The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently announced some important changes for defendants previously facing or subject to registration on “Megan’s Law” for certain non-violent sexual offenses such as possession of child pornography. The Court held that the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (“SORNA”) requires fifteen years of registration on Megan’s Law instead of lifetime registration for many first-time offenders convicted of multiple counts at the same time.
Previously, the State Police, who are responsible for implementing the registration component of SORNA, required first time offenders who were convicted of multiple counts of possession of child pornography or other Tier I or Tier II Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (“SORNA”) offenses at the same time to register as Tier III offenders and to register for life. This interpretation of the statute had a tremendous impact on virtually all potentially Tier I defendants because police and prosecutors have enormous discretion in determining how many counts with which to charge any given defendant. For example, the prosecutor decides how many charges to bring against a defendant who possessed multiple prohibited images or multiple computers containing prohibited images. Prior to the Court’s ruling, if the prosecutor brought multiple counts, the defendant would potentially be subject to lifetime registration under the State Police’s interpretation of the Act. If the prosecutor brought only one count, then the defendant would be subject to fifteen years of registration. Prosecutors often could use this leverage to extract guilty pleas out of defendants with defensible cases by agreeing to allow the defendant to plead to only one count and thereby avoid lifetime registration in exchange for a guilty plea.
However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has just rejected the State Police’s interpretation of the statute. In the companion cases of Commonwealth v. Lutz-Morrison and A.S. v. PA State Police, the Supreme Court ruled that first time offenders without prior sex offense convictions are properly classified as Tier I or Tier II offenders (depending on the Tier of the offense) and subject only to fifteen or twenty-five year registration requirements regardless of how many counts the prosecutor chooses to file. The Court’s ruling hinges on language in the registration statute making someone with “[t]wo or more convictions of offenses listed as Tier I or Tier II sexual offenses” a Tier III offender." The Court held that because the SORNA law is a recidivist statute, meaning it is meant to provide an increasing level of punishment as an offender commits subsequent offenses, the statute “requires an act, a conviction, and a subsequent act to trigger lifetime registration for multiple offenses otherwise subject to a fifteen- or twenty-five-year period of registration.”
It appears likely that the Court’s interpretation will be applied retroactively, meaning that offenders who were already deemed lifetime offenders by the State Police may have the opportunity to be re-classified. It is not yet clear whether the State Police will require each offender to file suit, file some sort of paperwork with the State Police, or whether the State Police will re-classify offenders automatically. It is also possible that there may be statutory time limits on an offender’s ability to petition for reclassification. Therefore, it is critical that you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately if you are facing potential sex offense charges or already subject to lifetime registration under these or similar circumstances.
The top-rated attorneys of Goldstein Mehta LLC have extensive experience representing individuals charged under Pennsylvania's SORNA and Megan's Law statutes. Our attorneys are extremely knowledgeable about recent developments in the law and able to use that knowledge to our clients' advantage. Call 267-225-2545 today for a free, confidential consultation.