United States Court of Appeals Holds Registration and Reporting Requirements of SORNA Unconstitutional As Applied to Adjudicated Juveniles
The Sex Offenders Registration and Notification Act, otherwise known as SORNA, was enacted by Congress in 2006 as part of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act; legislation enacted “in order to protect the public from sex offenders and offenders against children”. SORNA establishes a national database of sex offenders, requiring anyone convicted of certain sex offenses to register as an offender and report to law enforcement authorities every ninety (90) days for twenty-five (25) years. The Attorney General was given the authority by Congress, and accordingly chose to apply the registration and reporting requirements of SORNA retroactively to those with prior convictions of certain sex crimes. The Attorney General further applied the SORNA requirements to those convicted as juveniles, regardless of whether they had been adjudicated.
The Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act has long been in place in our justice system. It was created with the intention of removing juveniles from the ordinary criminal justice system in hopes of rehabilitation and to assist troubled youths in becoming productive adult members of society. As part of the Act, juvenile offenders generally do not have their names or a picture released to the public when charged with most criminal offenses and further safeguards the record of juvenile proceedings from unauthorized disclosure.
The Constitution of the United States also provides protection against Ex Post Facto laws, or laws which retroactively change the legal consequences of a person’s actions. The Constitution shields citizens from being punished for acts previously committed which did not carry consequence at the time they were committed. However, consequences must be deemed punitive in order for the Constitution’s clause to apply; regulatory or civil application, such as adult registration in a sex offender database, is not considered a violation of the Ex Post Facto clause.
A juvenile who was adjudicated for a sex offenses which he committed between the ages of thirteen (13) and fifteen (15), was required to register in the national sex offender database as per SORNA’s requirements. The juvenile’s offenses constituted aggravated sexual assault due to the young age of the victim. The Juvenile was adjudicated delinquent and sentenced to two (2) years detention in a juvenile facility, to be followed by supervised release; the adjudication occurred one (1) year prior to the passage of SORNA. As per the FJDA, the juvenile’s record was sealed.
On appeal from the District Court’s imposition of the SORNA requirement upon the juvenile, following his adjudication for delinquency, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that applying the SORNA requirements to the appellant violated the Ex Post Facto clause of the Constitution. The Court discussed the difference between applying SORNA retroactively to adults versus adjudicated juveniles. The FJDA seals a juvenile’s criminal record upon adjudication, allowing only authorized personnel to view juvenile offenses of an individual. The FJDA provides this protection in hopes of rehabilitating juveniles so they can become productive adults, rather than burden their early adult lives with a criminal record which would affect employment, credit, home rental and purchase, etc. Contrarily, an adult criminal record is open to the public upon search.
Based upon this analysis, the Court held application of SORNA’s registration and reporting requirements unconstitutional as applied to adjudicated juveniles, as the effect would be punitive rather than merely regulatory. The Court also mentioned that an opposite finding could require juvenile offenders, adjudicated decades ago, to register; potentially ruining families, businesses, and the lives of those who have been successfully rehabilitated.
Sexual Crimes are serious matters in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, as well as throughout the United States. These crimes carry harsh penalties. In addition to prison sentence, a convicted offender may be subject to “Megan’s Law”, which is intended by the Pennsylvania General Assembly to “protect the safety and general welfare of the people of this Commonwealth by providing for registration and community notification regarding sexually violent predators who are about to be released from custody and will live in or near their neighborhood”. Further, offenders may also be subject to a national sex offender registration database under the Federal SORNA Act.
Sexual offenses in Pennsylvania are serious crimes which carry many substantial penalties if you are convicted. An experienced Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney can defend you against these charges.