This law placed onerous obligations on children and imposed lengthy mandatory prison sentence for anyone who failed to register or failed to register properly. On July 5, 2012, Act 91 was passed, which amended portions of Pennsylvania’s expungement statute to prohibit juveniles adjudicated of registerable offenses from ever receiving expungements. Both Act 111 and Act 91 became effective on December 20, 2012.
In 2013, the Juvenile Law Center, along with attorneys from the Defender Association of Philadelphia, York County Public Defender Office, and other attorneys filed a brief on behalf of seven youth in York County, Pennsylvania who were required to register as sex offenders under the Pennsylvania registration law for life. The attorneys argued that juveniles are significantly different from adults, less likely to reoffend sexually, more open to treatment, and more vulnerable to psychological and emotional harm caused by registration.
In a major victory for juvenile defenders, on November 4, 2013, the York County Court of Common Pleas ruled that Pennsylvania’s recently enacted law requiring that juveniles convicted of sexual offenses be subjected to lifetime sex offender registration violated their rights under various provisions of the Pennsylvania and United States Constitutions, as well as Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Act. Judge John C. Uhler wrote: “As is all too common with juvenile sex offenders, their lives too have been marred by tragedies, traumas, addictions, abuse, and personal victimization. Fortunately, as is also common with juvenile offenders, they have demonstrated a great capacity and willingness to rehabilitate and make better lives for themselves.”
The case was then argued before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on May 6, 2014. On December 29, 2014, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling declaring that lifetime registration requirements of SORNA to be unconstitutional as applied to juveniles who are adjudicated delinquent of certain sexual offenses. The Court found that it was a violation of due process that infringed upon the special protection given to “reputation” by the Pennsylvania Constitution for the Legislature to impose an “irrebuttable presumption” that all juvenile offenders “pose a high risk of committing additional sexual offenses,” thus requiring that they all be subject to lifetime registration.
Shortly thereafter, the Pennsylvania State Police announced that, pursuant to the Supreme Court’s ruling, they would identify and remove juvenile offenders from the state sex offender registry, and would no longer accept registration information for juvenile offenders.
Despite the watershed decision from the Supreme Court, certain individuals must still register due to juvenile adjudications. This includes anyone found to be a “sexually violent delinquent child” under Pa. C.S. § 6358, or Act 21 which permits indefinite civil commitment. Also, each state has different registration laws, and some still require children to register as sex offenders. Anyone who moves to, works in, or attends school in another state may be required to register there.
Finally, juveniles adjudicated delinquent of offenses which previously required registration are still not eligible for expungement. This includes any child adjudicated delinquent for Rape (18 Pa.C.S. §3121), Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse (18 Pa.C.S. §3123), Aggravated Indecent Assault (18 Pa.C.S. §3125), or any corresponding inchoate offense who were also at least 14 years old at the time of the offense.