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.
The high court denied a petition from the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office to review a July decision from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that found the state’s current sex offender registration law was punishment and thus could not be imposed retroactively.
Pennsylvania’s sex offender registration law has undergone several changes since its inception in 1995. Most recently, the law was updated in 2012 to come into compliance with the federal Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act.
States that did not come into compliance with the federal law risked seeing a reduction in federal law enforcement grants.
Roughly 2,000 people who had previously been convicted but not required to register were added to the state registry.
An estimated 4,500 more people saw their registration requirements increase, and many were required to register for life, according to the Associated Press.
People on the registry are required to be photographed and submit information including their address, vehicle identification, employment and social media use to state police at regular intervals ranging from once a year to once every three months depending on the offense the person was convicted of. Registrants are also required to update their record every time that information changes.
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.
The challenge came from a Cumberland County case where defendant Jose Muniz argued he was subject to harsher penalties under the 2012 update than he was at the time of his conviction.
Muniz was convicted in the 2007 indecent assault of 12-year-old girl, but fled the state prior to sentencing. He was captured and sentenced in 2014 and required to register as a sex offender for life. At the time of his conviction, he would have only been required to register for 10 years.
Rep. Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin County, has introduced a bill that would basically reinstate a prior version of the sex offender registration law that has survived court challenges for people whose offense was committed prior to the 2012 update.
Anyone whose offense was committed after 2012 would still be subject to the expanded registration law.
The bill was approved by the House in December and awaits action in the state Senate.
Sex offender registration laws are typically passed under the premise that most people convicted of sexual offenses will go on to commit new offenses. However, much of the research on the topic does not support this.
Studies by the Bureau of Justice Statistics looking at inmates released from prison in 1994 and 2005 found about 5 percent of people convicted of a sexual offense were rearrested for a sexual offense within three years.
Less than 3 percent of all charge sexual offenses, including only one of 35 sexual offenses against children, in Cumberland County in 2017 involved defendants who were on the registry at the time of the offense, according to an analysis of court records conducted by The Sentinel.