Pennsylvania and SORNA: Take two

By Aaron J. Marcus . . . Two years ago, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court shook up long-settled orthodoxy by ruling that the state’s sex offender registration law, otherwise known as SORNA (Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act) was punishment. The case, Commonwealth v. Muniz, 164 A.3d 1189 (Pa. 2018), presented the Court with two questions: whether people who committed their crimes before the adoption of the law could continue to be registered without running afoul of the state Constitution’s Ex Post Facto Clause, a fairness doctrine that prevents governments from retroactively applying greater punishments to conduct than could have been applied at the time of the crime; and, second, whether the law more broadly violates due process by unfairly labeling a person as sexually dangerous without first proving that fact and without giving the person an opportunity to challenge that message. While the Court answered the first question with a resounding yes, it punted on the second.

The effect of that decision meant that although Pennsylvania was forced to reduce the length of registration for many people who had committed their crimes many years before, or in many cases remove them from the registry altogether, it did little to change how the law would be applied moving forward.  SORNA was largely left undisturbed for the roughly 1500 new people added to the registry every year.  The due process issue left undecided by the Pennsylvania high court in Muniz is now again before that court, and this time it will be harder to avoid deciding it.

One of the first people to be required to register under the new law was the defendant in Commonwealth v. Torsilieri.   Torsilieri was convicted by a jury of a non-consensual sexual offense. He had no prior record, the jury acquitted him of the most serious charges, and according to the trial judge he did not pose a risk of committing other crimes. Yet, SORNA automatically required him to register for the remainder of his life. He is now 27. Not willing to accept that consequence, Torsilieri filed a pre-sentence motion seeking to bar his registration under nine different theories. Specifically, he relied on the Pennsylvania Constitution’s Declaration of Rights, which treats the right to reputation as fundamental and deserving of the same protections our federal constitution affords to life, liberty and property.  He also raised other claims under the state and federal constitutions, notably that SORNA is overbroad on its face and therefore cannot be applied to anyone without violating their rights to due process.

Although many of his specific claims have been raised by others seeking to challenge SORNA in the past, as we described more fully in earlier posts, the real strength of Torsilieri’s case is that he decided not to rely on legal arguments alone. He knew that facts matter, and that the facts are on his side. In support of his claims, he hired three of the world’s leading experts to present evidence that SORNA is overbroad and ineffective. The evidence and agreement is overwhelming, and importantly the state did not even attempt to rebut it. Torsilieri established that not all people convicted of sexual crimes are alike, and that many pose no more risk to the community of committing another sexual offense than people convicted of any other crime, from drug possession to theft. Most people now required to register will never reoffend, and even the few people who do, will do so within the first 10 years of their release. Moreover, he showed that SORNA does not keep us safe. It creates merely an appearance of safety, while in truth the law threatens the community by making those on the list second class citizens, thereby depriving them of the key things that reduce risk of reoffending, like jobs, family, and community reintegration.

Read the full piece here at the Collateral Consequences Resource Center.

 

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This topic contains 10 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by Avatar Mike 1 day, 10 hours ago.

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  • #54344 Reply
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    admin

    By Aaron J. Marcus . . . Two years ago, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court shook up long-settled orthodoxy by ruling that the state’s sex offender registr
    [See the full post at: Pennsylvania and SORNA: Take two]

  • #54380 Reply
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    Timothy

    Re- winding back to a time before electronic domestic surveillance which was the hidden ” something else afoot” in the run up to bartello (Alaska v Doe) which weighed ” the people’s use of electronic database for surveillance ” first. It was decided in that case that men’s right to good accurate reputation and privacy was outweighed by the need for knowledge about convictions of our neighbors and the right to post as registries do.

  • #54388 Reply
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    TS

    Can anyone find the court docs to read for this case? If so, please advise.

  • #54399 Reply
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    Timothy

    Timothy

    The strength is in the ” testimony” that same testimony can be had in FTR situations too.

  • #54664 Reply
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    Scott

    Hello, I have been off of the registry since 2010. The bad news is we are still considered a liability in almost every aspect of life. Housing? lol nope. Work? If you cant do manuel work, it is almost impossible to find a job unless you have family members or possibly a friend to get you a job for that time you need a job. I had a 60,000+ a year job but now that family member retired and they got rid of me with in 30 days. Nobody wants to help it would be a liability for anybody to stick there neck out for you. Never ending punishment is what it is unfortunately.

