The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that adding someone to the state’s sex offender registry is a punishment, and therefore cannot be done retroactively.
The case, Pennsylvania v. Muniz, pertained to the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), which went into effect in Pennsylvania in 2012. Previous sex offense law required certain offenders to register for the list for only 10 years after their conviction. SORNA, however, required many of those same offenders to register for life. As a result, thousands of offenders that had served their 10-year registration requirements were retroactively required to register again.
Pennsylvania argued that being added to the sex offender registry was not a punitive measure and therefore had no conflict with in the United States and Pennsylvania constitutions prohibiting retroactive punishments. The court disagreed.
“SORNA’s registration and online publication provisions place a unique burden on the right to reputation, which is particularly protected in Pennsylvania,” the court opinion read.
Jose Muniz, the appellant, was convicted in 2007 of touching the breasts of his girlfriend’s 12-year-old daughter. The court’s ruling relieves him of registering as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
Pennsylvania’s 2017 sex offender registry lists 21,295 people, more than 11,000 of which are Tier III offenders required to register for life. While it’s unclear exactly how many of those will be affected by the ruling, thousands of previous 10-year registrants were reclassified as life registrants by the SORNA law in 2012, and Muniz is only one of hundreds of offenders that sued the state over their reclassification.
The court also narrowed the application of SORNA with its 2016 decision in A.S. v Pennsylvania State Police, requiring Pennsylvania to lower more than 1,000Tier III offenders to Tier 1 or 2, which don’t require life registration.
Retroactive laws similar to SORNA have been struck down in Ohio, Indiana and Maryland.
A Maryland court ruled in 2015 that sex offenders cannot be retroactively forced to register to a list, and that circuit courts can order an offender’s removal from a registry, according to Prison Legal News.
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