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Kat’s Blog: Will Pennsylvania Ruling Begin the Domino Effect We Need?

Pennsylvania’s “Sex Offender” Registry is headed for what some are calling a life-or-death battle in the PA Supreme Court.

The registry, in existence for nearly a quarter of a century, enacted as part of Megan’s Law, a law giving the public a false sense of security by allowing them access to know who and where “sex offenders” lived in their communities, is about to be challenged. A challenge that we can only hope will either begin putting the registry to death or at the very least, let it be picked apart so it is unrecognizable and reworked into something that makes sense.

And perhaps, if things go our way in Pennsylvania, maybe, like dominos, registries across the country that have done nothing but ruin the lives and reputations of those who have already served sentences, will finally begin to fall.

There are 5 separate cases before the PA Supreme Court.  If ever words and phrases were important, the fact that the attorneys bringing these cases before the court are using terms such as “outdated, discriminatory, unnecessarily cruel and depriving thousands of their fundamental rights”, should bring us a little Christmas cheer, they finally get it, yes, this is what we’ve been up against.

Prosecutors are quick to suggest that doing away with Megan’s Law would allow sexually violent predators to evade detection and put the public’s safety at risk if the registry were to be dismantled. Despite all the evidence showing that not all registrants are sexually violent predators nor do all registrants put the public’s safety at risk, this is the card prosecutors continually play.

The defense attorneys in these cases, joined by a growing number of experts involved in the criminal justice movement, are acting quickly to squash the prosecutors claims as “false hysteria”.  Their arguments expose the constitutional problems with Megan’s Law and the need for the state to “rethink” the way in which it manages not only those convicted of sexual violence, but those who are thrown into the “sexual offender” category by default.

To date, PA’s Megan’s Law Registry has doubled from 10,000 to 20,000, this is due in part because of changes to SORNA which took effect in 2012 and greatly expanded the list of offenses subject to registration and notification, including some that are not even sexual in nature. Can there be anything more ridiculous than a “sex offender registry” that includes offenses un-related to sex?

Aaron Marcus, an assistant defender attorney and one of those included in challenging the law made this telling comment, “after decades of trials, mountains of empirical evidence and close to one million people across the country being denied their rights to liberty and their reputation, there is no hard evidence that the public is any safer or that assaults have been prevented.”  One million people being denied their rights! Will this court listen, and if they do, will other state courts follow suit?

Of the 5 cases before the court the one most prominent has to do with current requirements for those classified as sexually violent predators and at highest risk to re-offend. Those with this classification are subject to lifetime registration, counseling and community notification. The case deals with whether or not these restrictions constitute unlawful punishment and how well the little- known process of assessing these “sexual offenders” works. Since 2000, PA’s board of psychiatrists, psychologists and criminal justice professionals have assessed 20,260 offenders and classified 6,027 as sexually violent predators. The courts have not always agreed with the findings.

Another case deals with the registration system. PA has two different sets of rules depending on when a crime was committed, prior to Dec. 20, 2012 when the current law went into effect in PA and another for crimes committed after that date.

In one case, a man with no prior record who was convicted in 2017 for aggravated indecent assault and subject to lifetime registration argues the point that the law violates PA’s State Constitutional fundamental right to reputation. Lifetime registration “presumes” that people convicted of certain sexual offenses can’t change and are prone to re-offend. (Oddly enough TN’s Sex Offender Treatment Board presumes that ALL registrants, not just those on lifetime registration, “can’t change and will re-offend”, it’s actually part of their mission statement.)

Lawyers led by Aaron Marcus were able to cite experts and studies showing the public’s false perception   that those convicted of sex offenses will re-offend and that they remain a continued risk. While few may re-offend, all registrants are lumped into the same “sex offender” category. All suffer irreparable harm from the “sex offender” label. All are on state “sex offender” websites that are capable of destroying reputations because of their public accessibility.

Two of the other cases take aim at the unconstitutionality of the current law and a fifth case centers on how juvenile sex offenses are handled.

The cases before the PA Supreme Court are fact based, so what makes this different from other cases?   While facts are presented, the realities of the damage done to registrants is also being presented. Registrants with no prior records reputations continue to be damaged by the registry long after their sentences have been served. According to Aaron Marcus “it’s difficult to over-state the impact that sex offender registration has on a person’s life.” The impact, that’s what the courts need to hear and understand this time around. They need to know that the registry ruins the lives of those on it.

