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United States v. Helton

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

December 3, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
ANTHONY DALE HELTON, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued: September 20, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, at Martinsburg. Gina M. Groh, Chief District Judge. (3:18-cr-00016-GMG)

         ARGUED:

          Nicholas Joseph Compton, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Martinsburg, West Virginia, for Appellant.

          Lara Kay Omps-Botteicher, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Martinsburg, West Virginia, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Kristen M. Leddy, Assistant Federal Public Defender, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Martinsburg, West Virginia, for Appellant.

          William J. Powell, United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Wheeling, West Virginia, for Appellee.

          Before AGEE, FLOYD, and QUATTLEBAUM, Circuit Judges.

          QUATTLEBAUM, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         We address for the first time whether a conviction under South Carolina's voyeurism[1] statute constitutes a "sex offense" requiring registration under the Sexual Offender Registration Act ("SORNA"). Arguing it does not, Helton moved to dismiss the indictment alleging that he failed to register as a sex offender under SORNA. The district court denied Helton's motion, holding that a conviction under South Carolina's voyeurism statute constitutes a sex offense requiring registration under SORNA.

         On appeal, our central question is whether a conviction under the statute constitutes "a criminal offense that has an element involving a sexual act or sexual contact with another." 34 U.S.C. § 20911(5)(A)(i). The answer to that question turns on the definitions of "sexual act" and "sexual contact," which are not provided by SORNA. Helton argues we should use the definitions of those terms found in 18 U.S.C. § 2246, a different federal statute. Under § 2246, "sexual act" and "sexual contact" require physical contact with another. Helton argues that since the South Carolina voyeurism statute does not require such physical contact, it is not a criminal offense involving a "sexual act" or "sexual contact."

         But accepting Helton's argument would require us to rewrite SORNA. Although Congress could have easily drafted SORNA to limit "sexual act" and "sexual contact" to conduct involving physical contact with another, it did not, leaving those terms undefined. Keeping with our previous decisions, we decline to apply the § 2246 definitions of "sexual act" and "sexual contact" outside of their place in Title 18 Chapter 109A, in the absence of statutory language to do so. Instead, we define SORNA's use of these terms in accordance with their ordinary meaning. In doing so, it becomes clear that a violation of the voyeurism statute-which does not require physical contact, but does require the voyeuristic act to be in furtherance of "arousing or gratifying sexual desire"-is a criminal offense involving a "sexual act" or "sexual contact" that requires registration under SORNA.

         For these reasons, and as more fully described below, we affirm the district court and conclude that a conviction under South Carolina's voyeurism statute constitutes a sex offense requiring registration under SORNA.

         I.

         A.

         Before reviewing the facts of this case, we begin with an overview of SORNA. Congress enacted SORNA "[i]n order to protect the public from sex offenders and offenders against children" by establishing "a comprehensive national system for the registration of those offenders." 34 U.S.C. § 20901. This system requires those designated as a "sex offender" under SORNA to register and keep current their sex offender status in each jurisdiction where they reside, are employees or are enrolled as students. 34 U.S.C. § 20913. A defendant violates 18 U.S.C.§ 2250(a) if he (1) is a sex offender required to register under SORNA, (2) travels in interstate commerce and (3) knowingly fails to register or update his registration as required by SORNA.

         SORNA defines a "sex offender" as "an individual who was convicted of a sex offense." 34 U.S.C. § 20911(1). To define "sex offense," SORNA identifies five categories of conduct:

(i) a criminal offense that has an element involving a sexual act or sexual contact with another;
(ii) a criminal offense that is a specified offense against a minor;
(iii) a Federal offense (including an offense prosecuted under section 1152 or 1153 of Title 18) under section 1591, or chapter 109A, 110 (other than section 2257, 2257A, or 2258), or 117, of Title 18;
(iv) a military offense specified by the Secretary of Defense under section 115(a)(8)(C)(i) of Public Law 105-119 (10 U.S.C. 951 note); or
(v) an attempt or conspiracy to commit an offense described in clauses (i) through (iv).

34 U.S.C. § 20911(5)(A)(i)-(v). Any conduct that falls within one of these five categories, and does not trigger one of the two narrow exceptions in § 20911(5)(B)-(C), constitutes a "sex offense" under SORNA.

         B.

         Against this backdrop, we turn to the facts of this appeal. In 2012, Helton pled guilty to voyeurism in violation of S.C. Code § 16-17-470(B). He was sentenced to three years of incarceration, with credit for time served and one year of probation. In addition, SC Code § 23-3-430 required Helton to register as a sex offender in South Carolina. Following his release from prison, Helton moved to Virginia but later relocated to West Virginia. In both states, Helton registered as a sex offender under the applicable state laws.

         However, when the West Virginia State Police later attempted to verify Helton's address, they discovered that he no longer occupied his last known West Virginia residence and was not registered as a sex offender in any other state. They soon determined that Helton had moved to Rockingham County, Virginia without updating his registration in West Virginia or re-registering in Virginia. Helton was subsequently ...


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