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Supreme Court rules on Pennsylvania sex offender registry

A recent ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court set a precedent for the proper application of the Pennsylvania Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), a law passed in 2012 to strengthen reporting requirements for sex offenders. In Pennsylvania v. Muniz, the Court held that SORNA's registration provisions constitute punishment, the retroactive application of which would violate the U.S. and Pennsylvania Constitutions' ex post facto clauses. Therefore, SORNA may not be retroactively applied to offenders who committed sex crimes, prior to its enactment.

Prior to the enactment, offenders were required to report for either 10 years or life. SORNA changed those requirements to the tier system, under which, offenders are placed in one of three tiers, with corresponding registration times of 15 years, 25 years or a lifetime.

Some convicted sex offenders who were previously required to register for 10 years were then subjected to lifetime registration under SORNA, based on their underlying offense. After the court's ruling, these reclassified offenders may now request a return to the 10-year registration period or removed from the registry completely.

In Pennsylvania v. Muniz, the defendant was convicted of indecent assault in 2007, and at that time, he was required to comply with Megan's Law III, which stated that the defendant must register as a sex offender with the Pennsylvania State Police for 10 years. However, the defendant absconded and was not apprehended until 2014, when the law changed to SORNA. Because the defendant was convicted of indecent assault of a person less than 13 years of age, he was categorized as a Tier III offender under SORNA and subject to lifetime registration requirements.

The court found, in part, that because the defendant would be required to appear in person at a

registration site four times a year for the remainder of his life, SORNA constitutes a direct restraint on the defendant and is therefore, punitive. The court held that SORNA, applied retroactively to the defendant, is unconstitutional under the ex post facto clauses of the U.S. and Pennsylvania Constitutions. This decision has broad implications regarding the applicability of sex offender registration requirements under SORNA and may result in the removal of many offenders from Pennsylvania's sex registry.

Source: York Dispatch, "Ruling raises questions about Pennsylvania sex offender registry's future," Mark Scolforo, July 24, 2017

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