NEWS RELEASE: Judge declares PA Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act Unconstitutional

NEW FREEDOM, Pa. – Today [8/23/22] Chester County Court Judge Allison Bell Royer ruled that Pennsylvania’s Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act is unconstitutional in Commonwealth v. George Torsilieri.

“PARSOL and our affiliates across the country have long advocated against sex offender registries due to their punitive nature and ineffectiveness. Research indicates that most sexual offenses are committed by first-time offenders,” said PARSOL Executive Director Theresa Robertson, Ph.D., “We also believe the indefeasible right to reputation, as guaranteed in the Pennsylvania Constitution, should prohibit registries that are too often used to harass citizens.”

In the 28-page opinion, Judge Bell Royer agreed, writing: “The bottom line, as the defense experts have demonstrated, is that 80% to 95% of all sex offenders will not re-offend.” and “(SORNA) encroaches upon a person’s fundamental right to reputation under Article I, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.”

On June 16, 2020, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania remanded the case of Commonwealth v. George Torsilieri to the Court of Common Pleas in Chester County.

“At the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania (SCOPA) level, the Commonwealth was unable to substantiate SORNA’s presumption that ‘all sex offenders pose a high risk of sexually reoffending’ and therefore able to be imposed as part of criminal sentencing, so it sent the case back to the lower court for this ruling,” according to Robertson. “We are thrilled by Judge Royer’s decision and grateful to Mr. Torsilieri’s legal team for its diligence and the robust research presented by the expert witnesses.”

Judge Royer’s ruling also states that “[SORNA] does not function as intended and is not effective at promoting public safety. It diverts resources away from offenders who could most benefit from them. Finally, SORNA catches in its net offenders who have committed crimes with no sexual component to them. It is unconstitutionally overbroad and excessive.  We find that SORNA’s registration and notification provisions are punitive in effect, overriding the Legislature’s attempted creation of a civil regulatory scheme.”

In addition, the ruling states that SORNA “results in a criminal sentence in excess of the statutory maximums; violates Federal and State proscriptions against cruel and unusual punishment; and breaches the separation of powers doctrine.”

“We see this as a big step toward ensuring the rights and dignity of all Pennsylvanians by shifting resources toward the promotion of legislative, policy, and practical applications that will, through evidence-based measures, actually protect citizens from sexual harm,” added Robertson.  “While the long-term effects of today’s decision are uncertain, and may result in further action by SCOPA, it nonetheless is a significant finding that coincides with PARSOL’s mission.”

With a population of 521,980 (2020), Chester County, Pennsylvania, has the seventh largest population of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. Bordering Philadelphia, it is best known for housing the American Revolutionary War encampment Valley Forge where George Washington’s army housed and trained in 1777-78. There are currently 191 Chester County residents on the Megan’s Law List.

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34 Thoughts to “NEWS RELEASE: Judge declares PA Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act Unconstitutional”

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  1. Don S

    MAJOR VICTORY! I doubt the state even has the ability to appeal under this decision considering it was remanded for decision to the lower court.

    As a FYI, I am one of the Class Action Representatives that participated in Does II in Michigan and now Does III v Whitmer. The class action is proceeding and the classes have been certified. We are seeking injunctive relief as this case winds it way through the courts AGAIN.

    We are attacking the following:

    1. Ex Post Facto Claim – that SORA 2021 is punishment and cannot be retroactively applied to pre-2011 registrants.
    2. Retroactive Extension of Registration to Life Claim – that registry obligations cannot be retroactively extended to last for life.
    3. Unequal Opportunity to Petition Claim – that procedures currently available to Tier I registrants to petition for removal from the registry should apply to all registrants who meet the same eligibility criteria.
    4. First Amendment Compelled Speech Claim – that forcing registrants to report information compel them to speak in violation of their First Amendment rights.
    5. Non-Sex Offense Claim – that it is unconstitutional to require people who did not commit a sex offense to register as sex offenders.
    6. First Amendment Compelled Admission Claim – that registrants cannot be forced to sign a form saying they understand SORA. (This form is used in prosecutions against registrants for SORA violations.)

