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Pennsylvania Law Requiring Lifetime Registration of Juvenile Sex Offenders Unconstitutional

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Held the Commonwealth's mandatory lifetime registration of juvenile sexual offenders is unconstitutional. The Court concluded that juveniles have “a constitutionally protected interest in their reputation that has been encroached by the use of an  irrebuttable presumption.”

The Commonwealth appealed a ruling of the York County Court of Common Pleas in the cases of seven juveniles subjected to lifetime supervision under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) after they were found delinquent.

SORNA's registration requirements are premised upon the presumption that all sexual offenders pose a high risk of recidivating. SORNA also does not provide juvenile offenders a meaningful opportunity to challenge the presumption. The Court held that on this basis, SORNA impinged upon the juvenile offenders' fundamental right to reputation as protected by Pennsylvania Constitution.

The juveniles argued and the trial court found that registration negatively affects juvenile offenders’ ability to obtain housing, schooling, and employment, which in turn hinders their ability to rehabilitate. The Supreme Court agreed with the trial court “that SORNA's presumption that sexual offenders pose a high risk of recidivating is not universally true when applied to juvenile offenders.”

“While adult offenders have a high likelihood of re-offense, juvenile sexual offenders exhibit low levels of recidivism (between 2-7%), which are indistinguishable from the recidivism rates for non-sexual juvenile offenders,” the court wrote. Thus, “SORNA's registration requirements with an indelible mark of a dangerous recidivist, even though the irrebuttable presumption linking adjudication of specific offenses with a high likelihood of recidivating is not 'universally true.'”

The trial court's ruling that the application of SORNA's lifetime registration provision as applied to juveniles is unconstitutional was affirmed. See: In the Interest of J.B., et al., No. J-44A-G-2014 (Pa. Dec. 29, 2014).

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Related legal case

In the Interest of J.B., et al.