PITTSBURGH - Parents and others who rely on the Pennsylvania sex offender registry to keep tabs on their community and ensure their children's safety may soon find offenders disappearing.
A question under consideration by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court could cause a portion of the registry to disappear.
In July, the Court ruled the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) violated the state Constitution because it punished sex offenders instead of just monitoring them. That means that any of the 17,000 people convicted in Pennsylvania before SORNA went into effect in 2012 could be removed from the list.
It’s a move leaving police and prosecutors unsure if they can even charge certain sex offenders who fail to register.
East Pittsburgh police served a warrant on Joseph Brown, who is designated as a violent sex offender not in compliance with SORNA. After getting a warrant for his arrest, the department received a letter from Pennsylvania State Police saying the recent decision by the State Supreme Court could "impact the ability of the Commonwealth to bring charges against certain individuals being investigated for non-compliance with SORNA".
In an email to Channel 11, Allegheny County District Attorney spokesman Mike Manko said they’re still working to figure out how the Supreme Court’s ruling will affect future cases.
Brown is scheduled to be arraigned next week.
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"Every victim is different. Regardless of what happens to that offender, victims do heal," said Alison Hall, the director of Pittsburgh Action Against Rape.
She works with victims of sexual assault on a daily basis. While recovery is different for each person, Hall said a lack of monitoring could be a big problem for some victims.
WEB EXTRA: Search the Pennsylvania Megan's Law Registry
"Now they're going to worry about their offender being in the community and not being monitored by anyone or having to follow any kind of standards," said Hall.
"The public has a right to know if there's a sex offender living next door, and this law totally erodes that," said Guy Reschenthaler, a state senator representing the 37th district.
Map: Sex Offenders in Allegheny County Communities (Source: PA State Police)
Reschenthaler, who formerly served as a prosecutor and a judge, worries about the impact this ruling could have on the public. He said legislators are already working on a way to renew previous versions of the sex offender registry, which are constitutional. He's hopeful a change will be in place by the end of the year.
"So many people are at risk that we have to take action. This is not exactly a controversial issue,” Reschenthaler said. “This is about protecting Pennsylvanians from dangerous sexual offenders. We have got to do something.”
But some see the sex offender registry differently.
"It's still not fair,” said Tony, a sex offender who was sentenced to be on the registry for life. “You did your time, why should you have to register at all?"
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