    If you are reading this…do your part and help bring this crazy and unconstitutional scarlet lettering scheme to an END. I certainly am. Stand up for your rights. Nobody else will.

    1. mut

      i curious why you are not questioning the monetary value to government of the forced speach imposed by sorna???

      1. Tim in WI

        Speech is indeed an issue for the DDI. No doubt SOR implicates speech. However, so does a signed Standard Waiver of Civil Right.
        Here the Court identified an overbroad reliance upon the database. In doing so the court also referred to the non sexual component identified by the minority point in SMITHV03, whereas Alaska unreasonably cross pollinated “motive groups” while simultaneously insisting on the measurable presence of physiological patterns (disorder)with respect to the people’s intent behind the Act ( as expressed in preamble) while overcasted with plain ex post retrospective language in codified statute applying to those already convicted. All of which are as marketing the internet (DDI) as a way to protect our most vulnerable. WE’LL MAKE IT SAFE! I suggest it is the alternative purpose cited that was actually the primary interest. Given it was the Byrne Grant folks who insisted upon potential withholding for lack of state database compliance in the registry regime, they must have had something important by way of an over broad agenda concerning the uses of the databases for themselves.

    2. Tim in WI

      Unsettled, that’s all.

    3. Lisa Kosten

      Being on a sex registry for 15 years for “unlawful contact” with a minor on the computer is rediculous! Now this person cant find an apartment/housing and no one will hire him, which will just create more alienation, homelessness. Let the record show that Megan’s Law has not reduced sex offences. What that rapist did to Megan Kanka is horrible , but no comparison to sex crimes on-line or putting his hands in her pants, which he should be punished, but not to this extreme. The punishment should fit the crime.

  2. Jamba

    One step forward ……..

  3. Larry T

    I think that this marvelous, but the pessimist in me is coming through. So I have to pose the question to the legal eagles. Will this have any significant influence on other state SORNA programs? Can the arguments used in this case be tailored to the other states? Are there any legal teems willing to move forward with this in the other states?

    1. Tim in WI

      No, PA registered persons only. There is ALWAYS the battle between “what is proper” state function versus federal function. The evidence sought by the higher court via remand needs to “qualify” as punishment. In my opinion, that evidence renders in the plain
      and historical referenced in common form indentured servitude to state’s property in re: database driven machine property. Either free persons are paid for machine maintenance or they are not? The punishment rests squarely in the human subservience rendered by law alone as the necessary AND sufficient condition. Some would have the people believe otherwise. The cry was about the violent man but the effect was about the gov use of the database in moral code.

    2. TS

      Yes, it can be persuasive to other states where similar cases are considered and even federally though not binding or precedent on either of them. RBG and Judge Matsch are raising a glass and toasting this opinion, IMO.

      1. Tim in WI

        Matsch recognized the cruel nature of indentured servitude reconstituted in registration form.

  4. Dennis

    Okay great news. But where does this leave us? I am pre-sorna and in my opinion I am registering under a law that has expired/ taken off the books/ been non existent since sorna came into effect.
    So what happens now to people pre sorna and sorna?
    Is it going to be appealed to SCOTUS?

    1. Chris

      I can answer at least part of this. SCOTUS can only rule on the Constitutionality of a law in respect to the US Constitution. If the ruling states that it violates the US Constitution, it can be appealed to the high Court. If the ruling only states that SORNA violates the PA Constitution, then I don’t think they would be able to appeal further. But I may be wrong.

      I haven’t read the opinion so I’m not sure which way it goes. I would actually love it if the opinion stated it violates the US Constitution and gets appealed to SCOTUS. If they take the case, they are forced to rule using the existing information/studies, which clearly favor deconstructing registries. If they do not take it, the decision stands and can be used to argue future cases.

      If it pertains only to PA Constitution, then no other state is bound by the decision. That much I know for fact.

