Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Cautionary Instruction: Will Pennsylvania close its Megan’s Law loopholes?

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
July 22, 2011

Has Pennsylvania become a safe haven for out-of-state sex offenders? A loophole in Megan’s Law makes it impossible for prosecutors to pursue out-of-state sex offenders who move to Pennsylvania and fail to register. The loophole was revealed in April 2010, yet continues today.

Megan’s Law requires sex offenders to register with the state police after they are released from prison. As the result of an apparent oversight by legislators the law does not provide for prosecuting out-of-state lifetime registrant sex offenders who move to Pennsylvania but fail to register with the state police. Megan’s Law also fails to address registration requirements for homeless offenders.

The loopholes came to light when the Pennsylvania Superior Court overturned a Lancaster County conviction against an out-of-state sex offender who failed to register in Pennsylvania. The Court found that the law did not criminalize the failure to register.

Last fall, the General Assembly passed a set of bills to close the loopholes. At the time, the legislation was attached to the Castle Doctrine bill as a ploy to get Governor Ed Rendell to sign both bills. He did not. The Castle Doctrine and Megan’s Law amendments were both vetoed.
During the current legislative session, a bill to provide specific criminal sanctions for sex offenders who fail to comply with registration requirements passed the House by a vote of 197 to one. “Needless to say, I am thrilled that this legislation received the support it deserved. Obviously, nothing is more important than protecting the children in our Commonwealth,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Marsico.

State Representative Garth Everett said that there was virtually no opposition to the bill. "This important legislation was vetoed by the governor last year and now will have an opportunity to go through the proper legislative process and get to Governor Tom Corbett," said Everett.
So, why haven’t the loopholes been closed?

The legislation has not moved since early February. The Pennsylvania District Attorney’s Association (PDAA) has confirmed that across the state “dozens” of cases have been withdrawn due to the flaws in Megan’s Law. However, there is little evidence that out-of-state sex offenders are flocking to Pennsylvania, but the concern remains.

“Closing the Megan’s Law loopholes is a legislative no-brainer that has turned into a political headache, and the failure to close them is putting the public at risk,” said PDAA President and Crawford County District Attorney Francis J. Schultz. “This legislation passed the General Assembly once before and there is no good reason why it shouldn’t quickly and easily pass again.”

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