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PA: Court Determines Annual Registration, Internet Publication Punishment

[ACSOL]

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania issued an important decision on May 11, 2020, in which it determined that annual registration as well as publication of a registrant’s personal information on the internet constitutes punishment.  The petition in this case committed a sex offense prior to the effective date of these requirements.

According to the Court, annual in-person registration “imposes affirmative restraints and probation-like conditions.”  The Court determined that the annual registration requirement was excessive.  The Court also ruled that the state law requiring the posting a registrant’s personal information on a public lawsuit was punitive because  “the Internet dissemination provision resembles history shaming punishments.”  The Court also noted that Internet dissemination was “excessive in relation to the assigned purposes of protecting the public in the immediate vicinity where the offender resides.”

“The judges in this case are to be commended for their ability to clearly see that the registration requirements at issue in this case constitute punishment,” stated ACSOL Executive Director Janice Bellucci.  “It is hoped that judges in other states will follow their example.”

The Court based its decision in part upon the fact that the petitioner in the case offended prior to the state legislature’s passage of the laws at issue.  Specifically, the Court noted that “Petitioner did not have fair warning at the time of commission of the offenses that he would have multifaceted registration requirements for the rest of his life.”

Download a PDF of the decision:

TS v. State of Pennsylvania – registry is punishment – May 2020

Join the discussion

  1. Dustin

    Just read the entire opinion. Most of it strikes as a big “DUHHHH!” but I am a bit concerned/annoyed that many courts continue to rely on legislative intent to keep up the ludicrous idea that the registry isn’t punitive simply because the legislature didn’t intend it to be. To me, that’s like saying the 49ers won the Super Bowl last year because they didn’t intend to lose.

    Punishment is the imposition of an undesirable or unpleasant outcome upon a group or individual, meted out by an authority—in contexts ranging from child discipline to criminal law—as a response and deterrent to a particular action or behavior that is deemed undesirable or unacceptable.

    Registration itself is punishment, period. Everything attached to or stemming from registration is punishment, period. The fact that no one can voluntarily register as a sex offender if he chooses unless he has been convicted for a qualifying offense by itself is a very compelling indication that there is nothing “regulatory” about the registry.

    Further, the proven fact that over 95% of new sex crime is committed by those without priors should indicate that the restrictions and obligations imposed solely on registrants should be necessary for the entire public. Since such measures are purely regulatory according to proponents, there shouldn’t be any argument against imposing them on all persons.

  2. Jermain

    HOOOoooRaaaaay !!!!
    One For Our Team !!!

  3. Brandon

    So what does this mean? Supreme Court still has the final say don’t they? And they dubbed it civil and stated it not punishment? What exactly changes? Or is it now officially punishment in Pa. and people can petition to get off of it? Does this do anything legally for those on it in the state? Or is it the same as yesterday, today, and always?

    • TS

      @Brandon

      As I read online the PA court structure, this is an intermediate appeals court. There is a Supreme Court of PA so it could be appealed there. However, given the PASC has ruled similarly already on this topic, one would wonder if they would accept this to opine upon to further solidify the findings here and the other related case or deny it. A victory is a victory on this topic…

    • Scotus Save Us Now

      It’s clear to me the state of PA’s courts are making reasonable decisions and trying to force SCOTUS to revisit the prior decisions…

      • Janice Bellucci

        I agree that court decisions in PA are moving us closer to a new case before the U.S. Supreme Court. So are court decisions in Michigan and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. The winning thread in these arguments is that the state’s requirements (PA and MI, for example) are much more restrictive than the requirements in the state of Alaska. The lower courts are then able to appear to issue decisions that are consistent with Smith v. Doe (U.S. Sup Ct 2003) and yet reach a different decision (restrictions are punishment and therefore violate the ex post facto clause).

        • TS

          @Janice

          Would you put Millard v Rankin from CO now at the Tenth CCOA in the same light with PA and MI?

        • Janice Bellucci

          @TS – Yes, I see Millard v Rankin in the same light.

