Pennsylvania’s “Sexually Violent Predator” Classification Ruled Unconstitutional

On October 31, 2017,  a panel of appellate judges ruled last week in the case of the case of Commonwealth v. Butler that Pennsylvania’s established process to designate a convicted sex offender as a “sexually violent predator” is unconstitutional.  The Court held that that 42 Pa C.S.A. § 9799.24(e)(3), the section of the Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act (“SORNA) that deals with designating an individual as a Sexually Violent Predators (“SVP”), is unconstitutional.  This decision could impact thousands of individuals throughout Pennsylvania and if you are charged with a SORNA offense, it is imperative that you contact an attorney me.

The court held that section 9799.24(e)(3) of SORNA violates the federal and state constitutions because it increases the criminal penalty to which a defendant is exposed without the chosen fact finder making the necessary factual findings beyond a reasonable doubt.  Moreover, we are constrained to hold trial courts cannot designate convicted defendants SVPs (nor may they hold SVP hearings) until our General Assembly enacts a constitutional designation mechanism. Instead, trial courts must notify a defendant that he or she is required to register for 15 years if he or she is convicted of a Tier I sexual offense, 25 years if he or she is convicted of a Tier II sexual offense, or life if he or she is convicted of a Tier III sexual offense.

A defendant after a conviction for a SORNA offense an individual must be assessed the SOAB to determine whether they meet the classification as an SVP.  According to § 9799.12 of the SORNA, an individual who is an SVP is a person with “a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes the individual likely to engage in predatory sexually violent offenses.”  However, right now the SVP classification is unconstitutional.

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