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August 17, 2016

Split Pennsylvania Supreme Court limits reach of state's lifetime sex offender registry requirement

As reported in this local article, a "ruling issued by a sharply-divided Pennsylvania Supreme Court could greatly alter the registration requirements imposed on some types of convicted sex offenders." Here is more about the ruling and its likely impact:

The decision by the court's majority states that offenders who commit some kinds of sex crimes, such as possessing child pornography, cannot be made to register with state police for life unless they commit at least one more sex crime after their initial convictions. In other words, they have to become recidivists to qualify for the lifetime registration. State police have been requiring such first-time offenders to register for life if they have multiple sex crime convictions stemming from just one criminal incident.

Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico said Tuesday that the high court's decision likely will have an impact on plea negotiations in certain sex-crime cases. The difference in registration requirements - some offenses carry registration terms as low as 10 years - can prompt a defendant to plead guilty to a lesser sex crime to avoid the lifetime registration. "The biggest impact will be with plea negotiations," Marsico said. "These registration requirements are often at issue."

The dispute before the Supreme Court hinged on the interpretation of the wording of a state law that requires lifetime registration for some sex offenders who receive "two or more convictions." A Supreme Court majority consisting of Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor and Justices Kevin M. Dougherty, Max Baer and Christine Donohue concluded the wording means sex offenders in some cases must be convicted of such crimes for two separate incidents to trigger the lifetime registration mandate. Justices Debra McClosky Todd and David N. Wecht dissented.

The majority decision means sex offenders convicted of "Tier 1" crimes including kidnapping of minors, child luring, institutional sexual assault, indecent assault, prostitution involving minors, possessing child porn and unlawful contact with a minor won't be required to register for life on their first offense, no matter how many charges their first convictions entail. They will still have to register with police for 10 years.

The Supreme Court majority opinion written by Dougherty dealt with the case of a 21-year-old Montgomery County man who was convicted of persuading his 16-year-old girlfriend to take and send sexually explicit photos of herself. He was arrested in 2000 when her father found the pics. After pleading guilty to seven child porn counts, he was sentenced to 5 to 23 months in county prison, plus 5 years of probation.

At the time of his plea and sentencing, the man, who is identified in the court opinion as A.S., along with the judge, prosecutor and defense attorney believed he would be subject to a 10-year registration, Dougherty noted. State police told him he had to register for life because of his multiple convictions in that single case....

Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed agreed with Marsico that the Supreme Court ruling could affect some plea talks. Still, he said it won't greatly alter the course of sex crime prosecutions. "As prosecutors, we'll be able to handle this," Freed said. The question is whether there will be moves in the Legislature to alter the law in light of the high court's decision.

Defense attorney Brian Perry praised the Supreme Court ruling for giving some offenders a chance to reform. "The court's decision allows individuals to rehabilitate themselves and not have to deal with (registration) for the rest of their lives," Perry said. "From the first-time defendant's perspective, it certainly makes sense."

The full opinion from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this case is available at this link.

August 17, 2016 at 08:51 AM | Permalink

Comments

"The court's decision allows individuals to rehabilitate themselves and not have to deal with (registration) for the rest of their lives," Perry said. "From the first-time defendant's perspective, it certainly makes sense."

Say What?
Does the first-time defendant really think that?
Does the defense attorney really think that any time on the sex offender registration list, even 10 yrs, will allow the offender to be able to rehabilitate themselves and resume a normal life?
Where are they supposed to live and work for those 10 yrs? What kind of abuse will they and their families have to endure for those 10 yrs? They've served their time. The receidivism rate for sex offenders is very low.

When you put everyone else who's committed any type of crime on a public list, then you can have one for sex offenders. Until then, registry be damned!

Posted by: kat | Aug 17, 2016 10:59:58 AM

The fact that registration is used in plea bargaining, as a chip, undermines any claim that it is a civil, and not punitive, measure.

Posted by: jsnsdf | Aug 17, 2016 11:48:42 AM

What happens when continued registration requirements and other restrictions on former sex offenders causes several RSO's to finally reach the tipping point where at least some of them finally say, "Enough is enough?"

If some registrants decide to rebel in a massive way against these restrictions, then all bets are off. We could see some registrants who live in clusters forming radicalized political self-defense groups like the Black Panthers, the One Percent Movement, and other such groups. Then, law enforcement will REALLY have a job on its hands as it now will have to deal with former s.o."s who are no longer willing to put up with harassment by police or with attacks by vigilantes. This could mean more of the blood shed that is now plaguing black ghettoes in Milwaukee, Baton Rouge, etc.

If politicians and especially law enforcement agencies are smart, they will repeal laws that will only serve to make them needless targets. The police's job is dangerous enough without provoking other have-nots (in this case, rso's)into resorting to violent resistance.

Posted by: william r. delzell | Aug 17, 2016 4:16:35 PM

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