The End of Logic in the Law

On December 20, 2012, the amendments to the Sex Offender Notification and Registration Act (otherwise known as SORNA/the Adam Walsh Act/the most illogically crafted legislation in modern Pennsylvania history) will go into affect.  When the initial Adam Wash Act was signed into law, the purpose was to protect children from sexual predators and to prevent known offenders from re-offending.  While few people would advocate against legislation meant to protect children, someone should have been shouting from the rooftops at our state legislators for failing to use their common sense when drafting these amendments.

The purpose of our criminal justice system is to provide a mechanism by which criminals capable of rehabilitation can rehabilitate themselves, to more severely punish those who are repeat offenders, and to protect the public.  Our juvenile system is predicated on the idea that juveniles can be reformed to become responsible and productive members of society.  The United States Supreme Court recently issued an opinion in which it reasoned that, “the distinctive attributes of youth diminish the penological justifications for imposing the harshest sentences on juvenile offenders, even when they commit terrible crimes.”  Miller v. Alabama.  Why then, would juvenile offenders under the amendments to SORNA be subjected to “the harshest sentences” with the requirement of life registration? Under the SORNA/Adam Walsh Act Amendments, juvenile offenders and sexually violent delinquent children must register every three months for life.

Adult offenders are categorized into three tiers which determine how long he/she must register depending on conviction. Tier I must register for fifteen years, tier II for 25 and tier III offenders must register for life.  An offender who initially falls into Tier I or II could find himself or herself registered for life if he/she is convicted of two or more offenses under Tier I or II.   However, there is no tier system for juveniles, and if convicted of certain offenses, they must register for life.  A juvenile must register for life if he/she lives, works or attends school in Pennsylvania, was over fourteen when the crime was committed, and is adjudicated delinquent of rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, or conspiracy, attempt or solicitation of any of these crimes. Additionally, any juvenile who is found to be a sexually violent delinquent child under Title 42, Section 6401, et seq. will be required to register for life.  They will be required, among other things, to report in person to the state police every ninety (90) days, to notify the state police ten (10) days in advance if they plan to travel outside the county and twenty-one (21) days in advance if they plan to travel outside of the country.  Additionally, any change in residence must be reported at least ten (10) days in advance.  If the juvenile, after turning 18, fails to comply with any of these strict registration requirements, he/she will be subject to penalties under 18 Pa.C.S. § 4915.1 as a first or second degree felony.  The penalty for the first violation would be a mandatory minimum incarceration of three years, second violation would be a mandatory minimum incarceration for five years, and a third violation would be a mandatory minimum incarceration for seven years.

While the juvenile amendments, in my opinion, are the most heinous parts of the new law, the absurdity does not stop there.  The purpose of this law was to close what lawmakers saw as loopholes in the Megan’s Law system and to further protect children.  However, the law goes too far in that it requires individuals convicted of non-sexual crimes to register as sex offenders.  For example, the following crimes will carry a requirement that the defendant register: 1) Kidnapping of a minor; 2) Unlawful restraint of a minor; 3) False imprisonment of a minor; 4) Interference with custody of children; and 5) Luring a child into a motor vehicle.   While there is no dispute that these crimes should be punishable, none of them appear to represent a sexual offense which would trigger the same registration requirements as rape of a child, indecent sexual contact with a child, or creation/possession of child pornography.

For more information on this law, check out my previous blog post on Megan’s Law, or visit the State Legislature’s website.