This is an excellent article. Click the link above to read the entire thing, and see the video.
On December 20, 2012, Pennsylvania will begin enforcing its new changes to Megan's Law. By now, many people have realized that they or their friends will be negatively impacted by these laws. For most, it's probably hard to grasp how such laws could be legal. Undoubtedly, many appeals will be filed to challenge these laws. In some states such as Ohio, many of the retroactive provisions have been found to be unconstitutional upon being appealed, and have been reversed. In other states, the high courts have upheld the new laws. The purpose of this article is to educate you all about why these new laws may or may not ultimately be determined to be illegal.
The United States Constitution, as well as the Pennsylvania Constitution, contain clauses that prevent legal consequences from being changed retroactively. Section 17 of the Pennsylvania Constitution reads:
"No ex post facto law, nor any law impairing the obligation of contracts, or making irrevocable any grant of special privileges or immunities, shall be passed."
For example, one cannot be arrested today based upon a new law if the actions of that individual were legal during the time the actions were taken. Additionally, if an individual were sentenced to the maximum term of 10 years of imprisonment for a crime in 1999, and in 2002 the maximum sentence for that crime changed to 20 years, the sentence of that individual cannot be changed retroactively to conform to the new law.
However, in order for a retroactive law to violate the ex post facto clause, the legal consequence that is changed retroactively must be "punitive" (i.e., considered to be punishment), as opposed to civil, remedial, or a collateral consequence. Some examples of collateral consequences include loss of the right to vote, enlist in the armed services, or own a firearm. Although it may be hard to imagine, some high courts have ruled that sex offender registration requirements are not punitive, but are instead collateral consequences.
However, in State v. Williams,129 Ohio St.3d 344, 2011-Ohio-3374 (PDF), the Ohio Supreme Court concluded that the requirements of Ohio's new sex offender laws based upon the Adam Walsh Act had transformed the law from remedial to punitive. Their decision was not based upon a single requirement, but instead was based upon the totality of the requirements. The Court cited the various new requirements, and also stated two other factors that influenced their decision: 1) the procedures for registration and classification of sex offenders were placed within Ohio's criminal code, and 2) failure to comply with certain registration requirements subjected an offender to criminal prosecution.