    • #55261 Reply
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      Chuck

      Hang in there Scott. Don’t give up. . This way you have skills they want. I have found several landlords that do not care as long as you have the credit score to get approved. My advice is to be honest and direct. You don’t have to be a walking billboard for SORNA but be honest about it.

  • #54752 Reply
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    Bryanna

    I think megan law could use a reform for some state who make you register as a sex offender for public urination, teen sexting or consensual relations,or a prostitute being convicted the second time. SORNA is great for those severe convictions the world needs to get Megan’s law back to were it was put in place for the children of the worlds safety and that is it. When did it become more about the convicted shame with registration then the child life or long,long ,long road of internal destroyant. We need to pray for our children growing up in this government mess. Megan’s law is for the children put it back in place NARSOL you can do it I believe you can.

  • #55334 Reply
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    Michael

    Hello, my name is Michael and in July of 2015 I was Pennsylvania on one charge of invasion of privacy with no minors involved.
    In August of 2013 I was accused of using an old cell phone to “sneak a peek” at a girls behind in my bathroom at my home in Gilbertsville PA. My cousins were there that night and not even involved and pressed charges on me. My one cousin, had just become a deputy sheriff in the County Court house and her Boyfriend had just become a part time police officer. They used scare tactics to get me to confess to this crime and even frisked me days later illegally. They told me if I didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear and if I didn’t give them my cell phone, they would go to the police. I was later brought to the court in which my cousin works and was sentenced even though this should have been a conflict of interest. There were no minors involved and anyone who could have been considered a victim had recused themselves from the proceedings and did not want anything to do with it. There also was no evidence of any illegal activity on any of my devices that had been taken from me and my home. The only reason I got in any trouble was because I confessed to the police and to my cousins out of fear of getting in more severe trouble if I denied. We even had all of the official testing done by an expert in this field and he appeared in court stating that I do not meet the criteria for an SVP. The woman from SOAB never met with me and stated that I did in fact meet the criteria so they made me an SVP. This is unheard of for this type of crime. I knew that this all seemed very wrong and unjust. I have never broken the law before and worked for the township for 12 years. I went to college and had a respectable life at the time. After I was charged in 2013, I lost my home, job, car, pension, and promotion, insurance, and eventually became homeless sleeping in a field and can never be eligible to have a decent job again. I was given a life sentence for an M3 with no priors when technicalities, scare tactics, and conflicts of interest could have been applied. I was also give 7 years of probation as well. I cannot go on like this anymore and something needs to be done. My sentence is now an “illegal sentence”, so why cant I do anything about this? Megan’s Law has gone too far and is creating an entirely new decay of society. It is counter-productive and does not accomplish anything it has set out to. It is only permanently ruining lives in every aspect. I feel like a case like mine could be used as weight for Arron Marcus to drive his facts home to the judges.

  • #56066 Reply
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    Mike

    I was placed on the Megan’s list in November of 2010 for ten years . Next year, 2020, I will be on this list for ten years with no arrests. Back in 2012, I was place in Tier 3 and had to register for life. Then in 2015, I received a notice in the mail that my Tier level was changed to Tier 2. It had something to do with Pennsylvania is not allowed to classify offenders by the number of their offenses. Then in May 2018 I was moved to Tier 1 when we had to register again prior to the new SORNA law. After I received my new registration form to comply with SORNA, my offender status was once again changed from Tier 1 to “pending review”. It’s been nearly one whole year since I was placed on “pending review”. Recently, I called Harrisburg and I am told that I am still on “pending review” and that they cannot tell me any other information. Does any of this make sense to anyone? I haven’t even received any notice about my next registration period. I am simply told over the phone that I will receive a notice by mail as to when I will have to register again. Am I the only one who is experiencing these pending review “mind games”? How can a non-violent sex offender go from a ten year registration, to registering for life in Tier 3, then be moved to Tier 2, then to Tier 1, then to “pending review”. Can anyone explain this to me?

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