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March 4, 2019

Third Circuit panel rules sex offenders subject to registration laws in Pennsylvania are "in custody" for habeas purposes

Last week, a unanimous panel of the Third Circuit issued what seems to be a groundbreaking ruling about habeas jurisdiction. In Piasecki v. Court of Common Pleas, No. 16-4175 (3d Cir. Feb 27, 2019) (available here), the Third Circuit distinguished a variety of contrary rulings from other circuits to hold that a registered sex offender in Pennsylvania is “in custody” for purposes of having jurisdiction to bring a habeas corpus challenge. Here is how the opinion starts and ends:

We are asked to decide whether a habeas corpus petitioner who was subject only to registration requirements under Pennsylvania’s Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (“SORNA”) when he filed his petition was “in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State Court,” as required for jurisdiction.  We hold that the registration requirements were sufficiently restrictive to constitute custody and that they were imposed pursuant to the state court judgment of sentence.  Accordingly, we will reverse the District Court and remand for further proceedings.....

The writ of habeas corpus “is not now and never has been a static, narrow, formalistic remedy.”  The scope of the writ has grown in accordance with its purpose — to protect individuals against the erosion of their right to be free from wrongful restraints upon their liberty.  SORNA’s registration requirements clearly constitute a restraint upon liberty, a physical restraint not shared by the public generally.  The restraint imposed on Piasecki is a direct consequence of a state court judgment of sentence, and it therefore can support habeas corpus jurisdiction.  For all of the reasons set forth above, the order of the District Court is vacated and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

March 4, 2019 at 11:12 AM | Permalink


Great decision. Will have wide-reaching applications. Litigated by Peter Goldberger, a superb lawyer.

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Mar 4, 2019 5:57:56 PM

Constitutional common sense! I wish the lawmakers would stop trying to get elected based on how many lashes they think need to be given a registered citizen retroactively.

Posted by: Book38 | Mar 4, 2019 6:10:22 PM

Dealing with exact same issue, appeal on State Supreme Court ran over until sentence completed. Filed a writ of habeas 2254 shortly afterwards, government opposed stating that my sentence was completed. But I started the appeal process in 2004 and am still appealing for my case to be heard by people that care about the truth and justice, but they try and stop me at every turn. If anyone has case law similar to Paisecki please ley me know. Wright

Posted by: ShagasWright | Aug 12, 2019 4:08:32 PM

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