PA Supreme Court: Retroactive Application of SORNA (Megan's Law) Unconstitutional

BREAKING NEWS: In the case of Commonwealth v. Muniz, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that Pennsylvania’s Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) may not be applied retroactively without violating the Pennsylvania and United States Constitutions. In this new ruling, the Court held:

  1. SORNA’s registration provisions constitute criminal punishment;
  2. Retroactive application of SORNA’s registration provisions violates the federal ex-post facto clause, and
  3. Retroactive application of SORNA’s registration provisions also violates the ex-post facto clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

I will write more about the reasoning of this ruling in a later blog post, but for now, the ruling is so ground breaking that we wanted to post this news as quickly as possible. 

As some readers have learned through terrible experience, Pennsylvania law required many people to register as sex offenders either a) long after they had completed their sentence and probation, or b) to start registering as a sex offenders even when the offense to which pleaded or were found guilty was not an offense that required registration at the time. Many others found that they had pleaded or been found guilty to offenses which required ten years of registration or even no registration only to learn after a few years that ten years of registration had become a lifetime of Megan's Law registration. 

Prior to this new opinion, the Pennsylvania Superior Court repeatedly found that SORNA’s registration provisions should not be considered punishment. Therefore, retroactive application of registration requirements for those convicted of sex offenses prior to SORNA’s effective date did not violate either the federal or state ex-post facto clauses.

As anyone who has been required to register knows, sex offender registration is one of the most severe punishments the law can impose. It is second only to incarceration, and in many cases, may be worse. Sex offender registration requires regular meetings with the State Police, prohibits contact with children (even when the original conviction had nothing to do with children and may not have even involved a sexual act of any kind), and results in the offender's image, place of employment, address, and vehicles being placed on the State Police website for the world to see. Given the severity of the punishment, particularly in the case of lifetime registration, countless people would have taken their cases to trial had they known at the time of the plea that they would later be required to register for life instead of for ten years or not at all. The risk of trial may have been well worth the reward of avoiding lifetime registration. This new ruling should bring relief to those in the position. 

This ruling should also help those who were originally required to register as Tier I & Tier II offenders but who have now been informed their offense is now a Tier III offense (required lifetime registration and check-ins with the state police every three months.)

If you pleaded guilty to a crime and were originally not required to register at all or were required to register only for a limited period of time and later found out that your tier changed, call us. We may very well be able to assist you. Your consultation is 100% free and confidential. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with a Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer today.