Penn Supreme Court’s opinion that PennSORNA is unconstitutional stands after appeal to SCOTUS

The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear a challenge to a recent state court ruling that determined part of Pennsylvania’s sex offender registration law was unconstitutional.

Accordingly, SCOTUS will allow the PA ruling to stand.

In July, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the 2012 update, which expanded the offenses covered under the law and changed how often and for how long some people must register, was punishment.

Prior to the ruling, the registry was generally considered a civil penalty, which allowed it to be imposed on people retroactively.

Finding that sex offender registration and notification rules are actually punishment has huge consequences. It means that a legislature cannot continue to impose more and more requirements onto those convicted of prior sex offenses. At present, convicted sex offenders are subjected to annual list of new requirements and legal obligations.

One federal district court declared Alabama’s law imposes for life “the most comprehensive, debilitating sex-offender scheme in the land, one that includes not only most of the restrictive features used by various other jurisdictions, but also unique additional requirements and restrictions nonexistent elsewhere, at least in this form.”

This articles details life as a sex offender and how the fiction that SORNA is not punishment is a legal fiction in Alabama.

McGuire was convicted of sexual assault in Colorado more than 30 years ago, before many of the modern punishments around sexual crimes were enacted into law, and his argument hinges on constitutional protections against punishments created after a crime is committed.

After serving three years in prison and another on parole, he was released in 1989. He did not find himself in trouble with the law again until 2010, when he moved back to his native Montgomery to be closer to his mother and family.

Upon returning to Alabama, McGuire went to a Montgomery police station to confirm if, as a convicted felon, he was in breach of any state laws. It was at the station he learned he had to register as a sex offender.

He couldn’t live with his wife, mother or brother in Montgomery, because the state required him to stay away from kids, schools and daycares. Soon he was jobless and living under a bridge, with “Criminal Sex Offender” stamped in red letters on his driver’s license.

“He feels like he’s in prison again, a prison without bars,”  said Phil Telfeyan, McGuire’s lawyer. “He is restricted where he can live, where he can take jobs. It’s like being a permanent prisoner.”

. . .Alabama’s sex offender laws are among the most stringent in the nation. Home to more than 11,000 registered sex offenders, Alabama is among four states that put sex offenders on a mandatory registry for life and the only state that puts the sex offender stamp on a driver’s license.

Currently, I have two appeals pending before the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals attempting to convince the Alabama appellate courts that Alabama’s SORNA statute is punitive. See here for a discussion of those cases.

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