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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Reinstates Homeless Man's Failure-to-Register Conviction

In 1998, William Howard Wilgus was convicted of aggravated indecent assault. Because he was a sexually violent predator, he was required to register under the Megan's Law 42 Pa. C.S. § 9795.1 (6) (4). His five years to life imprisonment sentence was vacated by the Superior Court and remanded for resentencing which was five to ten years imprisonment. Because Wilgus was incarcerated when Megan's Law was revised, he was subjected to lifetime registration.

Upon release in 2007, Wilgus listed his homeless shelter as his address of residence. Two days later, the shelter's rules on Megan's Law registrants made him relocate to various places on the streets because no apartments were available. His mail and social security checks were delivered to a soup kitchen in Harrisburg. Without informing the authorities of his new living arrangements, he obtained a locker in Harrisburg to store and retrieve his belongings.

When a detective attempted to verify the compliance with registration requirements, he discovered Wilgus resides elsewhere. Once located, Wilgus was arrested and convicted for failing to register by notifying Pennsylvania State Police of his residence and any change of residence.

Wilgus filed a post-sentence motion alleging the insufficiency of evidence to support his conviction because he had no residence to register. He also claimed the registration requirements were unconstitutional and vaguely applied to homeless defendants. When the trial court agreed and dismissed the charges against him, the Commonwealth appealed.

The Superior Court affirmed because Wilgus had no residence and could not be in violation of the requirements defined by Megan's Law. Since Pennsylvania had not previously addressed this issue, the Superior Court cited Twine v. State, 910 A.2d 1132 (Md 2006), in which the Maryland's appellate court found Twine's eviction and subsequent homelessness did not constitute a residence change for the purpose of registration.

The Commonwealth appealed to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Middle District, claiming the Superior Court erred and mistakenly interpreted the statue and reliance of Twine because "residence" was not defined by the statue like in Twine. In spite of becoming homeless, the Commonwealth stated Wilgus could have registered his outdoors residence around Second and Market Street in downtown Harrisburg. Instead, he failed to notify the police that his residence had been vacated or changed, which constituted a statute violation.

The Supreme Court concluded that homeless sexual predators must register the outdoor area where they reside. The court reinstated Wilgus's conviction and remanded to the trial court for reimposition of his sentence. See: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Wilgus, 40 A.3d 1201 (Pa. 2012).

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Related legal case

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Wilgus