESI, CABRANES, and SACK, Circuit Judges.

CALABRESI, Circuit Judge.

In August 2011, after traveling from New York to Nevada, defendant-appellant Nathan Robbins knowingly failed to update his registration as a sex offender, as he was required to do under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act ("SORNA"), 42 U.S.C. § 16913. He subsequently pled guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a), which makes it a crime for someone who is required to register under SORNA to travel in interstate commerce and knowingly fail to update his registration. Despite his plea, Robbins retained the right to challenge the constitutionality of the statutes he admitted violating, and he brings just such a challenge here.

This Court has previously held that Congress acted within its powers under the Constitution's Commerce Clause when it enacted SORNA. See United States v. Guzman, 591 F.3d 83 (2d Cir. 2010). Since then, however, the Supreme Court has revisited and further clarified—if that is the appropriate word—the reach of Congress's power "[t]o regulate Commerce . . . among the several States." U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 3; see Nat'l Fed'n of Indep. Bus. v. Sebelius, 132 S.Ct. 2566 (2012) ("NFIB"). Robbins invites us to revisit our holding in Guzman in light of the Supreme Court's decision in NFIB.

We decline Robbins' invitation not because his arguments all lack force, nor because the constitutionality of SORNA—particularly when applied within the states—is beyond question, see United States v. Kebodeaux, 570 U.S., No. 12-418, slip op. at 5 (U.S. June 24, 2013) (Roberts, C.J., concurring in the judgment) ("The fact of a prior federal conviction, by itself, does not give Congress a freestanding, independent, and perpetual interest in protecting the public from the convict's purely intrastate conduct."), but because the constitutionality of SORNA as applied to Robbins remains unaffected by any limitations on Congress's Commerce Clause power that may be found in NFIB. Still bound by the precedent set in Guzman, we therefore AFFIRM Robbins' conviction.

BACKGROUND

A.

In July 2003, Robbins pled guilty to a state charge of sexual misconduct for having sex with a sixteen-year-old girl when he was twenty-four. New York designated Robbins a sexual offender, and Robbins complied with the resulting registration requirements until June 2011.

During that time, however, Robbins again ran afoul of the law. In October 2010, he was convicted and sentenced to probation for fourth degree grand larceny, second degree criminal contempt, and petit larceny. As a condition of his probation, Robbins was required to stay in a residence approved by his probation officer. But in August 2011, he tested positive for drug use and was evicted from the approved residence. A county court in New York issued a warrant on August 11 for Robbins' arrest for violation of the terms of his probation. On August 25, U.S. Marshals located Robbins at a casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Robbins told the marshal who arrested him that he knew about his obligation to register as a sex offender, but had not done so because he knew that a warrant had been issued for his arrest.

Robbins was indicted in the Northern District of New York for having traveled in interstate commerce and knowingly failed to update his registration as required under SORNA. 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a); 42 U.S.C. § 16913. Robbins moved to dismiss the indictment, claiming that Congress lacked the constitutional authority to impose SORNA's requirements and penalties. On March 1, 2012, the district court (Norman A. Mordue, Judge) denied Robbins' motion. Robbins subsequently pled guilty, though he reserved the right to appeal the district court's denial of his ...


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