On July 19, 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled SORNA (the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act) unconstitutional when applied retroactively in certain cases. It found that SORNA violated the ex post facto clause of both the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions. This decision may have a major affect for some registered sex offenders in PA. If you are a registered sex offender who is currently living in PA, or have ever registered in PA, you should contact an experienced attorney to find out if this new ruling affects you.
At the law firm of Maynard Law Office, LLC, we are always watching for changes in sex offender laws. Our dedicated attorneys understand that new case law and changes to statutes can alter the lives of our clients. Even though our office is based on Morristown, NJ, we provide legal services to convicted sex offenders in New Jersey, PA, and New York.
PA man wrongly sentenced to SORNA
The PA Supreme Court stated that SORNA was unconstitutional in the case of Commonwealth, v. Muniz. The defendant, Mr. Muniz, pled guilty to indecent assault of a person less than 13 years old in 2007. However, Muniz did not go to his sentencing hearing and became a fugitive. Muniz was later arrested in the State of Rhode Island in September 2014. He was not arrested for a sex crime. As a result of his new arrest, he was extradited to PA, to be sentenced for his sex crime conviction. In October 2014, he was sentenced to SORNA and placed on Tier III. Tier III requires lifetime registration.
Muniz’s criminal defense attorney argued that the sentencing court should have sentenced him to Megan’s Law III, which was the law at the time of his conviction. Under Megan’s Law III, Muniz only would need to register as a sex offender for 10 years. His lawyer claimed that SORNA rose to the level of punishment. Therefore, SORNA should not be applied retroactively. The PA Supreme Court agreed.
Is the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) punishment?
The PA Court stated that the Legislature’s intent, when passing SORNA, was to create a remedial civil scheme. However, the Court found that SORNA was punitive for the following reasons:
- The in-person reporting requirements for verification and changes to an offender’s registration are a direct restraint on the offender.
- SORNA’s internet registry provisions are comparable to “shaming punishments.”
- The conditions under SORNA are akin to probation, and probation is considered a traditional form of punishment.
- Sex offender registration and the public dissemination of an offender’s personal information over the internet has a deterrent effect.
- The registration requirements are excessive in relation to the law’s stated non-punitive purpose.
Shortly after the Court published its decision, the Cumberland County District Attorney announced that he intends to appeal the decision to the United States Supreme Court. In the meantime, registered sex offenders under SORNA should contact a skilled Megan’s Law attorney who can perform a legal analysis to determine if they are eligible to seek relief.