    2. Tim in WI

      Dennis,
      Unfortunately No. SCOTUS is leaving it to the State’s choice much like the abortion issue. Each State in self determination decides how “the gov database” can do and not do. We discuss the “use” of the machine database…and little else! Keep in mind ” civil” uses abound for the people, which essentially describes it’s popularity. But has the machine resulted in less crime or more? After all SOR was marketed as “public safety necessity.” I would argue that nothing could have made the people more vulnerable than the database, especially the more vulnerable among us.

      1. Derek

        I don’t think it will stay state level based on west Virginia v EPA case they just , started dismantling what’s called the administrative state
        Better know as non delegation clause
        Congress canot delegate authority to and outside governing agency to implement impose , unchecked they have to do it themselves and they can also not make any ruling oraws that infringe upon individual liberty’s there more on the commerce side there you go by by the end it’s happened by 2027

  5. Svejk

    This is great news, if only to see someone in the Judiciary stand up against this ridiculous law. I hope the decision will remain intact if there is any kind of appeal. More than likely, SORNA will be re-written to go around the decision. I’m off the PA registry since 2018. Given the hate postings on social media against people on the registry (feed them into woodchippers, etc., etc.), it is really important for all states to get the listing either abolished or rendered non-public!

  6. Max Freeman

    This is very great news!
    Now one can only hope they start looking into compensating all of the families who’s lives this registry has managed to ruin.

    1. Todd

      compensation? do you really think that any money would make up for any of this? I can guarantee you this, the only thing anyone on the registry wants, is for it to end. That is very unlikely, but to think that anyone deserves compensation from a gov that will never publicly do anything good for an RSO, is nuts! Understand, those on the RSO committed crime, and did their time, we can never change that, and we have to live with it. Yes, it has hurt a lot of families, but I am pretty sure most of them just want to be free from it.

      1. mut

        if they had to pay for it i doubt it would have happened. now that it has happened i want 20 years worth of restitution so i can rebuild whats left of my life.
        oops, excuse me, so sorry dont get it.

    2. Tim in WI

      Max,
      Large Gov infrastructure projects normally demand large impact studies BEFORE they are built. Especially large Federal Programs. Yet very few of the usual environmental impact questions were asked or applied to the database driven infrastructure’s building. The industry certainly benefits from certain Federal protections not widely accepted in others, USSC230 et. al. Big tech just seems to get a pass, because of the convenience, entertainment & enterprise wrought through its use.

  7. Todd

    Is it possible to see a timeline of all the rulings in PA, from what I remember their Supreme court at one time ruled that the registry was punishment based on Ex Post Facto, but then later over turned their own ruling to say that it wasn’t punishment – forgive me, hard to keep the facts straight on these as it changes all the time. But I do remember that it was good news than very bad. Now, a county judge, not even a federal judge says SORNA is unconstitutional (PA’s), which I am assuming, because this is how it always goes, the DA will appeal and that court will likely over turn it, then, maybe, that will be appealed and 8 years later, who knows. So it is exciting to see a judge stand up and do the right thing, just like the Circuit Court judge did in Denver/10th circuit, but because it was a conservative appeals court, one now on SCOTUS, that was blown up – and all hope was lost at that point. Then, lets look at the 6th circuit, THREE times that court has said the registry is bogus, yet in all the years since the first ruling, what has changed – nothing, nada, not one damn thing. Not in the 6th or nationally because SCOTUS refused to hear it, which sending it there now would be the WORST thing, those justices would probaby increase the laws and anyone on the registry would be put back in prison! OK, exaggerating a bit here, but even with this positive ruling, everything in the past says nothing will change, as nothing has – well it has, it has gotten WORSE! I heard that the penal code had some good changes on it, but again, will it change anything, at all, I doubt it, at least in my lifetime it won’t. The only wa I see anyone on the registry ever being truly free is to legally move out of the country and live some where, where there isn’t a bunch of ultra conservative politicians and judges ruling, I mean ruining our lives and this country.

