I write frequently about the Pennsylvania General Assembly routinely adding criminal and civil consequences to convicted sex offenders ‘s sentences after judicial pronouncement of the sentence. Modifying Megan’s Law registration requirements for convicted sex offenders is the most prominent of these tough-on-crime fighting, constituent-appeasing measures. Megan’s Law V is called the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act. (SORNA), 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9799.10-9799.41.
The Pennsylvania General Assembly has modified and/or extended Pennsylvania’s Megan’s Law so many times that our Commonwealth now has five different Megan’s Law registration statutes. Parts of Megan’s Law, II-IV were declared unconstitutional. Megan’s Law V’s December 20, 2012 reclassification and extension of registration scheme for sex offenders – whether under supervision or not as of December 20, 2012- is now being attacked. Defendants who complied with all terms and conditions of their criminal sentences and originally imposed registration requirements object to their reclassification. Successful legal arguments have focused on this provision.
On September 28, 2016 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court finally decided several consolidated cases addressing thissue. In Commonwealth v. Martinez, 2016 Pa. LEXIS 2183 (Sep. 28, 2016), the Court resolved the legality of the 2012 reclassification scheme against otherwise compliant registrants. Three combined cases present the question of whether the state police can extend or re-enroll in the sexual registry defendants who satisfied all terms and conditions of an original guilty pleagreement and were not under probation or parole supervision as of December 20, 2012. The individuals may still have had to register under Megan’s law I-V. These cases do not apply to open pleagreements or sentences handed down after a jury or bench trial.Factually, after December 20, 2012 the state police sent letters out to Megan’s Law registrants compelling re-enrollment or extension of their registration requirements. Registration requirements were extended from 10 to 25 years and 25 years to life depending on the criminal conviction. If registration had been completed but the convicted offense registration was changed to 25 years instead of 10 years, re-enrollment was demanded. Martinez and other individuals around the Commonwealth contested reclassification because they complied with all aspects of their criminal pleagreement, may have concluded probation/parole supervision before December 2012, and may have even completed their registration responsibilities. Some Cases were filed against the state police as injunctions, writs of mandamus, or a petitions to enforce guilty pleagreements. Many of these cases failed for any number of reasons. Case rulings allow reclassification against defendants who violated any term or condition of their guilty pleagreement. Another basis for allowing reclassification is being charged with violating the registration requirements of their original sentence. Even being charged for a reporting violation after 2012 became a reason for further reclassification.
The Martinez defendants (as well as several of my clients) satisfied their terms of incarceration with no violations or write ups, honored all probation or parole obligations, and were fully compliant with (or completed) all registration requirements. The state police still contacted them to either re-initiate or extend registration under Megan’s Law V.
I, like Martinez’ counsel, filed motions to enforce their guilty plea in various Common Pleas courts around the state. I sought, like Martinez, to enforce the terms of their pre-2012 pleagreements. Martinez focuses exclusively on the sanctity pleas agreement as a contract into which the government entered with these defendant. Focusing defendants’ compliance with their side of the bargain, Martinez, and one other case, Commonwealth v. Hainesworth, 2013 PA Super 318, 82 A.3d 444 (Pa. Super. 2013), present similar situated defendants. In those cases the Superior Court of Pennsylvania held that the Contract Clauses of the Pennsylvania, Pa. Const. art. I, § 17, and United States Constitutions, U.S. Const. art. I, § 10, cl. 1, prohibit the Pennsylvania Legislature from enacting laws that retroactively impair contract rights.
The Martinez case question was whether Hainesworth’s ruling, baring reclassification for defendants who complete the terms of the guilty plea contract before December 20, 2012, is proper. The court said yes and affirms Hainesworth. The court states “convicted criminals must fulfill the promises they make in connection with pleagreements. See Commonwealth v. Wallace, 582 Pa. 234, 870 A.2d 838, 843 n.6 (Pa. 2005) (“The defendant, on the other hand, accepts this benefit with the implicit promise that he will abide by the terms of the agreement and behave in accordance with the legal punishment imposed by the court.”). For these defendants, the Court rules, the legislature must honor the guilty pleagreement/contract its District Attorneys entered and the court approved.
The issue now is does the guilty plea colloquy adequately set forth with particularity the registration requirements that are part of the guilty pleagreement. Martinez may not apply to a cases in which the Megan’s Law terms are not stated in the record or were not negotiated. If there is an open plea, these cases may not apply. In the late 1990 and early 2000’s in many cases the Commonwealth simply did not negotiate terms of Megan’s Law in the guilty pleagreement or state it was negotiated on the record.
Some experienced counsel tried to have the record reflect the plea negotiations to lower criminal charges were engaged to reduce the registration time (from a Tier II – 25 year offense to a Tier I – 10 year offense). In those cases registration terms were reduced in guilty pleagreement by pleas to lower criminal charges. Martinez find such stipulations in the three consolidated cases. In Philadelphiand the local counties, registration notification provisions were always placed in the pleagreement, with a separate signed Megan’s Law Registration form, and in colloquy at a sentencing.
In the less sophisticated courts sometimes registration terms were not discussed in either the plea or sentencing hearings. Importantly, counsel must secure both of these transcripts to determine in Martinez applies to the case. Also, Martinez only applies to guilty pleas (not open pleas) for which a defendant was not under any jail, parole, or probation supervision as of December 2012. Call me to discuss your case.