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Mandatory Sentences for Sex Offenders

The Pennsylvania Superior Court reviews Megan's Law mandatory sentences for sex offenders or the "three strikes law" for sex offenders in a case decided in September 2012

The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently reviewed the provisions of 42 Pa.C.S. Section 9718.2- Mandatory Sentencing provisions for sex offenders. The Superior Court in Commonwealth v. Helsel, 53 A.3d 906 (Pa. Super., September 14, 2012), recently determined that where two prior offenses are committed that would constitute a listed offense for a ten-year registration (42 Pa.C.S. Section 9795.1(a)) or lifetime registration (42 Pa.C.S. Section 9795.1(b)), they must be from separate incidents and be the subject of sentences ordered to be served consecutively.

The Court applied the rule announced by the Pa. Supreme Court in Commonwealth v. Shiffler, 583 Pa. 478 (Pa. 2005), which interpreted the language found in 42 Pa.C.S. Section 9714 as it relates to a three strikes law for violent recidivist offenders. The Superior Court determined that the provisions were essentially identical, further the Legislature enacted the current statute in 2006. The Legislature was "ambiguously silent" as to the interpretation to be given to the application of prior convictions for sentencing enhancement purposes. Therefore, the Superior Court was bound by the prior precedent of Shiffler.

In so determining it was bound by Shiffler, the Court determined that if the defendant did not have two separate sentences from distinct criminal episodes which were ordered to run consecutively, it could not apply the recidivist provisions of 9718.2 to enhance the defendant's sentence to life. The Court stated:

Helsel committed two prior offenses that occurred on separate dates and were perpetrated against two separate victims. Like the defendant in Shiffler, Helsel pled guilty to both crimes at a single hearing, was sentenced for both crimes at a single hearing, and the sentences were ordered to run concurrently. There is no indication that he was sentenced as a second-strike offender at that time. He had no time away from prison between the sentences for the first and second offense-he served the sentences simultaneously. He thus had no opportunity to reform between the first and second prison sentence. Id. at 917.

The sentencing provisions of Megan's Law IV aka "SORNA," can have severe repercussions for the novice criminal attorney or for one who does not practice sex offender defense law. We have dealt with the difficult issues and can assess your case faster and with greater accuracy. You may contact the attorneys at Shaffer & Engle, LLC (717) 268-4287 or email us today.