Pennsylvania’s Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) was enacted on December 20, 2011 and established a three-tiered system for classification and defined sexually violent offenses. The Superior Court issued an Opinion on December 21, 2016 in Commonwealth v. Ritz that found SORNA unreasonable and in violation of Due Process Rights if applied retroactively. This decision addressed the interesting legal question of whether the legislature is in violation of the Contract Clauses of the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions in modifying the terms of a plea agreement through SORNA.
Jonathan Ritz was one of many individuals who were drastically affected by the enactment of SORNA. SORNA replaced Megan’s Law and extended registration times and added additional registration requirements for specific sex offenses. Many cases were negotiated pleas and Defendants were advised of how long they would be required to register as a sex offender. In Jonathan Ritz’s case, he accepted a plea agreement to indecent assault in 2005. Under Megan’s Law (in effect at the time) he was required to register as a sex offender for 10 years. In 2012, SORNA came along and upped that requirement to a life time registration.
The Superior Court examined an issue that was not addressed in the Supreme Court’s decision, Commonwealth v. Martinez. In Martinez, Supreme Court found a fundamental due process right to enforce the terms of a plea agreement. In other words, when a Defendant enters a plea agreement the terms of that agreement should be enforced. The Ritz decision examined the contractual obligations protected by the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions, specifically that no state shall pass any law impairing the obligations of contracts. The Superior Court in Ritz applied the three prong test to determine if SORNA satisfies the Constitutional obligations of the plea agreement. It found SORNA met the first and second prong – 1) impaired a contractual relationship; 2) a legitimate and significant public purpose; however, it found it did not meet the third requirement that the adjustment of contractual rights to be reasonable and of a nature appropriate to public purpose. It found SORNA to be unreasonable and invalid as applied.
If you have reached a plea agreement that requires you to register as a sex offender and are now being told that you have to register for a longer period of time, call an experienced criminal lawyer at The Mazza Law Group, P.C. We can review your cases to determine if SORNA has violated your constitutional rights.