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The Adam Walsh Act and What It Means for Megan's Law Offenders in PA

As of December 20, 2011, Pennsylvania has passed the Adam Walsh Act and Sex Offenders must now comply with both Megan's Law registration requirements and with those under the Adam Walsh Act.

By Attorney Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, Megan's Law and Adam Walsh Act Attorney, Harrisburg, PA


Title I of the Adam Walsh Act, also known as the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act ("SORNA"), has been codified in large part at 42 U.S.C. §16911. The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act is a federal statute that was signed into law by President George W. Bush on July 27, 2006. The Walsh Act organizes sex offenders into three tiers and mandates that Tier 3 offenders (the most serious tier) update their whereabouts every three months with lifetime registration requirements. Tier 2 offenders must update their whereabouts every six months with 25 years of registration, and Tier 1 offenders must update their whereabouts every year with 15 years of registration. Failure to register and update information is a felony under the law.

The Act also creates a national sex offender registry and instructs each state and territory to apply identical criteria for posting offender data on the Internet (i.e., offender's name, address, date of birth, place of employment, photograph, etc.).

SORNA did not create a federal sex offender registry. Rather, the legislation did two things of note for the local prosecutor. First, the Adam Walsh Act created a new federal felony offense for failing to register as a sex offender as required by SORNA. Second, it established a new baseline sex offender registry standard for the jurisdictions to achieve, but they are free to enact more stringent requirements. Failure to come into "substantial compliance" with SORNA's requirements in a timely manner will result in an annual 10% reduction the jurisdiction receives through Byrne Grants. In other words, to avoid the loss of that money, every jurisdiction may have to overhaul its sex offender registration statutory and/or regulatory scheme so that it meets SORNA's minimum requirements.

At present, the jurisdictions deemed in substantial compliance with the Act are:

  • Ohio,
  • Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation,
  • Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation,
  • Delaware,
  • Florida,
  • South Dakota,
  • Michigan,
  • Nevada,
  • Wyoming,
  • Pennsylvania (12/20/11 (SB 1183, Act 111), the 15th Compliant state)

The required retroactive application of requirements will be defined by criteria relating to the nature of their sex offenses, not by severity or risk of re-offense, nor will it differentiate between violent or nonviolent offenses. For example, a Tier 3 sex offender who was released from imprisonment for such an offense in 1930 will still have to register for the remainder of his or her life. A Tier 2 sex offender convicted in 1980 is already more than 25 years out from the time of release. A Tier 1 will have to register for 10-15 years. In such cases, a jurisdiction may credit the sex offender with the time elapsed from his or her release.

The Act also applies to kids

Juveniles 14 years of age or older at the time of offense are required to register only if they fit into the third (most serious) tier and were tried as adults. Such juveniles will be subject to all the same registration requirements as other Tier 3 offenders. (See link to my articleabout teens being required to register in PA).


Tier I sex offenders convicted of the "least serious" offenses in this statutory scheme, are required to register for 15 years, renewing their registration once annually. Tier I is the least serious classification that a sex offender can receive, and is essentially a "catch-all" category for sex offenses which do not fall under Tier II or Tier III. It includes misdemeanor and felony offenses, which meet the definition of "sex offense" in 18 U.S.C. §16911(5), that do not qualify for a higher tier classification.

Tier II sex offenders are required to register for 25 years, renewing their registration every six months. A person previously convicted of a Tier I sex offense who is subsequently convicted of a felony sex offense (regardless of its tier) will be classified as at least a Tier II sex offender. For those with no prior sex offense convictions, Tier II offenses will generally cover the following felony 14 crimes under a state's statutory scheme:

  • offenses involving the use of minors in prostitution;
  • offenses against minors involving sexual contact;
  • offenses involving the use of a minor in a sexual performance; and
  • offenses involving the production or distribution of child pornography.

Tier III sex offenders are required to register for life, renewing their registration every three months. A person previously classified as a Tier II sex offender who is subsequently convicted of a felony sex offense (regardless of its tier) will be classified as a Tier III sex offender. Tier III sex offenses are those punishable by more than one year incarceration and are comparable to the following crimes:

  • sexual acts with another by force or threat;
  • engaging in a sex act with another who has been rendered unconscious or involuntarily drugged, or who is otherwise incapable of appraising the nature of the conduct or declining to participate;
  • sexual acts with a child under the age of 12; and
  • non-parental kidnapping of a minor.

It is very possible that if you have not been convicted of a Megan's Law Offense under PA Law that you may, nonetheless, face registration requirements under the Adam Walsh Act. It is incredibly important that you have experienced defense counsel that will understand and be able to navigate this difficult path for you. You may contact the attorneys at Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC (717) 268-4287.