Pennsylvania Supreme Court deals a blow to

the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) using separate and independent state-law grounds.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court deals a blow to the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) using separate and independent state-law grounds.

Today, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its opinion in Commonwealth v. Muniz, ___ A.3d ___ (Pa. July 19, 2016), which addressed the issue of whether the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) violated the ex-post-facto clauses of the federal and state constitution. (Simply stated, an ex-post-facto law is one that later punishes, or increases the penalty for, conduct that was legal when committed).

Five of seven of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s justices held that SORNA violated the state’s constitutional ban on ex-post-facto laws; three of the justices held SORNA violated the federal constitution; and the same three justices said the state constitution’s ex-post-facto provision provides greater protection than its federal counterpart.

In all, the judgment of the Court is a win for convicted sex-offenders who are now subjected to harsher reporting requirements under SORNA than they were when they were convicted.

*The opinion rendered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is often referred to as a “plurality opinion.”  Here, for instance, a plurality of the justices—not a majority—agreed that SORNA violated the federal constitution and that the state constitution’s ex-post-facto protections are greater than those founded in the federal constitution.  In that regard, these judgments of the plurality are not binding but merely persuasive.