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Plea Agreements Trump SORNA Requirements

I recently blogged in April 2013, that a County judge upheld a plea agreement over mandatory registration requirements.  That decision has now been upheld by the State Superior Court.

By Attorney Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, Sex Crimes Attorney, Harrisburg, PA

In a majority opinion, the Pennsylvania Superior Court in Commonwealth v. Hainesworth, 2013 Pa. Super. 318 (December 12, 2013), recently determined that a defendant's right to the benefit of his plea agreement, which did not include or contemplate any sex offender registration, trumps the ability of the Commonwealth under the new SORNA act (eff. 12/20/2013) to place the defendant on a registration list.

Pursuant to a plea agreement with the Commonwealth entered in February 2009, the defendant entered a negotiated plea to the charge of indecent assault, 18 Pa.C.S. ยง 3126(a)(8), which is categorized as a Tier II (25 years of registration) sexual offense under the new SORNA legislation (eff. 12/20/12).  Under Megan's Law, which was in effect at the time of the plea, the charge was not subject to any registration requirements.  SORNA was passed on December 20, 2011 and became effective on December 20, 2012.  Because the defendant was on probation on the effective date, his crime became the subject of a Tier II registration.  All parties concede that registration was never contemplated under the agreement and this was specifically addressed at the time of sentencing.

After a hearing, the trial court ordered that the defendant need not register.  The Commonwealth appealed the trial court's decision, which held as follows:

Application of [SORNA] to [Hainesworth] violates due process of law, fundamental fairness, and provisions of the negotiated plea agreement entered into between [Hainesworth] and the government. It would also destroy the process of negotiated plea agreements essential to the efficient disposition of criminal cases in Westmoreland County.

The Superior Court affirmed the trial court's decision.  In so doing, they determined that the application of SORNA to the crime was a violation of the plea agreement.  It violated contract principles.  It was not an issue of statutory application and therefore, not strictly a "collateral consequence."

If you have been required to register under SORNA or Adam Walsh and do not believe it is appropriate based upon a conviction that occurred years earlier, we may be able to help.  You may contact Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free or email us today.

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