At the heart of the majority of cases is the latest iteration of the Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act, or SORNA, which evolved out of the original Megan’s Law. When SORNA took effect at the end of 2012, it greatly expanded the law, increasing the list of offenses subject to registration and notification — including a handful that are not sexual in nature — and imposing more stringent registration and notification rules.
The state’s Megan’s Law registry more than doubled, growing from about 10,000 people to just over 20,000, according to the Pennsylvania State Police, which oversees the registry.
Marcus said that after “decades of trial, mountains of empirical evidence and close to one million people around the country being denied their rights to liberty and their reputation,” no hard evidence exists that the public is any safer or that assaults have been prevented.
One of the most closely-watched cases before the high court deals with requirements under the current law for people classified as “sexually-violent predators,” those who have committed the most serious offenses and who are considered to have a high likelihood to reoffend. They are subject to lifetime registration, as well as lifetime counseling and community notification.
The case centers on whether those rigorous registration, notification and counseling requirements constitute unlawful punishment.
Brought by a Butler County man who pleaded guilty to statutory sexual assault and corruption of minors, the case targets the state’s little-known process for assessing sexual offenders. A board of psychiatrists, psychologists and criminal justice professionals in Pennsylvania make recommendations to the court about whether someone should be classified as a sexually violent predator.
Since 2000, the board has completed 20,260 assessments, according to state officials. In 6,027 of those cases, it has recommended that the offender be classified as a sexually violent predator, although the courts have not always agreed.
“This is the case that will dictate how we operate going forward,” said Meghan Dade, the board’s executive director. “This is a pivotal moment in Pennsylvania.”