    1. Chris

      The argument against “conservative” judges in your comment is bunk. Relegating RSOs to a deplorable class of people has roots in liberalism as well as conservativism. It is not a partisan issue.

      I believe it was Gorsuch (either him or Kavanaugh) who sided, in a dissent, WITH registered offenders in a case a few years ago. So I would go easy on the partisan rhetoric.

      Conservative judges and justices tend to be originalists, so they take the Constitution at its word rather than applying a “modern” lens to the document. As written, the Constitution IMO should disallow the use of registries for the very reasons outlined in this decision. I personally do not think it would be difficult to get justices to see them; the hard part is getting a case through the courts and onto the Supreme Court docket.

      1. Derek

        Scotus is ready your the only one so far that has clear perspective, yes gorsuch said that it’s unconstitutional, clrancw Thomas in the 2018 doe v?? I believe it was the last one before them said he was ready to start bringing it down on that case to the liberal judge that voted to keep it , cause that jusge said even tho he voted to constitution he is ready and willing to start looking at this issue thru the non delegation clause and said he would have if had more info at time , Thomas said he was ready then ,
        This scotus is gonna destroy and they have already started What’s called administrative state , that’s how epa v west Virginia got the EPA ruling unconstitutional because of non delegation clause separation of powers, and that’s just one aspect of the many unconstitutional issues with the registry it violates almost the entire dame constitution every amendment in way kr another

  8. Gerard

    Wow! Everyone should read this ruling Commonwealth v. Torsilieri – Aug 2022 Ruling (see link above). So refreshing to hear common sense applied and the re-offending statistics clarified. Will this be taken up in CA?

  9. William Hart

    This is some great news. But I’m sure those groups that advocate for stricter SO laws are already making plans. These groups that go state to state and make presentations to legislative bodies do so secretively. I have yet to identify them specifically. I know that ALEC is one, but there are others too. We must expose them for what they are, bring them into the light of day and vote wisely.
    Thank you PARSOL and all your supporters for this victory.

    1. Steven

      This sad regulation has long ruined peoples’ lives and needs national visibility before more humans die from the shameful way we treat one another.

  10. Capt Charles 'Bob' Munsey Jr. USN Ret

    If it’s un-Constitutional in one state, shouldn’t it be un-Constitutional in all states. I thought we were the United States. Maybe I missed that lesson. I thought all the states ratified the US Constitution.

    1. Chris

      Each state has its own Constitution. A law can violate state constitution without violating the US Constitution. I personally think these laws do violate the US Constitution, though.

    2. Todd

      Sadly I wish that was true, based on what the US constitution says, it is, but that is subject to interpretation by what ever court hears the case. In the 10th, a Federal Judge said it was under 3 different laws, but when the appeals court heard it, they said nope, the registry is not punishment, therefore, not unconstitutional. This was federal, which is what needs to happen, 2 circuit courts ruled that it is not punishment and one said that it is, I am not 100% sure, but until it gets to SCOTUS, which would be a bad thing I think as conservative as it is, it would solidify it. On the State level that is the best chance, but unfortunately, that doesn’t really affect anyone else outside of that state. Other states can use it as case information, but it does not set precedence that other states have to abide by.

  11. Mike

    Very good!! The more tools of destruction removed by governance the better . I pray the rest of the United States follows example . This judge has logical reasoning . More people need this . Huge props to this judge for having common sense which is lacking is 80 percent of our modern society .!!!!!

