A court calling the sex offender registry “an overbroad, suffocating net“? Is this the beginning of the end of the registry? No, of course not. But it’s does offer a glimmer of hope. Perhaps there is some room in our system for some forward movement toward more rational sex offense laws.
Two years ago, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania remanded a case back to the trial courts for the judge in the case to analyze SORNA’s constitutionality. On August 23, 2022, the court handed down a decision. “No,” the court said. SORNA is not constitutional “as a legislative scheme,” and it is unconstitutional as applied to the defendant.
The court starts by examining SORNA’s irrebuttable presumption that all sex offenders, regardless of their personal characteristics and circumstances, have a high risk of reoffending sexually. That presumption is not consititutional, the Court concludes, because it is empirically false. The vast majority of sex offenders do not reoffend sexually.
The court also considered a separate question– whether the sex offender registry constituted criminal punishment. The court found it does. And because it constitutes criminal punishment, it’s punitive nature offends Apprendi; results in a criminal sentence in excess of the statutory maximums; violates Federal and State proscriptions against cruel and unusual punishment; and breaches the separation of powers doctrine.
I was curious about the judge, the Honorable Allison Bell Royer. A registered Republican, she has a degree in Government, used to run her own law firm, has previously practiced criminal defense and is apparently a member of the Chester County Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.