SORNA Found Unconstitutional Despite Amendments

by John I. McMahon on Jun. 18, 2019

Civil & Human Rights Constitutional Law 

Summary: On June 22, 2018, a Montgomery County Judge ruled that the retroactive application of the recently amended Pennsylvania Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act (“SORNA”) is Unconstitutional.

Last Friday, June 22, 2018, Montgomery County Judge William R. Carpenter granted our Motion to Terminate Sexual Offender Registration Requirements under the new, revised Pennsylvania “SORNA” statute enacted on February 21, 2018, which we argued on behalf of our client, C.L., was punitive, retroactive and unconstitutional. Under the provisions of the most recently revised “SORNA” our client who was convicted of Sexual Assault and related offenses would have been subjected to a “lifetime” registration requirement with the Pennsylvania State Police.

At the time our client was sentenced by Judge Carpenter in 1997 to serve a seven to twenty year sentence, his most serious offense carried a ten year sexual offender registration and notification requirement, under the then existing Megan’s Law I.  Megan’s law I was later subject to significant revisions in Megan’s Law II in 2000, and again with Megan’s Law III in 2004.  Then in 2012, the Pennsylvania legislature enacted the Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act (“SORNA”) which, among other changes, broadly expanded the length of registration and notification requirements for those previously convicted of most sexual offenses.

In 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held in Commonwealth vs. Muniz that “SORNA” was unconstitutional in that it violated the ex post facto clauses of the Pennsylvania and United States Constitutions based on its retroactive and punitive registration and notification requirements as applied to offenders who were convicted prior to its enactment. The most recently revised “SORNA” statute signed into law on February 21, 2018, was the Pennsylvania legislature’s response to the sweeping Muniz decision.

In the decision issued on June 22, 2018, Montgomery County Judge William R. Carpenter wholly agreed with our argument that, notwithstanding certain less onerous yearly registration provisions of the new “SORNA,” including the opportunity for a lifetime registrant to petition to terminate the registration requirements after twenty five years, the longer, retroactive registration requirements of “SORNA” and other provisions were still punitive and unconstitutional.

Our client was NOT determined to be a sexually violent predator at the time of his 1997 sentencing. He had no prior record and he has had no further law enforcement contacts during the last twenty years. In conclusion, it appears likely that the “SORNA” related litigation will not end soon as thousands of previously convicted sexual offenders are greatly impacted by this unconstitutional Pennsylvania statute that has been repeatedly and unsuccessfully revised to try and pass Constitutional muster for over a decade.

If you, or someone you know would like to consult with us about terminating “SORNA” registration and reporting requirements, please contact us now!

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