The justices are expected to rule separately on the challenges but together, whatever their rulings, it looks like PA’s Megan’s Law will in some way be changed.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that there are people like Rep. Rob Kauffman/R. from Franklin County who chairs the PA House Judiciary Committee and who will be on one of the first legislative panels to address the high court’s decision. While acknowledging that “Megan’s Law is not perfect” Mr. Kauffman still goes on to say, even after all the empirical evidence to the contrary that “it’s a very important component of public safety in the Commonwealth”.

To Mr. Kauffman I say, Put on Your LISTENING EARS!  There is no evidence that this law ever made the public safer.

What part of that didn’t you hear?

Join the discussion

  1. Eric

    Every criminal case should be dealt with individually. A first time offender with no prior criminal history should not logically be categorized with a person that has a long history of offenses. It is just absurd.

    The prosecutor says doing away with Meghan’s law would allow loop holes for those classed as SVP. Well, that would only be true with an inept justice system that is incapable of managing individuals based on their crime. It seems that it would make it more easily to manage since less people would be on the registry therefore more funds would be available to better mange those who might be a high risk.

    Sorry, again and again the facts don’t add up. The registry is detrimental to those who have paid their debt, certainly to their families, and to the community as a whole.

    • Gralphr

      Even with the SVP label, its pretty stupid. After all, many first time offenders are SVP due to the age of the victim alone, not because they have a history of sexual crimes.

    • PK

      “Every criminal case should be dealt with individually. A first time offender with no prior criminal history should not logically be categorized with a person that has a long history of offenses.”

      Every person on a Registry is treated the same and it’s detrimental for everyone.
      That is probably the most important factor.

      Even those poor RSOs with only a Misdemeanor Conviction and probation.
      You can forget about having a good career or any normal quality of life.

  2. Tim in WI

    If you can keep it -! Ben Franklin Philadelphia PA. Very Apropos but IMO WI is the weakest link by statue(s) that were in place per self determination of constitutional self rule prior to ACT98(03; 175.45). EX: Constanteneau 400 US 430. Unauthorized information disclosure by admin agents police. Witch hunt on this issue is nothing new and WI had already learned those lessons thus law was in place to sequester information, some by judicial order and seal, but an outside influence altered that established ” rule of law. ” Profits will do that as the founders clearly knew and understood. Thus those facing felony indictment were given a Kings power to beck and call ANY MAN OR MATERIAL evidence.

  3. The Vampire

    The registers list/ Hit list need to be gone! It gives a huge Fault of any kind of safety for kids or grow ups. Your safety should be on you. Not some useless list that can’t predict the next offender who could harm you! New offenders are out there 24/7/365 days a year and a LIST is Never going to stop them EVER! We have seen that this list does not stop any child abuse All we/you see is new names add on a useless list that may not even be in your town or state but you pay for this bull s ##:
    The only way too know is too talk the people who will watch your kids and check up on your child and ask your kid if anything bad is going on parents are the keepers of theirs kids. Not the government or the state’s

  4. New Person

    We need Dr’s Ellman’s “Frightening and High” to become the canonized into legislative law. Do that and the registry can then be viewed as “cruel and unusual” as all the laws on registration have been based upon false facts.

    If we can’t get the scholarly work by the Ellman’s into law as the correct research work, then the registry will always be seen legally to keep humans as perpetual monsters who cannot change. Over half the states and protectorates have presence and residency restrictions. Recall, the registry wasn’t supposed to affect housing, employment, or travel. It’s gone beyond that now.

  5. Joe123

    I hope the Lawyers bring up the fact that being on the Registry has been recognized as BEING IN CUSTODY OF THE STATE. This alone is a huge point to fight.

  6. NorthEastPENN

    A “Lifetime” of limitation of where one can travel even after coming off the registry.
    I am scheduled to come off the registry in Oct of 2020 here in PA.
    Shall we not forget even though one, such as myself, will be coming off PAs registry that my travel to the other 49 states will be limited to some degree. I would say that there are not two states that have the exact same laws for a registry. This means that if I just want to travel to another state my freedom of movement will be limited to the point where I have to intensely investigate the laws of the state I want to visit just so I don’t get arrested by accident. So in this case the “registry” has me for life one way or the other.

