The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that a Lancaster sex offender must register under Megan’s Law for 15 years, not for a lifetime, as was originally ordered at sentencing.
The high court’s decision opposes the state Superior Court’s prior ruling that Thomas Lutz-Morrison must register for life because he was convicted of three counts of possessing child pornography in 2013.
Pennsylvania law requires individuals convicted of “two or more” sex offenses to register under Megan’s Law for life.
The intermediate appeals courts differed in their interpretations of the law’s language.
The Supreme Court essentially rules, in a 4-2 opinion filed this week, that the “two or more” convictions must be for separate acts, and that the sex offender must have already been sentenced for one sex offense before he was sentenced for the second or subsequent sex act. In Lutz-Morrison’s case, the convictions regarding a single search and seizure of electronics that contained child pornography.
The Lancaster County sentencing judge and state Superior Court found that those qualifying multiple convictions can be from the same criminal docket. Local prosecutors argued the same.
The Supreme Court’s ruling will set precedent for future cases across the state, and could be applied retroactively to cases already prosecuted. If so, only the Megan’s Law registration orders would be impacted; not other aspects of the sentence or conviction. If retroactive, it is unclear how many cases will be affected.
The Supreme Court ruled that a person must be convicted and sentenced for a first offense, and have an opportunity to reform, before committing a second crime which would be considered a second offense. An offender must have a chance to rehabilitate before being penalized with a “second offense,” the high court found.
Pa. Supreme Court Justices Debra McCloskey Todd and David N. Wecht filed dissenting opinions.
Assistant District Attorney Travis S. Anderson argued that Megan’s Law is not punitive or rehabilitative in its nature – such as third-strike sentencing mandates - but rather is merely designed to provide community notification.
Anderson also argued the statute makes no mention of the timing or sequence of the convictions.
Sex-offense convictions are categorized, for Megan’s Law purposes, in three tiers:
- Tier I offenses: 15-year registration
- Tier II offenses: 25 years registration
- Tier III offenses: lifetime registration
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