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United States v. Vineyard

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

December 20, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
NATHAN RICHARD VINEYARD, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama D.C. Docket No. 5:17-cr-00383-RDP-JHE-1

          Before MARCUS, JULIE CARNES, and KELLY, [*] Circuit Judges.

          JULIE CARNES, CIRCUIT JUDGE:

         Defendant Nathan Vineyard appeals from the district court's denial of his motion to dismiss an indictment charging him with failing to register as a sex offender under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act ("SORNA") in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a). The charge is predicated on Vineyard's prior conviction for sexual battery in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated § 39-13-505. Vineyard argues he is not required to register as a sex offender because his Tennessee sexual battery conviction is not a qualifying sex offense as defined by SORNA. After a careful review of the record and with the benefit of oral argument, we conclude that sexual battery, as defined by the Tennessee statute under which Vineyard was convicted, qualifies as a sex offense under SORNA. Accordingly, we affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         In March 2012, Vineyard was charged with rape and false imprisonment in Campbell County, Tennessee. The charges were related to Vineyard's rape of an adult female victim at a Caryville, Tennessee motel after holding the victim in a motel room for several hours against her will. Vineyard ultimately pled guilty to sexual battery in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated § 39-13-505 and aggravated assault in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated § 39-13-102(a). He was sentenced to two years for the sexual battery and six years for the aggravated assault, to be served consecutively.

         Upon being paroled from prison in September 2016, Vineyard signed an instruction form acknowledging that he was subject to the federal sex offender registration requirements of SORNA. The form instructed Vineyard that, pursuant to SORNA, he was required to register as a sex offender in the jurisdiction of his residence and in any jurisdiction in which he was employed. The form also advised Vineyard that SORNA required him to notify any jurisdiction in which he was required to register within three business days after a change of residence, and that Tennessee law required him to register with the appropriate law enforcement agency within 48 hours of his release from any subsequent incarcerations. Pursuant to the instructions he received, Vineyard registered as a sex offender with a residence in Harriman, Tennessee.

         On April 11, 2017, Vineyard was released from the Anderson County, Tennessee jail after being charged with public intoxication and evading arrest. The charges were filed after an incident in March 2017, during which Vineyard failed to stop for police officers who had been notified that Vineyard was driving his vehicle at a speed close to 100 miles per hour. The officers lost track of Vineyard but eventually located him at his girlfriend's house, at which time Vineyard fled on foot. When the officers finally apprehended Vineyard, they discovered he was intoxicated.

         When he was released from jail on the evading and intoxication charges, Vineyard was advised to report to the Tennessee Department of Corrections and to update his sex offender registration within 48 hours as required by state law. Arrest warrants were issued for Vineyard about a week later when he failed to report and register. Vineyard's whereabouts were unknown at the time, but he was arrested on August 9, 2017 at a residence in Jackson County, Alabama. Vineyard admits that he began living at the Alabama residence on or about July 8, 2017, and that he did not register as a sex offender in Alabama or otherwise update his SORNA registration to indicate his change of address.

         In September 2017, Vineyard was indicted on a charge of failing to register as a sex offender under SORNA, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a).[1] The indictment alleged that Vineyard, a person required to register under SORNA because of his Tennessee sexual battery conviction, failed to update his sex offender registration and failed to register as a sex offender in the jurisdiction in which he resided from July 8, 2017 through August 9, 2017.

         Vineyard moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that he was not required to register under SORNA because his Tennessee sexual battery conviction was not a qualifying sex offense under the Act. As will be discussed in more detail below, SORNA imposes certain registration requirements on individuals "who [have been] convicted of a sex offense." 34 U.S.C. §§ 20911(1), 20913. In relevant part, SORNA defines "sex offense" to include "a criminal offense that has an element involving . . . sexual contact with another[.]" Id. § 20911(5)(A)(i). The parties agreed that the categorical approach applies to determine if a state conviction satisfies SORNA's definition of a sex offense. Vineyard argued that Tennessee sexual battery did not categorically qualify as a SORNA sex offense because Tennessee's sexual battery statute defines sexual contact to encompass more conduct than the generic definition of sexual contact that applies under SORNA.

         The district court denied Vineyard's motion. Defining the term sexual contact by its plain meaning, the court determined that SORNA's sexual contact provision encompasses offenses that have as an element "a touching or meeting of a sexual nature." The court concluded that Vineyard's Tennessee sexual battery conviction fell squarely-and categorically-within that definition because his conviction required that there be an "intentional touching" of a person's "primary genital area, groin, inner thigh, buttock or breast" specifically "for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification." See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-501 (2), (6) (2012).

         Vineyard subsequently pled guilty to one count of failing to register as a sex offender under SORNA in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a). He was convicted and sentenced to serve 24 months, followed by 360 months of supervised release. Vineyard's plea agreement included an appeal waiver, but it preserved his right to appeal the district court's adverse ruling on his motion to dismiss the indictment against him. Pursuant to the agreement, Vineyard has filed an appeal limited to the sole issue argued in the motion to dismiss: whether his Tennessee sexual battery conviction is a qualifying sex offense under SORNA, such that he was required to register as a sex offender under SORNA and violated 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a) by failing to do so.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Standard of Review

         We generally review the district court's denial of a motion to dismiss an indictment under the abuse of discretion standard. United States v. Farias, 836 F.3d 1315, 1323 (11th Cir. 2016). However, the district court's determination that Vineyard's Tennessee sexual battery conviction categorically qualifies as a sex offense under SORNA is an issue of statutory interpretation that we review de novo. See United States v. Ambert, 561 F.3d 1202, 1205 (11th Cir. 2009) (noting that a district court's denial of a motion to dismiss an indictment ordinarily is reviewed under the abuse of discretion standard, but that the defendant's appeal of his conviction for failing to register as a sex offender under SORNA raised "a number of issues concerning statutory interpretation and constitutional law, which we review de novo").

         II. Legal Background

         A. SORNA

         Vineyard's appeal raises several issues of first impression in this Circuit regarding the interpretation of SORNA, a federal statute enacted in 2006 "to protect the public from sex offenders . . . by establishing a comprehensive national system for the registration of those offenders." Id. (citing 42 U.S.C. § 16901[2](internal quotation marks omitted)). Before SORNA, sex offenders registered under "a patchwork" of federal and state registration systems "with loopholes and deficiencies that had resulted in an estimated 100, 000 sex offenders becoming missing or lost." United States v. Kebodeaux, 570 U.S. 387, 399 (2013) (internal quotation marks omitted). SORNA was intended to correct that problem by creating a "more uniform and effective" national sex-offender registration system. Reynolds v. United States, 565 U.S. 432, 435 (2012). Criminal penalties for individuals who violate SORNA's registration requirements are set out in 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a) (stating that an individual who is required to register as a sex offender under SORNA and "knowingly fails to register or update a registration as required" by SORNA "shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both").

         Consistent with the goals of the Act, SORNA's registration requirements apply to state and federal "sex offender[s]." See 34 U.S.C. §§ 20911, 20913. SORNA defines "sex offender" to mean "an individual who [has been] convicted of a sex offense." Id. ยง 20911(1). With certain exceptions not ...


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