        • TS

          Thank you @Janice

        • AJ

          Aren’t “we” in some ways victims of our own successes? I would love to see a CCoA or State SC get it “wrong” and have it appealed to SCOTUS. It seems to me every time it’s gotten “right”, such as with PASC (Muniz) and the 6th (Snyder), SCOTUS swats it away. At some point SCOTUS may feel it needs to resolve the splits among the courts but that could take some time…and we need some comparable rulings the “wrong” way (are you listening 5th, 7th and 8th CCoAs?).

  4. SR

    I don’t understand how it’s punishment for one group but not another? The final paragraph above is only true on a technicality. I’d challenge a single person who wasn’t already directly working in this field to have known, even now, the full scope of what having to register really brings with it. It’s either punishment or it’s not. Particularly so for people who have COMPLETED their sentence.

  5. Edson

    🙂 Yet another blow too these unconstitutional regime registries !

  6. Saddles

    @ Dustin and Jermain I have to agree with both of you as intent is 9/10’s of the law. In fact that is basically what I sent Janice in a letter back in Jan or Feb of ths year about my encounter with this internet ordeal. Yes Dustin who know’s the thoughts and intent of a person. Sure winning is good as you mentioned about a football game but their is also interference, fumbling, and other encounters to tackle one. One wonders who is running a foul in many ways.

    I like your example Dustin, nothing wrong with football and nothing wrong with Christiany and principals. In fact who know’s the thoughts and intent of a person. Sure you have referee’s and yes you have also a goal and yes the goal of the one on the sex registry is winning in a lot of these ordeals.

    Yes we can all fumble at times, rationalize, give group support, etc, but its the determination that sets up the goals and I believe it has a lot to do with how you play the game. Even attitude plays a lot in many respects. One of he many thing when one gets a person to the station and questioning one is “You thought you were coming down to meet a teenage girl. Who know’s the thoughts and intent of a person.

    While authorities can badger one into showing inapproiate pictures, etc, and one should understand the reason behind this bait and trap senerio. So in a since they are playing the devils advocate and I had to relook that up and in many issues they are playing a game with this hide and seek effort via the internet. In other words they are breaking down’s one’s free will in much of these ordeals is underhanded in many respects is unrespectful in a lot of this.

  7. TS

    Come on Tenth CCOA, read this one too as we all long await your word (nearly 18 mos later after oral arguments)

  8. w

    Is it reward? No, ok then it must be punishment.

    Freedom is a reward. Make it contingent on some meaningless and wasteful system and now what good is the freedom? If someone needs to be tracked so badly keep them in jail. If not then let them be. Driving the fear of someone doing something again in the name of public safety is something the coward district attorneys and police and sherrifs and probation officers do to keep cornering the courts and defendants. And they keep playing the victim card to soften their targets, be they Democrat or Republican, they side with whoever they need to further their agenda so they can keep the train rolling.

  9. Saddles

    @ Edison look at it this way. Over kill is just as bad as underkill. Yes during my ordeal and when I was going to sex registry treatment classes I got a ticket from the police for speeding a bit over the limit. They said where ya going in such a hurry and I told them I was going to sex registry classes. At least I was honest. And yes when I got to the class I took my seat and about five minutes latter I was called into PO’s office and explained the situation. Talk about behavior science taking a flip/flop in these courttoom endeavors.

    Sure forgiveness is good in any type of these ordeals whether physical or computer induced. Courts don’t seem to take that into consideration today. I don’t know too many people that try to get out of a traffic ticket today. This happened about four or so years ago.

    Sure my PO had to say a few words to me. He look’s at my ticket and said you could have killed someone (it was a four lane) which is very strange wording but in the end what could I do but just listen. While safety is still a factor many of these offence’s are overkill via this internet buffing or bluffing intent. Calling government out in many ways is the right thing to do in a lot of these ordeals one might say. Congratulations TS for standing up.

    • C

      Re: your PO’s comment…If you had killed someone, or even an entire family, with or w/out malice, you wouldn’t have an annual registration requirement.
      Touch one of them though,
      “M O N S T E R !”

