Lancaster County SORNA Challenge
Juvenile Law Center, filed three post-disposition motions and a memorandum of law in support of the motions on behalf of three youth in Lancaster County who were required to register as sex offenders for adjudications of delinquency that occurred prior to Pennsylvania’s new sex offender registration law becoming effective.
The Motions were filed with the juvenile court seeking nunc pro tunc relief, a mechanism that allows the court to review a case when the time for filing an appeal has passed. All three youth had been adjudicated delinquent for sex offenses prior to December 2012 when the law went into effect; in December, they were required to register as sexual offenders. The motions for nunc pro tunc relief ask the court to reconsider their classification as juvenile sex offenders and remove their information from the sex offender registry.
Juvenile Law Center argued that juvenile sex offender registration violates the Pennsylvania and United States constitutions and the Pennsylvania Juvenile Act. Because the youth had already been adjudicated and given a disposition for their offenses, the imposition of sex offender registration was an added punishment in violation of the ex post facto clauses of the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions. Furthermore, the registration obligation and onerous reporting obligations (including in-person reporting every 90 days or whenever a change in circumstance occurs) impose disproportionately harsh punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. With no evidence of an increase in public safety accompanying registration and documented, exceptionally low risk of reoffense, juvenile registration serves no legitimate or compelling state interest.
Juvenile Law Center also argued that the youth’s rights to procedural due process have been violated and, because registration results in stigma, including direct and indirect notification to individuals in the community, it violates the Pennsylvania Constitution’s express protection of reputation. Finally, the registration requirement contravenes the rehabilitative principles of the Juvenile Act.
On February 10, Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas Judge David R. Workman ruled that SORNA violates the youths' rights under the Pennsylvania Constitution. Specifically, the court found that lifetime sex offender registration violates their right to reputation because it imposes a stigma and a presumption of dangerousness on those juveniles, who must directly and indirectly notify their communities of their registration status.