SORNA: Sex Offender Notification and Registration Act – The New and Surprising Definition

SORNA (Sex Offender Registration Notification Act) is a Federal law which is also incorporated into Title 1 of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. The legislative intent behind the law was to ensure consistency and uniformity throughout the United States in the prosecution and registration of sex offenders. The law requires the collection of an extensive amount of information from each offender which is subsequently entered into an national registry.

In 2012, Pennsylvania, in response to a federal mandate, enacted its own version of SORNA which contains the basic language of the federal statute but actually goes beyond the federal minimum guidelines. The Pennsylvania legislature, despite the mandates already set forth in the Commonwealth’s Megan’s Law, added additional criminal offenses which would require registration and made the law retroactive on individuals still serving probation for convictions that occurred prior to the law’s effective date (December 20, 2012). SORNA not only increases the number of offenses, which would require registration as a sex offender, it also increases the time an individual must register as such an offender. The new law also expands its reach to now include juveniles. Any child 14 years of age or older convicted is required to register; certain offenses require lifetime registration.

Despite recent media coverage of these types of crimes there is a common misperception about who the law classifies as a sex offender. Most people understand that crimes such as sexual assault, rape, sexual abuse, and other crimes related to deviant behavior would classify a person as a sex offender. SORNA, however, has expanded the definition to include crimes such as invasion of privacy, video voyeurism, and interference with the custody of a child. SORNA also requires sex offender registration for crimes that Pennsylvania still classifies as misdemeanors which in most cases do not involve any jail time but only a period of probation.

While SORNA has expanded the crimes which requires registration, it is also important to understand that a person does not need to actually commit the crime themselves to fall within the reach of the requirements of this act. If one defendant commits a crime which falls under this law, there is no prohibition against charging other defendants who may have played a role in this crime under conspiracy or solicitation theories. In addition, an individual does not need to actually commit the act to be subject to the law as SORNA recognizes inchoate offenses. Inchoate offenses otherwise known as “attempt” offenses requires that the prosecution only prove that an individual took a substantial step toward the commission of a crime. A person convicted of inchoate offense is subject to the same consequences that they would have faced had they actually committed the principle act itself.

Registration under SORNA can range from a minimum of fifteen years to a lifetime. The time requirement is based on the gravity of the offense (felony or misdemeanor) and recidivism (repeat offender). An individual who is required to register under SORNA and fails to comply with that registration is subject to a third degree felony and a two to four year mandatory minimum prison sentence for a first offense and a five to ten year mandatory minimum for repeat offenses. There are also mandatory minimum prison sentences for those who fail to provide accurate information, fail to verify information, and those who fail to comply with required sex offender counseling guidelines.

If you or a family member is charged with a crime that even remotely involves some type of sexual activity, invasion of privacy, or voyeurism it is important that you speak with an attorney who is knowledgeable in this area. I stress again that even a misdemeanor conviction with no jail time and only probation could still subject an individual to the requirements of SORNA. Your attorney should explore this possibility as it could affect your decision to enter into plea negotiations or proceed with a trial.

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