Wednesday, November 5, 2014

PA - Pennsylvania's Megan's Law mandate unfairly punishes offenders, court rules

Original Article


By Peter Hall

Some of Pennsylvania's latest sex offender registration requirements run afoul of a constitutional ban on laws that create new penalties for people who have already paid for their crimes, the Commonwealth Court has ruled.

The panel of seven Commonwealth Court judges also found, however, that requiring sex offenders to reveal their email addresses and other online aliases is not a violation of the First Amendment right to anonymous speech.

_____, convicted in 2001 of sexual assault, had already served his prison sentence and probation when the fourth revision of Pennsylvania's version of Megan's Law, named the Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act, took effect in 2012.

_____ argued that the revisions to Megan's Law were so much more punitive than the earlier version of the law that they violated provisions in the state and federal constitutions that prevent states from imposing tougher penalties for crimes than were in place when they were committed.

He also argued that the new requirement to provide information about his online identities violated his right to anonymous online speech because his crime did not involve a minor on the Internet.

_____, 63, was convicted in Montgomery County Court of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at a suburban Philadelphia restaurant. His attorney, Burton A. Rose of Philadelphia, had not read the decision and declined to comment. State police officials were unavailable to comment.

In an opinion for the unanimous panel, Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer rejected _____'s claims with regard to a majority of the new registration requirements, including mandates to appear in person to register four times a year and to provide extensive personal information, palm prints and DNA samples, plus advance notice of international travel.

Jubelirer wrote that each of those requirements is related to public safety and not intended as a punishment.

Failure to comply with the requirements is a felony punishable by a five-year prison sentence, according to the opinion.

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