Sex offenders registry ruling raises concerns
Wednesday, The Pennsylvania Supreme Court sent down a ruling that could affect sex offender in the state.
This ruling means that some offenders registered under SORNA, The Sex Offender Registration Notification Act, could file and appeal and be removed from the list.
Attorney Joseph Caraciolo says yesterday’s ruling has his phone ringing.
"We're getting phone calls from people who are asking questions, but it still so new," he said.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that certain sex offenders could have their information taken off SORNA, depending on when they were convicted and sentenced.
SORNA replaced Megan’s Law in 2012 and for some offenders, gave them longer periods of being on the list than they had under Megan’s Law.
"The shortest period of time you could've been on Megan's Law back then was 10 years, so that means if you would plead and let's say served your sentence and started your Megan's Law in 2012, you'd be on that for 10 years. However being transferred to SORNA, some of them went on a lifetime list, some of them on the 25-year list and everyone else went on the 15-year list. So for that entire period of time all those people would have a right to file an appeal,” Caraciolo said.
This has Jennifer Storm’s team from the PA Office of Victim Advocate working to figure out what will happen next and do their victim survivors need to be notified.
"What SORNA did is that it enabled victims to know where their offenders was at all times and depending on the severity of the crime, they were deemed to be registered for certain amount of time. What we do then is we make sure that that victim knows where that offender lives, where they’re employed, what the current make and model of their vehicle is, a current photo and it really helps us with our safety planning for survivors,” Storm said.
"The first thing that could happen is anyone who was sentence prior to 2012 could file an appeal to reduce the registration period. The other thing that could happen is the legislature couldn't enact something to make a change or as I said the Pennsylvania State Police could decide not to enforce the newer SORNA requirements on older people who have previously registered,” Caraciolo said.
There's close to 4,000 victims and survivors of sexual assault in Pennsylvania that rely on SORNA.
"I talk to survivors every day the first thing they do every morning is they check where their offender is. They say where is my offender today and then they plan their days accordingly and that's peace of mind for that survivor,” Storm said.
Chief Supreme Court Justice Thomas Saylor was the only one to vote against the ruling. In his dissenting opinion he says, in part, he doesn’t thing SORNA is a form of punishment.
But Caraciolo disagrees.
He says offenders are forced to register with the State Police as many as four times a year, plus any time their information changes.
“the registration could include things like your Facebook handle, your email address, your picture, your name, your description. It could even include things like places where you generally eat and so that burden could cause someone to go see an attorney and ask for that appeal,” Caraciolo said.
In Storm’s eyes, however, it’s not a punishment.
"It's public safety first and foremost and that's what scares me the most about this decision is that we are ruining public safety significantly,” she said.