Tuesday, February 18, 2014

PA - Many Pennsylvania sex offenders are due relief from Megan's Law glitch

Judges Gavel
Original Article

02/17/2014

By BRETT HAMBRIGHT

_____’s newly-found freedom might just be the tip of the iceberg.

_____ was relieved last month from a 6-to-12-year prison sentence due to a flaw in Megan’s Law, a database which includes the registration system for convicted sex offenders.

Now, prosecutors across the state are surveying how many other offenders will benefit from a recent state Supreme Court ruling that deemed part of the registration system “unconstitutional.”

Numerous others could be owed the same relief as _____: dismissal of felony charges.

I can’t imagine there aren't others out there,” Lancaster County First Assistant District Attorney Christopher Larsen said last week, while perusing local cases.

Not all sex offenders will be getting relief.

The high-court ruling only affects failure to register under Megan’s Law charges, not actual sex crimes.

And only offenders under specific registration requirements that were charged with failure to register between 2005 and December 2012 are eligible.

However, locals say, that could be quite a number of cases.

Larsen estimates “under 50” Lancaster County sex offenders will be eligible for relief, although prosecutors are still sifting through cases for an exact number.

It’s unclear how many of those locals are currently serving prison terms for the charges under review.

It’s going to be a case-by-case determination,” Larsen said. “If there’s another avenue we can argue [to avoid dropping charges], then we’ll take it.”

That wasn’t an option in _____’s case. Charged in 2010 with two counts of failure to register, the local public defender’s office appealed on _____’s behalf. He was freed on Jan. 27 — and spared of up to 10 more years behind bars.

Lancaster County is home to more than 450 convicted sex offenders who register under Megan’s Law, which is now supplemented by Adam Walsh Act. An estimated 15,700 offenders live in Pennsylvania, according to a state police database.

All are required on at least an annual basis to notify police of their whereabouts.

In December, the state Supreme Court ruled that revisions to Megan’s Law made by lawmakers in 2004 are, essentially, no good. Those revisions included registration rules for certain offenders, the high court ruled.

The opinion opened the door to the review of seven years worth of charges lodged against sex offenders under Megan's Law.

It can be argued that (Supreme Court decision) creates a complete defense to an ongoing prosecution ... for an (applicable) offense that was committed before December 20, 2012,” Lancaster County Chief Public Defender James Karl said, after his office won the _____ appeal.

It’s unclear what will happen in cases in which an offender has already served a sentence for failure to register between 2005 and 2012.

Prison is often the penalty for those convicted of failing to register. The charge carries a mandatory minimum prison term of between 2 and 7 years, depending on the offender’s prior conviction, according to Karen Mansfield, senior prosecutor in the district attorney’s special victims unit.

The high court stayed its ruling to nullify pre-existing Megan’s Law for 90 days, giving police and prosecutors a head start to deal with the affected cases.

_____, convicted in 2003 of aggravated indecent assault of a minor, will still be required to register his whereabouts under the new system.

And so will others affected by the Supreme Court decision, according to State Rep. Bryan Cutler, a Peach Bottom Republican.

The registration requirements are still in effect,” Cutler said last week.

Mansfield said the charge of failure to register also will remain.

Cutler and State Rep. Ryan Aument, of Landisville, pointed out that HB 1985 — a revision of law that keeps those registration requirements in place — recently unanimously passed the state House.

Both representatives are optimistic the new registration laws will stick.

Meanwhile, potentially hundreds of offenders statewide are getting a chance to capitalize on the state Supreme Court ruling.


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