The Pennsylvania Superior Court has just decided the case of Commonwealth v. Leonard. In Leonard, the Court found that the trial court erred when it required the defendant to register as a Tier III, lifetime Megan’s Law offender after the defendant pleaded guilty to multiple counts of distribution of child pornography, possession of child pornography, and criminal use of a communication facility. Because distribution of child pornography, which was the most serious charge in terms of SORNA registration, is only a Tier II offense, the trial court should have required the defendant to register as a Tier II offender for 25 years.
In Leonard, the defendant pleaded guilty to various counts of distributing and possessing child pornography as well as criminal use of a communications facility (“CUCF”). At sentencing, the defense attorney argued that the defendant should be treated as a Tier II sex offender because all of the convictions arose from the same criminal episode and the defendant was convicted of all offenses on the same date. The court ruled that defendant would be sentenced as a Tier III, lifetime offender under the SORNA provision which finds that if the defendant “has two or more convictions of offenses listed as Tier I or Tier II sexual offenses,” the defendant becomes a Tier III offender and must register for life. The court did allow the defendant to preserve the issue for appeal.
The defendant was sentenced and filed a notice of appeal. While the appeal was pending, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided the case of A.S. v. Pennsylvania State Police, holding that the previously mentioned language dealing with multiple convictions requires separate convictions. Thus, in A.S. (and the companion case of Commonwealth v. Lutz-Morrison), the Supreme Court held that a defendant who had been convicted of multiple counts of Tier I possession of child pornography at the same time must only register for fifteen years as a Tier I offender.
In Leonard, the Superior Court held that the same rule applies for when multiple Tier II and Tier I offenses are combined as part of the same case and are part of an ongoing course of conduct. Therefore, the Court remanded the case for re-sentencing with an order that the trial court require the defendant to register only as a Tier II offender. The Court rejected the prosecution’s argument that the defendant improperly challenged his registration by filing a notice of appeal directly to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. The prosecution argued that the defendant should have challenged his registration classification by filing suit against the Pennsylvania State Police in the Commonwealth Court as the Commonwealth Court has jurisdiction over lawsuits against state agencies. The Superior Court rejected this argument, finding that because the defendant was still in the process of serving his sentence and had filed a timely direct appeal, the Superior Court could review the issue of whether the trial court had imposed a legal sentence. Accordingly, the Superior Court remanded the case so that the trial court could re-sentence the defendant as a Tier II offender.
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