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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Changes Sex Offender Registration Requirements

February 16, 2017

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

In 2012, Congress passed the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), which added a series of crimes to the list of sexually violent offenses while also requiring those with two or more convictions to register as a sex offender for life. A recently issued ruling from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, however, limits when this automatic lifetime registration can be applied. If you have questions about how the court’s opinion could affect your sentencing, it is critical to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help protect your interests.


Under SORNA, sex offenses are divided into first tier, second tier, and third tier categories. Tier 1 crimes include offenses involving false imprisonment of a minor, video voyeurism of a minor, and possession or receipt of child pornography. Those convicted of tier 1 offenses are required to register and remain on the national sex offender registry for 15 years. Tier 2 offenses are considered more serious and include offenses that are not the first sex offense for which a person has been convicted and that are punishable by more than one year in prison. It also includes the following crimes:

  • The use of minors in prostitution, including solicitations;
  • Enticing a minor to engage in criminal sexual activity;
  • A non-forcible sexual act with a minor of 16 or 17 years old;
  • Sexual contact with a minor who is 13 years of age or older; and
  • The production or distribution of child pornography.

Those convicted of tier 2 offenses must remain on the sex offender’s registry for 25 years. Finally, tier 3 offenses include non-parental kidnapping of a minor, committing a sexual act with another by force or threat, or with someone who has been involuntarily drugged or is unconscious. However, Tier 3 offenses also include sex offenses that are punishable by more than one year in jail and where the offender has at least one prior conviction for a tier 2 offense.

Pennsylvania v. Lutz-Morrison

Courts initially interpreted this lifetime rule to be applicable to offenders who were convicted of multiple counts arising from the same crime. A few months ago, however, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania clarified this rule stating that the law requires an act, a conviction, and another subsequent act to trigger the lifetime registration for multiple offenses. As a result, first time offenders who do not have prior sex offense convictions are classified as Tier 1 and Tier 2 offenders and are subject to 15 or 25 year registration regardless of how many counts a prosecutor chooses to file against them.

Contact an Experienced Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney Today

The previous application of SORNA often led to lifetime registration for some offenders who only committed a single Tier 1 or Tier 2 offense. The recently published opinion could lead to fairer sentencing in Pennsylvania. If you live in Philadelphia and were recently charged for a sex offense, please call us at van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim by calling (215) 486-0123 to set up a free consultation


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