  10. Saddles

    Interesting about this petition. predictible offenses. one would even have to question that, and life long parole or probation with these sex offender involvements. If one understands all this right, these men of government are twisting things to condemn one on a lifetime registry. Now that might be Gods law. One wonders today what is profitable for teaching, reproofing, for correction and for training in rightenousness or authoritarianism. Talk about a little or marxism today. One still has to congratulate effort to anyone for standing up to some in this registry endeavor.

    Talk about sinlessness or authorities being upright and morally right. One wonders who dashes their foot against a stone. One even wonder who has scrupples today in much of this assine jury duty type ordeal. Talk about malum in se unorthodox justice. Is government getting of hand. One wonders where is the grace factor or did they let many offenders out because of this pandermic?

  11. G4Change

    Does this mean I get to cancel my Price Club membership?
    [sarcasm]

  12. Saddles

    Change one would even say a get out of jail free card would be good for many on the registry with benefits but governments are slicker than price club (sad in many ways).

  13. someone who cares

    So, if it is deemed punishment, can we file for punitive damages to get reimbursed for all those years in a virtual prison?

    • TS

      @Someone

      The short answer, it depends. If this ruling applies to everybody in Pennsylvania who is impacted such as this person was, then it’s a possibility and one can try to file for punitive damages now that it’s been classified as punishment. That does not mean one would naturally be successful. Would help in such a case the court would agree with the filing for punitive damages based upon the punishment declared. Maybe this person will try it.

      I would wait until the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has had a chance to chop on it if its appeaed to them and accepted to be heard since that could be an issue with any damage suit. I don’t know off hand the window of time for appealing to PASC.

  14. Saddles

    @ Someone who cares. Wish it were that simple but its no boardwalk so one has to go with the flow in many of these issues. Right now I’m sure some may be worried about a little insomnia but we all press on.

  15. Tim in WI

    @TS, via Millar v Rankin,
    Well you posed the question to Janice and I left her room to reply directly but I’m going to put I my two cents concerning Judge Mastch’s disclosure via opinion. The good judge toward the end of his opinion, and unfortunately his time on this earth, exposed what the surveillance saints are up to. That being domestic electronic surveillance advanced by the ” regulatory ” demand for information data used to track and internet use by individuals. You see the knowledge of internet identifiers gives the computers a target to search for incidents of USE. Which in turn traces back to their private origin, namely the IP address of the target. While the courts in MI&PA, applied Smith V in their assessment -Mendoza Martinez etc. Matsch went a bridge farther in Rankin exposing a certain truth about the onerous nature of the electronic regimes true underlying intent. Domestic surveillance via unfettered access and use of the government Machines for political security of certain covert entities. The old judge understood the regulatory implications of deeming such actions as ” civil” were incongruous with liberty and the constitution. If king George had the same capabilities America as a separate sovereign wouldn’t have come to pass at all.

  16. Saddles

    @Tim in WI. I didn’t know if congress or judges know what incongruous means today in many respects. One wonder if many leaders do. Sure the battlelines are their in many of these registry ordeals. A lot of it seems like a double standard. Sure punitive is wrong but punishment seems to be a bit overshadowed. While one can understand about a saint ex: Simon Templer series. Where does equaltry fall in.

    One would have to go with what Janice said in many view’s and prospectives. One is just supprised at the differnce of malum in se or malum prohibitum when true principles colide with each other. One would say the constutition is being watered down a lot in this day and age and you are right about computers being used in a vain way in many respects but still true justice is true justice in much of this limbo game.

  17. Larry AZ-WAR

    Whether it be the intent to punish individuals when the SORNA Act was passed; we all know the Act was rushed through as a political platform. Judges _must_ hear both sides of the punitive claims, just as they do with any rushed action… (apologies if this is a sensitive example; and just the opposite outcome in comparison) like the Roe v. Wade decisions. Completely religion based and very political. SORNA was a bit of both and then some.

    My take, to include punitive damages, is that we as American citizens are guaranteed **privacy**. Just recently I read an article about a NJ Judge that gave a lawyer the riot act because the lawyer used the Internet (facebook) to find dirt on his client’s adversary. So privacy stands out as an owned liberty. The Registry exposes evils where they do not exist.

