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SORNA’s Lifetime Registration Provision as Applied to Juveniles Is Unconstitutional

The Pennsylvania State Supreme Court has previously held that the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act’s (SORNA) lifetime registration provision as applied to juveniles violated juvenile offenders’ due process rights by utilizing the irrebuttable presumption that all juvenile offenders posed a high risk of committing additional sexual offenses.  Further, that the lifetime registration requirements improperly encroached on juvenile offenders’ protected right to reputation with indelible mark of dangerous recidivist, irrebuttable presumption was not universally true, and reasonable alternative means existed for determining which juvenile offenders were likely to reoffend.

The High Court identified three critical distinctions between children and adults, specifically

            1)  Juveniles’ “lack of maturity” resulting in impulsivity,

            2)  Their vulnerability to external influences combined with their limited ability to control their environment, and

            3)  The still-developing characters which make their actions less indicative of “irretrievabl[e] deprav[ity].” 

The research studies relied upon by the Court indicated that recidivism rates for juvenile sex offenders are far lower than the recidivism rates of adult sexual offenders and, instead, are comparable to non-sexually offending juveniles.  The Court recognized that irrebuttable presumptions violate due process when ‘the presumption is deemed not universally true and a reasonable alternative means of ascertaining that presumed fact [is] available.’

A Juvenile’s Right to Reputation Under the PA CONST. Is a Fundamental Right. Art. I, § 1.

The High Court agreed that SORNA’s lifetime registration provisions impact a juvenile offenders’ right to reputation under the Pennsylvania Constitution.  “This Court has recognized that the right to reputation, although absent from the federal constitution, is a fundamental right under the Pennsylvania Constitution.  SORNA explicitly declares that sexual offenders, including juvenile offenders, “pose a high risk of committing additional sexual offenses and protection of the public from this type of offender is a paramount governmental interest.”  Thus, SORNA registration requirements, premised upon the presumption that all sexual offenders pose a high risk of recidivating, impinge upon juvenile offenders’ fundamental right to reputation as protected under the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Questions or concerns regarding a sex offense or registrations under SORNA?  Please email us at elisabeth@shafferengle.com or call (717) 545-3032.
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