SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The United States Supreme Court ruled Monday that sex offenders convicted before 2006 may not have to register if they move across state lines.
In the 7-2 ruling, Justices said rules requiring sex offenders to update their registration when crossing state lines don't automatically apply to those who committed their crimes before the law was passed.
The law, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, also known as the Adam Walsh act, created a national sex offender registry. It required sex offenders who moved across state lines to register with the new state within three days. It was signed into law in 2006.
The case focused around a Missouri man, Billy Joe Reynolds, who was convicted of a sex crime in 2001. Reynolds was sentenced to 18 months in prison for moving from Missouri to Pennsylvania and not registering as a sex offender in his new state. He sued, saying this crime was before the registration act's rules were put into place. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out his lawsuit.
The high court overturned that decision.
"It's very confusing. Really, I mean, the average citizen can't really figure this out," said Dee Wampler, a Springfield defense attorney. "It certainly puts a doubt in all of the states whether or not their laws are current."
In the majority ruling, each state would have to make new detailed laws regarding registration.
"My thought is if you are a sex registrable offender and you want to go somewhere, well go to Pennsylvania. Because as of yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court said that's okay, it's not against the law to go to Pennsylvania and work and live and apparently you don't have to register there-- at least not at this time," explained Wampler.
Sex abuse victims, like Sarah Denny, fear the realization that offenders may live in neighborhoods unnoticed.
"Having something like that happen to me in the past, it's kind of, it's really unnerving that it could be right there," detailed Denny. "It makes you have to be extra vigilant."
Wampler, a partner with the law offices of Dee Wampler and Joseph Passanise, estimates there could be hundreds of sex offenders living in the Ozarks who have not registered with the state.
"We don't know how many sex offenders there are here that should register that haven't registered," Wampler said. "No one, only God would have the answer to that question."