    Case 1.) If I am in rehabilitation or a treatment program, does the Registry violate my HIPAA Security Rule privacy guarantee; while I am in treatment? And if still on probation, treatment is still being monitored which just means as long as I am on probation, I am being motitored for treatment progress, hence still under privacy laws.

    Case 2.) Electronic surveillance is OK if it is used privately and not to interfere with a person’s non criminal every-day legal actions i.e., every day movement throughout the community. But in the case of Public dissemination of my private history—The Registry—my life is now under a microscope which is far outside any citizen’s rights.

    You can monitor my taxes, Uncle Sam, but not my current status of reform.

    Justice has to be balanced or it is not justice at all. –unknown

  18. Worried in Wisconsin

    One part of this that I don’t often see addressed is our part in maintaining the registry.

    Nearly everything on the registry is, in the modern computer age, publicly available information. It certainly is available to law enforcement if they look hard enough. They don’t really need us to come in every so often to update anything. They could get nearly all the data they want by just doing an online search. (Yes, most of it is out there…)

    My thought is that if the State wants to maintain a database, then they should have to do the work to get the data and maintain it. Not that I want to be on a State database, but I certainly don’t want to take part in helping them make it or to do anything to make it easier for them.

    Once they put the burden to maintain the data on us, especially with penalties for failure to do so, it becomes a restriction on us and takes our resources away in time and money. Right there is where I think it crosses the line into punishment – as both a restriction of liberty and a penalty of money.

    Then we could add on top all the other restrictions applied to those on the registry since the original SCOTUS decision and this should be over.

    • Tim in WI

      Worried in,

      Registration as unconstitutional punishment only implicates ex post folks. The most acute question is: Why deem civil that which is not? Indenture according to the 13th is permitted only after duly had conviction. Given that we are discussing ” gov use of the database machine infrastructure ” under the auspices of public safety, we must consider those other civil uses of the machine infrastructure. Electronic domestic surveillance programs fit squarely within that concept. Except we’ve already witnessed its misuse for political security. First there was the case of David Petraeus, whereby he was caught up disclosing sensitive information to the lady writing a book about him and his job. Currently we see the case upon General Flynn that was recently dropped by AG Barr and the DOJ. BOTH Judicial Watch and Brieitbart are all over the story about the misuse of FISA warrant which serve as a barrier to buffer political tendencies to attack each other by means inconsistent with the needs of the people. In other words the people’s database machine are being used for political security regardless of public safety. BOTH parties seek to cut each other’s throats via the unfettered uses of the machine promulgated first by sex offender registration by determination as a civil government action.

      It is important to consider the collateral implications x concerning gov use and associated potential consequences of misuse of these powerful machine capabilities. With Covid19-cronovirus on the scene we hear talk of contact tracing via electronic means which clearly implicates free association and cross jurisdictional social mobility.

      If one wishes to study unconstitutional behavior one needs only to gaze at the issues surrounding the sexual offender: Kansas V Hendricks (added incarceration), NC V Grady(continuous electronic search), NC V Packingham( speech), Grabarczyk v Stein (due process & interstate mobility) etc, etc.

  19. Saddles

    @ All. Its about time to graduate, yes I like all these views and comments on here (bare with me for a minute) and yes when I first got involved in a bit of this I really had no idea what I was really getting into but I did have my basics. Yes many of you all have gotten on me in some respect but last night I had to do a double take on this when Larry AZ-WAR made his comment last night on SORNA and Roe vs Wade. I’ve even made some stupid commits on here. Sure AZ is a beautiful State, Even remimds me of that Song by Mark Lindsy Arizona. So take off your hobo shoes or rainbow shades in many ways.

    Larry I have to shake your hand and agree with you on that one and even about SORA jumping the gun a bit and these political politician ordeal. Yes to everything there is a season, good song Turn, Turn Turn by the Byrds and yes a lttle bit of scripture goes a long way. Even old court cases do come in handy to prove in many ways. Still we have a rocky road to go at times

    This PA ordeal is a type of double standard of many weights and measures. Sure a little bible knowledge goes a long way. Governments seem not to recognize that in many respects.
    A lot of this is like sexual Promiscuity. governments swaying in many ways and purposes, and be oppressive. One could even say who is the oppressor or who is the agressor. Is it a double standard in many views, Here you got a Christian person of government authority doing the opposite of what the commandments say. So who’s behavior and attitute is a double standard. Talk about a thorn in one’s backside. But when govenment ask you to do something directly against Gods law we are to disobey the government.

