Sex offender registry could get smaller following court ruling

A Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling could see thousands dropped from the sex offender registry.

A Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision from earlier this summer means that the state's sex offender registry could soon get a lot smaller. According to the Sunbury Daily Item, the court ruled that 2012 changes made to Pennsylvania's sex offender law could not be applied retroactively to crimes that were committed before those changes were passed. As a result, many individuals on the registry who had their registration extended as a result of those 2012 amendments could soon find themselves taken off the list.

Retroactive changes

The case concerned a Cumberland County man who, in 2007, was convicted of two counts of indecent assault on a 12-year-old girl. However, before the man could be sentenced, he fled and was not captured again until October 2014.

While he was on the run, in 2012 Pennsylvania amended its sex offender law in order to comply with the Adam Walsh, or Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) that had recently been passed by the federal government. Prior to the amendments, sex offenders were required to register either for ten years or for life. After the amendments were passed, three tiers of registration were introduced replacing the old ones: 15 years, 25 years, or life.

When the Cumberland man was rearrested, he was sentenced according to the new sex offender registry guidelines and was placed on the registry for life. However, he appealed that decision, arguing that because the 2012 amendments weren't in place when he originally committed the crime, being sentenced under them was a violation of due process. The Supreme Court agreed, effectively meaning that the 2012 changes can only be applied to sex offenders who committed their crimes after those changes went into effect.

An appeal is still possible

However, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court may not have the final say on the issue. That's because the ruling could still be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. While there is no guarantee that will happen, it would provide some much needed clarity about what will happen to the approximately 4,500 registered sex offenders who were convicted before the 2012 changes but subsequently had their registrations lengthened by those changes. Were the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling allowed to stand, it would remain unclear whether those 4,500 sex offenders will actually remain on the registry.

Help for victims of sexual crimes

Being the victim of sexual abuse leaves deep scars, both mental and physical, that can take a lifetime to heal. Such victims, however, do not need to struggle alone. An attorney who is experienced in handling the unique nature of sexual abuse and assault cases can advise clients on their rights and options. While no attorney can undo the pain and suffering caused by a sexual abuser, an attorney can help victims understand whether they may be able to pursue a civil lawsuit against the offender, which in turn can provide some measure of justice.