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Pennsylvania may find sex offender registry unconstitutional

Most Pennsylvania residents know that the consequences of a criminal conviction can be severe. A conviction can have devastating and lasting consequences on a person's professional life, as well as his or her personal life. When sex offender registration is required, the effects can be even more detrimental because they can prevent a person from living in certain places or working in certain professions for decades.

In Pennsylvania, many sex offenses require defendants who are convicted to register as a sex offender for a very long period of time. A recent case involving a 15-year-old juvenile who was convicted of sexually assaulting his two siblings could change the requirements of sex offender registration as related to juveniles. In 2013, a judge decided that the mandatory registration was in violation of the state constitution after reviewing the 15-year-old's case, along with six other cases. He noted that many juvenile sex offenders have themselves suffered trauma, tragedy and often abuse but nevertheless have a great capacity for rehabilitation. The case will soon be heard by the high court of Pennsylvania where advocates for juveniles will argue that registry requirement is equivalent to cruel and unusual punishment.

Sex offenses often meet with very aggressive prosecution because these cases tend to engender a large degree of public response and fear. In some cases, however, the severity of the penalty-and the length of time for which it endures-is out of line with the severity of the offense. Many defendants accused of sex-related offenses are labeled as sex offenders from the outset before the facts are even clarified or a decision is rendered. This can create considerable prejudice during a criminal trial.

It is in these situations when a strong criminal defense is essential. Whether it involves arguing consent or lack of intent or presenting a fuller picture of the incident to mitigate the charges or penalties, there are often many tactics a skilled criminal defense attorney can use to protect the rights and future of a defendant.

Source: NPR, "Juvenile Sex-Offender Registries Are Challenged," May 4, 2014

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