Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, December 20, 2019

Vineyard: Tennessee Sexual Battery is Covered Sex Offender Under SORNA

In United States v. Vineyard, No. 18-11690 (Dec. 20, 2019) (Julie Carnes, Marcus, Kelly (10th)), the Court upheld the denial of a motion to dismiss a conviction for failure to register under SORNA.

The Court rejected the defendant's argument that his prior Tennessee conviction for sexual battery was not a covered "sex offense" under SORNA, which (as relevant here) required "sexual contact" as an element.  First, the Court held that the categorical approach (rather than a circumstance-specific approach) applied.  Second, the Court held that, based on dictionary definitions and common understanding, "sexual contact" under SORNA meant a touching or meeting of body surfaces where the touching or meeting is related to or for the purpose of sexual gratification.  The Tennessee offense required such contact, and the defendant did not argue otherwise.  Third, the Court rejected the defendant's argument that "sexual contact" under SORNA instead incorporated a broader meaning from an unrelated federal statute.  Finally, even if the Court used that broader meaning, it concluded that the Tennessee offense satisfied it.  The Court rejected as "border[ing] on the absurd" the defendant's argument that the Tennessee offense was overbroad because it required contact with the "primary genital area" rather than just the genitals.  And the Court rejected the defendant's argument that Tennessee case law permitted the contact to be with the lower back or abdomen.