Court: Tougher sex offender reporting in Pa. can't be retroactive

Written by Mark Scolforo/The Associated Press | Jul 20, 2017 3:48 AM

People walk by the Pennsylvania Judicial Center at the state Capitol in Harrisburg. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

(Harrisburg) -- The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled changes enacted five years ago to toughen reporting requirements under Pennsylvania's sex offender registration law cannot be applied retroactively.

The high court said Jose M. Muniz, convicted in Cumberland County of indecent assault of a 12-year-old girl, will not have to register for life.

He was convicted in 2007 but was not sentenced until 2014, two years after the state's Megan's Law reporting standards were changed by the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act.

In the lead opinion, Justice Kevin Dougherty said "both the state and offender have an interest in the finality of sentencing that is undermined by the enactment of ever more severe registration laws."

In a lone dissent , Chief Justice Thomas Saylor said he did not consider sex offender reporting as a form of punishment, so the 2012 law's application to Muniz did not violate constitutional protections against applying criminal laws retroactively.

A spokesman for the state police, which operates the Pennsylvania Megan's Law website , said the decision was being reviewed and offered no immediate comment. Muniz did not appear to have a home phone listing, and messages left after hours for his attorneys were not immediately returned.

Cumberland County District Attorney Dave Freed, who lost the decision, said it could produce a large number of appeals by Megan's Law registrants, arguing the decision also applies to them.

At the time Muniz was convicted, his offense called for a 10-year registration period. The 2012 changes to the state law turned that into a lifetime requirement, and required registration for additional crimes.

Freed predicted the decision "is going to generate numerous, numerous, numerous challenges," some seeking post-conviction appeals in county court, others in state-level Commonwealth Court, involving state police.

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