    The only place that I will relocate to after coming off the registry is somewhere else in PA so I have new neighbors who don’t know about me. All my neighbors (except for one) have found a way to make my life harder than it should be. I will take a loss in selling my house but it may be well worth it to start fresh with new neighbors and hopefully finding a home out in the woods so my partner and I can live in peace as we don’t bother anyone and keep to ourselves but our neighbors feel differently.

    I am Pre-SORNA. Unless the registries across the country come tumbling down I will always feel that I am being held in custody. Same as when I was on parole – always had to ask permission to travel but in this case the states just tell me where I can and can not travel.

    I wanted to buy an RV and travel a bit because I am retired but just not worth all the leg work researching the laws of all the states I want to travel to. Sometimes you have to be an attorney to interpret the laws of a state for the registry.

  7. Anonymous

    What in the world did they do before this registry thing existed.

    • R M

      “What in the world did they do before this registry thing existed.” Sigh.

      “They”, my parents included, let us play and be kids. We played with the dogs, we ran in the streets, we had forts, we saw Playboy pics, we watched Disney once a week, we fed ourselves while mom was working, we swam in the pool if we had one, we grew up. We also saw our older siblings use marijuana, we also saw our older siblings experiment with sex, we grew up seeing it all, being one trying to fit in with our older siblings. We also became invisible victims, hushed by brotherhood, wanting to be accepted at the next skate-in. The girls were there, we had to go and did. Not yet knowing what sex was or even anything above, I went. I liked it. Didn’t we all…. interaction, cute girls, a touch here and there dancing/skating? Nobody got convicted of a sex offense and required to register for life. There was no registry.

      I’m saddened at what “we” as USA Americans have become. It sickens me, it makes me throw up.

      • So tired

        As society “advances” , legislators feel the need to justify themselves by adding more restraints, controls, and measures in order to please those that need help just using the toilet.
        U.S. is a product of the lowest common denominator, as well as being both ignorant and litigious. A very dangerous combination. Public has been told that people want your personal belongings(alarms) , will break into your home(Ring) and will steal your children(multiple location apps). Since common sense and logic has long since been abandoned by most, then don’t expect to see any improvement at all for the forseeable future. We were fortunate enough to see the dawn of modern technology and the beginning of the end for humanity. I feel bad for leaving what is left of society and the Earth in such irreversible decay to the youth.

      • Sc

        I grew up pretty much the same way you just described.

        Here’s a thought for you. Many of those currently in office that are coming up with these laws grew up the same way, no?

        That begs the question,

        “What happened?”

  8. kat

    Here’s an interesting thought-

    If those on parole, those on the registry are in state or federal custody, shouldn’t the state or the feds be responsible for their fees, registration, polygraphs, treatment? After all, custody is sort of a “parental role” and parents are responsible for their children’s bills.

    • TS

      @Kat

      What is your legal basis for saying those on the registry are in state or federal custody? I am not including those on parole or probation because many folks here in this forum are not on either of those but still are on the registry.

      Do you have legal precedent that agrees with your statement which can be used as an argument going forward? It would be nice if there is actual court opinion(s) setting legal precedent which says that.

  9. TS

    Open thought, I just wonder if the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals is waiting for these Pennsylvania rulings to come out before they decide on Millard v Rankin since it’s been 13 months now from oral arguments being heard. I know that this court and other courts like it do not have a timeline to which they have to meet like the Supreme Court does.

  10. kat

    TS-
    The link @AJ sent probably says it better than I did. Thanks’s @AJ!

  11. Kirk

    When prosecutor said it could put public at risk the qick and best answer should be… then the Real Evidence based cases shoul be/have been evaluated too determine SVP in a Due Process manner….And You Sir Should be Reprimanded for dereliction of duty in Regards to Ignoring Constitutional Rights of the accused/Convicted and causing excessive harm/damages under false pretenses/evidence !!!

  12. James

    To All that is writing on this forum,

    I just want you all know that anything the Courts hand down the Commonwealth is going to try some other stuff just to make stuff difficult. This is why we will continue to push forward for our rights. I have been fighting Megan’s Law and will continue to fight. We do have a person in Pennsylvania that is a spokesperson for us. Her name is Theresa Robinson. They are currently getting small groups of us together to go over changes, and etc. We will prevail on these challenges and we will continue the fight that is senseless just because the Commonwealth just wants fed money to support them and to gain political spots within the Commonwealth. Basically ML registry is a hate crime altogether. The reason why I say this is because look at our world of white v. black and etc. Its basically the same crap with us its Sex offender v. Society. PURE HATE……

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