In the Interest of J.B., et al.

Juvenile Law Center, along with attorneys from the Defender Association of Philadelphia, York County Public Defenders Office, and private counsel, filed a brief on behalf of seven youth in York County, Pennsylvania who are required to register on a sex offender registry for life.

In our brief, Juvenile Law Center argued that registration impedes a child’s fundamental reputation rights protected by the Pennsylvania Constitution and denies substantive and procedural due process. The initial registration and onerous reporting requirements lead to public disclosure of the child’s status on the registry and communicate falsehoods about his future dangerousness.

Second, registration, based solely on an adjudication of delinquency, flies in the face of the well-established irrebuttable presumption doctrine. Because the registration obligation rests solely on the underlying adjudication of delinquency and is not preceded by any individual determination of either the need or effectiveness of registration, it does not provide adequate due process.

Third, imposing registration for conduct that occurred prior to the law’s effective date, as here, violates the Ex Post Facto Clauses of both the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions. And, finally, the lifetime registration requirement, which flows directly from the adjudication of guilt, is punitive and excessive in violation of the Pennsylvania and United States constitutional bans on cruel and unusual punishment.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard oral argument on this matter on May 6, 2014.

On December 29, 2014 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of York County Senior Judge John C. Uhler, holding that SORNA’s registration requirements violate juvenile offenders’ due process rights by utilizing the irrebuttable presumption that all juvenile offenders “pose a high risk of committing additional sexual offenses.”

Grounding its opinion in the constitutional guarantees of due process, Justice Max Baer, writing for the majority, ruled that the juveniles’ constitutionally-protected right to reputation is encroached upon by an irrebuttable presumption of future offending that is not universally true and where a reasonable alternative means exists for determining the presumed fact. 

“While adult sexual offenders have a high likelihood of reoffense, juvenile sexual offenders exhibit low levels of recidivism… many of those who commit sexual offenses as juveniles do so as a result of impulsivity and sexual curiosity.  [T]he vast majority of youth are unlikely to recidivate,” wrote Justice Baer.