  12. Alfred DeLeo

    ANSWERS: To clear-up some confusion, the answers here should give a little more of an understanding to those not in the legal arena: (1) Even though this issue was reviewed by the PA Supreme Court and remanded back to the lower court on some issues, once the lower court addresses those issues and enters a written order on those issues, the State can still appeal, but only as to the issues addressed. (2) As in Muniz, these constitutional challenges raises grounds based on the PA Constitution, and therefore, PA can go to the Federal Court on appeal or for some sort of further action and relief, but that is quite limited if no Federal Constitutional challenges were made (for example, this case is based on only PA Constitution even though the references to the US Constitution are made showing that the PA Constitution is modeled from the US Constitution, there are no federal grounds raised as to the US Constitutional). (3) Each State’s legal opinions/decision are only exclusive to the state they were decided in by the highest state court. However, these opinions/decisions can be used in cases in other states but not as precedent, only in a manner as known as a “persuasive argument” on how the other state addressed and decided the same ground and used the logic and reasoning of each ground decided and its attending, supporting opinions/decisions and caselaw from US and the other state Courts. That ‘s all the power they have – persuasive for arguments sake. (4) To answer the last question that goes along with number 3 above, referencing the legal reasoning and logic in Muniz, Does v Snyder in Michigan; Koch v. Hartland, Wisconsin in the US 7th Circuit as to ex post facto application, the language and legal logic reasoning and supporting cases can be molded for any other state. Will we win in the US supreme Court? Who knows with this current court. However, with this latest PA decision we now have solid legal framework to build from and keep the momentum going! I hope this clears-up some misgivings and doubts many of you have. As to the value of this opinion/decision… In Sum: Contrary to you folks who do not understand law and do not think this opinion/decision is not going anywhere to help any of you Registrants, this is a GREAT opinion/decision as to how Judge Joyner reasoned and applied each ground and showed actual scenarios to the frivolity how these SORNA laws are applied and who are and are not subject to the unconstitutionality under PA’s Constitution. This is, without doubt, the most comprehensive, reasoned opinion/decision that got it right and filled in some gaps that we were all hoping would be challenged with clear and concise SORNA application and how it is unconstitutional in PA. It will now definitely go back to the PA Supreme Court… and maybe beyond.

  13. Joe

    There is 20,900 sex offenders in PA, All can vote, not including affected family members and friends. Why are you all not banding together and endorsing or not endorsing a political candidate. Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s election 2020, 80,000 difference in votes, in a swing state one of them have to win to win the election, Black lives matters get what they want because the all band together and sway elections. You all have more control than you think.

    1. w

      People get tied up and trampled by this system. And they get worn down, so it’s hard for anyone to be in this fight years or even decades. Personally I’m trying to help my brother who’s in Adelanto HDDC jail now for an FTR. The san Bernardino sherrifs came and raided our mom’s home on Aug 3 2022 and arrested me in the process thinking I was him. We both went that night, but I’m out now trying to pull whatever I can to help him.

      Great job they do in the pursuit of always defending the so registry…no matter whose family that have to ruin in the process. Including good peaceful people that do nothing wrong to deserve any of the horrible neighborhood gossip that seems to be the end goal of public registries.

      Meet the new victims of democracy.

  14. Jim

    This will be appealed until it is ruled constitutional. Just like the ruling in the communist state of Kolorado. Where a judge ruled the registry as cruel and unusual punishment. Kinda funny how the Judge that ruled the registry as Cruel and Unusual Punishment in Kolorado, the place I am stuck in, seems to have died after his ruling??? Then his ruling was appealed by Cynthia Coffman,” who was then up for election” until it was overturned after his passing. Humm, who will they kill next???? Keep Your Powder Dry.

  15. linda shedlock

    Thank goodness for this judge ruling . Yet Pennsylvania s Board of Probation and Probation has their own ideas on rules ! This law and Meagan’s Pa. Law says residency restrictions are unconstitutional ! Great ! Yet the board says if you are on probation /parole for a sex offense you CAN NOT live within 1000 feet of a home where a minor resides ! Where does one live , where does one go . Minors are everywhere . It doesn’t matter if it was contact or non-contact ! I thought what the supreme court says is what makes a difference . Not what a board of citizens ,one from 9 different counties decide , rural nor city! I m having a serious problem excepting this ! I really would like an explanation other than their job is to keep the public safe first . How is one any safer .