The Dobbs Wire: Another section of Pennsylvania’s registration law ruled UNconstitutional

Pennsylvania:  Aftershocks from a recent groundbreaking Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling continue.  Now a mid-level appeals court, the Pennsylvania Superior Court, has ruled another part of the state’s sex offense registration law violates both the state and federal constitution.  The case involved a man who had consensual sex with a minor dozens of times and was designated a ‘sexually violent predator’ (SVP), a label that carries extra stigma and penalties.  The court overturned his designation, ruled the current SVP designation process unconstitutional, and laid out constitutional standards for the future, calling for the legislature to take action.   Congratulations to Joseph Butler and kudos to his legal eagle Joseph L. Smith and the Butler County Public Defender’s Office.


What made this win possible is a July decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court  (Pennsylvania v. Muniz).  The court ruled that being forced to sign the registry and all the other burdens of registration is, in the eyes of the law, *punishment*, and declared that imposing more punishment after an individual has already been sentenced is unconstitutional.  Suddenly thousands of registrants were in a legal limbo – arguably no longer subject to a newer (2012) registration law while the earlier statute (1995) had been repealed. The legislature is expected to “fix” this problem – stay tuned.  There’s much more about all this in reports from the Reading Eagle and The Morning Call, also below is a link to the Superior Court ‘s new decision (Pennsylvania v. Butler).  Have a look!   –Bill Dobbs, The Dobbs Wire



Reading Eagle (Reading, PA) | Nov. 6, 2017

Ruling halts proceedings related to defendants facing sexually violent predator designations


By Stephanie Weaver


Edited excerpts:  The state Superior Court has handed down a ruling that put an immediate halt to all court proceedings related to defendants facing sexually violent predator designations.  In light of a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that registration requirements are a form of punishment, the court said registering as a sexually violent predator is an additional penalty.  Prior to that Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision, registration was thought of as a civil consequence of committing a sex offense. 


But due to that new definition, the state Superior Court said in its ruling Tuesday that the entire framework for then designating sexual offenders as sexually violent predators is unconstitutional. As such, the court placed a moratorium on all sexually violent predator proceedings until state legislators enact a new, constitutional system for sex offender registration.   The ruling reasoned that since it is an increased punishment, the facts supporting it must be found, beyond a reasonable doubt, by the defendant’s choice of either a judge or a jury, like a trial.  Previously, such designations required only “clear and convincing evidence,” a lower burden of proof.


The recent ruling granted an appeal to a Butler County man who was questioning his status for a statutory sexual assault conviction.  The designation increased his registration term from 15 years to life, which he claimed violated his constitutional right to protect his reputation.


As the second ruling within several months to call the state’s current sexual offender statute into question, District Attorney John T. Adams said that it’s time to start fresh. “What we need now is a rewrite of our statutory scheme dealing with the sexual offenders registry,” he said. Adams agreed that the Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act and its federally mandated provisions was overreaching and problematic from the start. MORE:



The Morning Call (Allentown, PA)| Oct. 26, 2017

Legal questions swirl around Megan’s Law in Pennsylvania


By Riley Yates


Excerpts:  Since 1995, Pennsylvania has had Megan’s Law, which seeks to protect communities by requiring sex offenders to register with the state police, or face arrest if they fail to do so.  The ruling found that Pennsylvania’s latest version of the registry — the 2012 Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act — was so harsh that, unlike its predecessors, it had become a form of punishment, and not merely a tool to educate and inform the public. 


As a result, the law commonly called SORNA can’t be applied looking backward, to cases that predated its enactment, the court said. Doing so violates the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions, both of which ban after-the-fact punishments, wrote Justice Kevin Dougherty.


Because of this summer’s ruling, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association estimates that 10,000 of the 22,000 names on the registry could be removed. State police say the decision could affect more than 17,000 registrants, including over 1,000 who are classified as sexually violent predators, a designation given to those deemed the greatest risk to offend again.


It’ll take future court cases to show just how expansive the ruling proves to be. But defense attorneys are pressing that issue, flooding courthouses with appeals arguing that anyone whose crime predated SORNA — which took effect Dec. 20, 2012 — should no longer have to register.  MORE:


Pennsylvania v. Butler

Superior Court of Pennsylvania Case No. 1225 WDA 2016

Opinion filed Oct. 31, 2017



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