Section 9799.14 of Pennsylvania’s sex offender registration laws classifies the State’s sexual offenses into three tiers: Tier 1 requiring a 15-year registration period, Tier 2 requiring a 25-year registration period, and Tier III requiring lifetime registration. Included under the Tier 3 designation is 9799.14(d)(16), which states:
“Two or more convictions of offenses listed as Tier I or Tier II sexual offenses.”
On appeal, the PA Supreme Court in Commonwealth v. Gehris, 54 A.3d 862 (Pa. 2012) was tasked with deciding whether this statute meant that a person should be required to register for life if he or she was convicted of multiple Tier 1 or Tier II offenses arising from a single act and prosecution. Prior to this undertaking, the Superior Court ruled that the above language is unambiguous, and therefore a person in such a circumstance should indeed be required to register for life. Unfortunately, the PA Supreme Court in Gehris was evenly divided, and therefore the ruling of the Superior Court was affirmed.
Fortunately the PA Supreme Court in Commonwealth v. Lutz-Morrison revisited the issue, and yesterday (8-15-2016) came to a logical decision:
“It is enough to note we hold that Section 9799.14, considered in the context of the statutory language as a whole, is susceptible to two reasonable constructions, and the statute, which sets forth a graduated (three-tier) scheme of registration, encompasses a recidivist philosophy. As such, the statute requires an act, a conviction, and a subsequent act to trigger lifetime registration for multiple offenses otherwise subject to a fifteen- or twenty-five-year period of registration.”
It’s important to note that the same general ruling was made with respect to the “two or more convictions” language included in Megan’s Law II (pre-SORNA). See A.S. v. Pa. State Police, 24 MAP 2014, J-36-2016 (Pa. filed Aug. 15, 2016):
“In accordance with the Gehris Opinion in Support of Reversal (OISR), as supplemented by our analysis below, we hold the provision, considered in the context of the statutory language as a whole, is amenable to two reasonable constructions; and we further hold the statute, which sets forth a graduated scheme of registration, encompasses a recidivist philosophy.2 We therefore conclude the statute requires an act, a conviction, and a subsequent act to trigger lifetime registration for multiple offenses otherwise triggering a ten-year period of registration.”
“Fourth and finally, and returning to the subject of predicate ambiguity, we note there is some validity in the point made in the dissent below that it would be absurd and unreasonable if a single act, giving rise to a single prosecution yielding two convictions for overlapping predicate offenses, subjected an offender to lifetime registration. In conclusion, we hold the statute requires an act, a conviction, and a subsequent act to trigger lifetime registration for multiple offenses otherwise triggering a ten-year period of registration. Accordingly, the award of mandamus relief is hereby affirmed.”
Please note that our firm does not handle registration issues. If you believe that this case could afford you legal relief, please contact a local attorney. For those in the Pittsburgh area, you might contact the Law Offices of David J. Shrager.
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