    Doing something that is in direct disobidence to Gods law we are not to obey and yes I gave a bad sex texting because they wanted me to come down there to talk dirty to them in this double standard type of devilish scheme. So were does lying come into play and even enticing one twice when asked to back out.

    Theif of conscious by premeditated means or one could even use better is a little with righteousness than great revenue of right Proverbs 16:8. Even stealing a persons’ conscious is a type of tort law. One’s seared conscience even can act as your prosecuting attorney benefit Monastic hypocrisy in leadership is shameful. One has to have the testimony of two people. and due process is put on the back burner in many of these ordeals. Yes my own ordeal was a two day event.

    I even wondered why Rick Warren e-mails me from his church and I had to reflect where I heard the name and yes it was the Obama years so Janice and her team are in CA so I would think he could give some view’s on this if one drives down the valley and checks out his view’s on this. Remember the first is last and the last is first.

  20. steve

    I’m sure there a quite a few of us on here before internet passage here in ca which happened in I believe 2002?

  21. Chris f

    I have tried to pop in here to keep up with stuff but haven’t commented in awhile since progress has been slow.

    If my past arguments and memory isn’t failing me, doesn’t this being declared punishment now give a green light for challenges to numerous constitutional violations for everyone and not just those with ex post facto issues? Legislature can’t dictate punishment and it can now be challenged as cruel and unusual too. It violates Seperation of Powers.

    I miss my old discussions with AJ and Mike R on these topics.

    • AJ

      @Chris f:
      Hey there, Chris. That’s something I’ve been long wondering, and not with just this case. If/Once a ML is determined to be ex post facto, then obviously it’s punishment. The question is, does the legislature’s dictation of what the punishment is to be for commission of a sex offense rise to being a Bill of Attainder, or is it merely their exercising their legislative powers? I say it’s not a BofA because it’s in the statutes *prior* to someone choosing to enter the readily identifiable class of people. Plus, how is it different from their saying anyone who commits capital murder is sentenced to life without parole? Such an absolute passes muster, so why can’t the legislature’s saying, “all who commit sex offenses must receive these punishment”? I get, and agree with you (and the late-Judge Matsch) that it’s Cruel & Unusual Punishment–especially given how it mirrors the Weems case where SCOTUS said it was C&U to impose on Weems the items the P.I. courts did. I also wonder if it may rise to a Double Jeopardy issue for migrants. I’ve only done light reading on DJ issues, but I do recall it being a very narrow door (narrower than even EPF, IIRC) and a high standard.

      Regardless where this case goes, it’s yet another chip away at the ML wall. Minds are changing inside the court rooms (MI, PA) and out (CA). The mania seems to be slowly subsiding. Slowly.

      I hope you’re well and I miss seeing your analysis and thoughts on here as well. I think @mike r has followed a similar path as you (and me, to some degree) and doesn’t post on here much at all. For me, I’m pretty much limiting my readings and thoughts on here to court decisions.

      Most my other online time is spent doing legal research. That’s all the hint/info I’m giving on that! 😎😉

  22. Todd Smith

    I was sentenced back in 1989 in the state of Pa for a sex offense. There was no such thing as Meghan’s law when I was sentenced. But I am now required to register for life. I can’t even get a decent job because of this and I don’t have the money to fight it. Any suggestions?

  23. Concerned Citizen

    “Petitioner committed his crimes in 1990 and, therefore, he had no notice that
    he would be subject to any registration requirements, let alone a variety of
    increasing registration requirements, for his lifetime, including dissemination of his
    personal information on the Internet”

    This means he didn’t know the consequences of his actions in it’s entirety while he committed the crime, or when he was convicted of his crime, which is a great defense for him and one of the main reasons law retro-activity is unconstitutional. It is also important to note that not only did they find SORNA to be punishment but also the public aspect of Megan’s Law 2.0 which was passed in the year 2000. Hopefully the Supreme Court will agree.

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