State Must Reenact Megan’s Law to Preserve Sex Offender Registration
Without legislative fix approximately 10,000 sex offenders could avoid prosecution for failing to register and may be removed from list meant to protect adults and children from sexual predators
HARRISBURG, PA – Unless the Commonwealth reenacts a version of Megan’s Law in response to a state Supreme Court ruling earlier this year, approximately 10,000 sex offenders would escape prosecution for failing to register or verify their obligations related to Pennsylvania’s Megan’s Law registry and could be removed from the list.
Members of the House Judiciary Committee heard from Cumberland County District Attorney and Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association (PDAA) Communications Chair Dave Freed today, who said without a sufficient statute in place to put any registration requirements on sexual offenders, district attorneys would not be able to prosecute individuals who fail to register or verify their registry.
“Already, counties are grappling with cases of sex offenders who have failed to verify their registration information,” said Freed. “Unless there is a legislative change, there is a very real possibility that those who had to register as sex offenders before December 20, 2012 may not be able to be prosecuted for failing to meet their registration or verification obligations and may actually be removed from the Megan’s Law website.”
Freed’s office litigated Commonwealth vs. Muniz, in which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that provisions of the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) that applied retroactively were unconstitutional. Freed has said he will file a petition for Writ Certiorari with the U. S. Supreme Court.
Just last week the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stayed the Muniz decision pending the filing with the U.S. Supreme Court. When SORNA went into effect it replaced Pennsylvania’s previously enacted Megan’s Law provisions. By adopting SORNA, the state was spared a 10 percent reduction in federal Justice Assistance Grants (JAG), which are typically used for public safety purposes.
“No matter what the U.S. Supreme Court decides to do, we need a robust and constitutional sex offender registry in Pennsylvania.” Freed said.
The PDAA is recommending the reenactment of a version of Megan’s Law that was in place before the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) replaced it 2012. This new version of Megan’s Law would apply to those offenders to whom SORNA applied retroactively, meaning that their registration crimes were committed before December 20, 2012. Under this proposal some offenders would ultimately come off the registry, but the numbers would pale in comparison to the possible 10,000 who could ultimately be removed from the registry should no legislative action be taken.
“As prosecutors, our experience is that sex offender registries work and represent good policy,” said Freed. “Sex offenders are high risk and they recidivate. They are dangerous; they prey on our most vulnerable and they commit crimes that can result in a lifetime of struggle and challenges for the victims and their families.”
Freed cited several studies that demonstrate how dangerous released sexual offenders are, including one that the sexual recidivism rate arrest rate for rapists was 39% and the sexual recidivism arrest rate for child molesters was 52%. (Prentky, R.A, et al. “Recidivism rates among child molesters and rapists: A methodological analysis.” Law of Human Behavior, vol. 21, no. 6, 1997, pp. 635-659.)
“If used as a tool and not the exclusive tool, sex offender registries do provide important information for protecting both children and adults from sexual predators,” Freed said. “We need that registry and we need to make room for a legislative fix.”