Department of Justice Publishes Proposed Regulations Articulating the Registration Requirements for Sex Offenders under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act

The Department of Justice has published proposed regulations that provide a clear and comprehensive statement of sex offenders’ registration requirements under the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA).  SORNA requires convicted sex offenders to register in the states in which they live, work, or attend school, and it directs the Attorney General to issue regulations and guidelines to implement SORNA. 

“SORNA is a crucial public safety measure,” said Assistant Attorney General for Legal Policy Beth A. Williams.  “The proposed regulations will further Congress’s and the Department’s shared goal of ensuring that convicted sex offenders are accounted for under the law.  These regulations will enhance the enforcement of registration and notification across the country and ensure that information about sex offenders in the community is available to law enforcement and the public.”  

Congress enacted SORNA as part of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 to strengthen the nation’s sex offender registration programs, which exist in every state, and to ensure that sex offenders are effectively tracked as they move among jurisdictions.  SORNA includes requirements regarding the sex offenses for which registration is required and the information sex offenders must provide to registration authorities; reporting of changes in, and periodic verification of, residence and other information; and the required duration of registration for sex offenders in different classes.  SORNA also requires sex offenders to report travel abroad, which addresses the global concern over international sex tourism and trafficking.

The proposed regulations’ clear and comprehensive statement of registration obligations under SORNA will promote the effective enforcement of SORNA’s requirements.  By these means, the proposed regulations will further SORNA’s objective of protecting the public from sex offenders by establishing a comprehensive national system for the registration of such offenders.

The proposed regulations are available here.

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Forensic chemical analysis and identification (i.e., Step 2 of Fig.1) is mature for known chemical agents. For example, investigators determined the nerve agent sarin was used in an attack on civilians in 2017. The methods can also identify new agents, as when investigators determined the chemical composition of the Novichok nerve agent after its first known use, in 2018. Forensic chemical analysis and identification methods are also mature enough to generate data that investigators could use as a "chemical fingerprint"– that is, a unique chemical signature that could be used in part to attribute a chemical weapon to a person or entity. For example, combining gas chromatography and mass spectrometry can provide reliable information about the chemical components and molecular weight of an agent. To achieve Step 3, scientists could use this these methods in a laboratory experiment to match impurities in chemical feedstocks of the weapon to potentially determine who made it. In an investigation, such impurities could indicate the geographic origin of the starting material and the process used to create the agent. Figure 2. Example of forensic chemical identification and analysis, showing a match between Sample 1 and Source A. Opportunities An effective international system for forensic chemical attribution can open up several opportunities, including: Defense. Knowing the source of a chemical agent could help nations better defend against future attacks and, when appropriate, take military action in response to an attack.  Legal response. Source attribution may provide information to help find and prosecute attackers or to impose sanctions. Deterrence. The ability to trace chemical agents to a source might deter future use of chemical weapons.  Challenges Chemical database. Creating a comprehensive international database of chemical fingerprints would require funding and international collaboration to sample chemicals from around the world. Finding perpetrators. Matching a chemical to its sources does not reveal who actually used it in an attack. Almost all investigations require additional evidence. Samples. Collecting a sufficient sample for attribution can be challenging, as can storing and transporting it using a secure chain of custody—potentially over great distance—to one of the 18 authorized biomedical labs worldwide. International cooperation. Lack of cooperation can delay investigations and may compromise sample quality.  Cooperation is also essential for creating an international database. Standardization. Attribution methods are complex and require standardized, internationally accepted protocols to ensure results are reliable and trusted. Such protocols do not yet exist for attributing a chemical weapons attack. Policy Context and Questions The following questions are relevant to building an effective, trusted system for tracing attacks using forensic chemical attribution: How can federal agencies promote and contribute to the international standardization of scientific methods for forensic chemical attribution? Which agency or agencies should lead this effort? How can the international community create and implement a framework for cooperation and trust in forensic chemical attribution? What actions could promote or incentivize creation of an internationally accepted database of unique chemical fingerprints for attributing chemical agents to their sources? What can be done to fully identify and address the scientific and technological gaps in current capabilities for attributing a chemical agent to its source? For more information, contact Karen Howard at (202) 512-6888 or HowardK@gao.gov.
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