PA’s high court rules retroactive SORNA violates constitution

By NARSOL’s editorial board…..

Breaking and exciting news comes today from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. This is, as far as we know, the first published analysis of the case:

The NARSOL contact in Pennsylvania reached out to someone who is knowledgeable about the case, and he sends us this analysis:

By Jerry Berardi….

In a 6-1 decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Commonwealth v. Muniz, ruled that 1) the provisions in SORNA’s registration constitute punishment notwithstanding the General Assembly’s identification of the provisions as non-punitive; 2) retroactive application of SORNA’s registration provisions violates the federal ex post facto clause; and 3) retroactive application of SORNA’s registration provisions also violates the ex post facto clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Defendant Muniz was convicted in 2007 of two counts of indecent assault arising out of an incident where he touched the breasts of his girlfriend’s 12-year old daughter. At the time of the offense, the registration period for Megan’s Law was 10 years. Muniz failed to appear for his sentencing hearing and absconded until he was captured on unrelated charges in Rhode Island in September 2014. SORNA replaced Megan’s Law III in 2012 whereas persons convicted of indecent assault of a person less than 13 years old, 18 Pa.C.S. §3126(a)(7), are now categorized as Tier III offenders and are required to register as sex offenders for the remainder of their lives. Accordingly, Muniz was sentenced to 4 to 14 months’ imprisonment and ordered to comply with lifetime registration requirements under SORNA. Muniz filed a post-sentence motion seeking application of the 10-year registration period under Megan’s Law III, which was the law in place at the time of his offense and conviction instead of lifetime registration under SORNA. The trial court and the Pennsylvania Superior Court denied his motion, which was then appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Pennsylvania’s ex post facto clause provides greater protections than the federal counterpart, and SORNA’s registration provisions violate the federal clause; therefore, they are also unconstitutional under the state clause.

The logical assumption is that this ruling means that all registrants who were sentenced to register for a specified time period before SORNA took effect in 2012 will now revert to that time frame instead of the enhanced registration requirements brought about by Pennsylvania adopting SORNA. The implication is, then, that those originally sentenced to a 10-year registration period pre-SORNA will no longer have to register for 15 years.

More on this highly significant ruling will follow.


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