On Wednesday the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the retroactive application of the Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), commonly known as Megan’s Law, violates the Ex Post Facto Clause of the Federal and Pennsylvania Constitutions as well as the Reputation Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
The decision in the case has the potential to affect thousands of registered sex offenders across the Commonwealth. This, after the ruling on a case out of Cumberland County in which Jose M. Muniz challenged the retroactive application of the law as unconstitutional. This represents a rather dramatic shift in the law. Previously, various incarnations of the law in Pennsylvania and many other states have been upheld as constitutional.
There have been many challenges to the retroactive application of SORNA in the various state and federal courts in the past and the law has survived most constitutional challenges. This is due to the fact that the stated purpose of the law is to address the “major public concern” of recidivism among adult sex offenders and are not intended to be a criminal punishment. Thus, in Pennsylvania it was lawful to require individuals whose crimes didn’t require registration at the time they were committed to register with the state police or lengthen the time of registration for individuals who were already required to register. This was the case for Muniz and thousands of other Pennsylvanians. At the time of Muniz’s conviction he would have been required to register as a sex offender for ten years, however, at the time of his sentencing the law had been updated and now required him to register for life.
The Supreme Court ultimately determined that SORNA’s registration and online publication provisions place a unique burden on the right to reputation, which is particularly protected in Pennsylvania and both the Commonwealth and offender have an interest in the finality of sentencing that is undermined by the enactment of ever-more severe registration laws. Additionally, Pennsylvania’s ex post facto clause provides even greater protections than its federal counterpart, and it was concluded that SORNA’s registration provisions violate the federal clause, and therefore are also unconstitutional under the Pennsylvania Constitution.
What does this all mean? Thousands of Pennsylvanians have had their constitutional rights violated when they were required to register when previously they were not, or had the length of their periods of registration extended by years. SORNA is administered by The Pennsylvania State Police and presumably it will be up to the State Police to correct the registration requirements of those individuals who have had their rights violated. However, this case only pertained to Muniz. At this point it is unclear (maybe unlikely) if the State Police will take the steps necessary to correct the registration requirements of others who may have had their constitutional rights violated.
Don’t rely on the State Police to ensure that your rights are protected. If you believe your rights have been violated, the attorneys at Mooney and Associates may be able to help. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with an attorney experienced in dealing with Pennsylvania’s sex offender registration laws. You can reach us at 717-200-HELP or 1-877-632-4656.
Shawn Stottlemyer is an attorney who has dealt with many cases involving Pennsylvania’s sex offender registration requirements.