Pennsylvania State Police Lack Standing to Pursue SORNA Appeal

The Pennsylvania State Police filed seventy-three (73) appeals to the Superior Court after the Commonwealth and defendants in those cases entered into negotiated plea agreements which would alter registration requirements the defendants would otherwise be required to follow under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA).   In each case, the District Attorney and defendant entered into an agreement, where in exchange for the plea, it was agreed that the defendants would either not be subject to registration, or would be subjected to a reduced period of registration.  In all cases the judge accepted the plea agreements.

The Pennsylvania State Police filed notices of appeal in all seventy-three (73) cases.  The defendants asked that the appeals be quashed because the PSP lacked standing.  The Commonwealth also asked that the appeals be quashed for a lack of standing.  The Superior Court agreed and dismissed the case.  The court found that the PSP was not a party to the underlying criminal cases.  Additionally, the PSP were not aggrieved by the trial court orders because they do not have a substantial interest in the cases.  The court reasoned that SORNA does not vest the PSP with the authority to adjudicate matters affected by the court’s rulings, but rather its role is administrative and limited to routine police duties.

The PSP argued that the court lacked authority to uphold plea agreements which negate statutory requirements.  While the court determined that the PSP lacked standing to pursue this argument, it did state in dicta that an en banc panel of the Superior Court unanimously upheld a trial court’s specific enforcement of a plea agreement which exempted a defendant from registering as a sexual offender under Megan’s Law. That case, Commonwealth v. Hainesworth, 82 A.3d 444 (2013), is presently pending before the Supreme Court on a Petition for Allowance of Appeal.