SORNA determined to be an unconstitutional violation of ex post facto laws when applied to former Megan’s Law offenders
In a decision issued by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on July 19, 2017, the Supreme Court held that imposing the enhanced penalties of the Pennsylvania Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) retroactively is a violation of both the United States Constitutional protection against Ex Post Facto laws and the Pennsylvania Constitution Ex Post Facto Laws.
This opinion arises after a Cumberland County resident, Jose M. Muniz, was convicted of two counts of indecent assault on February 7, 2007. At the time of conviction, Mr. Muniz would have been ordered to register as a sex offender under Pennsylvania’s Megan’s law for a period of ten years. However, Mr. Muniz fled the jurisdiction and was not apprehended until September 2014. On December 20, 2012, Pennsylvania had replaced Megan’s Law with SORNA in compliance with a Federal funding requirement that States must comply with the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 and create a tiered based system of registration and notification requirements. In 2014, at the time of sentencing of Mr. Muniz, the Trial Court complied with the requirements of SORNA and ordered that Mr. Muniz register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
On Appeal, the Pennsylvania Superior Court agreed with the Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas that SORNA did not violate a person’s right to be free from Ex Post Facto laws. Ex Post Facto laws are those that change the consequences of a law after the action has been committed. An example would be making an action criminal and applying the newly enacted criminal law to actions which had previously occurred during a time when citizens would not know that the action is a crime.
In a fifty-five page 5-1 decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Justices reversed the decision of the Superior Court and held that the SORNA change applied prior to December 20, 2012 is a violation of both the US Constitution and the Pennsylvania Constitution’s Ex Post Facto clauses meaning that SORNA cannot be applied to crimes committed prior to December 20, 2012. This could lead to a series of appeals as any person convicted but not yet sentenced on December 20, 2012, or any person registering under Megan’s Law and forced by the Pennsylvania State Police to begin registering according to SORNA might have standing to file an appeal.