Sex Offender Law Struck Down – Megan’s Law Supercedes

Filed under: Criminal Law, News, Sex Crimes Tags: by Steven F. Fairlie @ May 29, 2011

A Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling has invalidated the practice of Pennsylvania counties regulating where sex offenders can live. The impact for Montgomery County will be limited to Horsham, Hatboro, Abington, and Trappe. In Bucks County the impact will be far more widespread, as many more municipalities had passed ordinances restricting where convicted sex offenders may reside.

The case in question was limited to Allegheny County, which passed a county-wide ordinance preventing sex offenders from living within 2500 feet of a school, child care center, community center, or park. Practically, this prohibited residency throughout virtually the entire county, with only certain small areas eligible for residency. The Supreme Court wrote that this would result in “localized penal colonies” and remove sex offenders from the benefit of their local support networks including families and jobs.

Another practical effect of this type of ordinance is that once the sex offender has served his minimum prison sentence he cannot provide state parole with an address that he intends to reside at, since he can’t find one that qualifies, and thus can be forced to serve his maximum prison sentence before being released. While the gut reaction of most of Pennsylvania’s citizens to this dilemma is “so what?” those in the know realize that this results in the inmate being released once his parole period has expired, resulting in immediate release to society with no supervision whatsoever. It is probably better for everyone involved to release the inmate earlier and let him reintegrate into society under the supervision of a parole agent.

The Court’s rationale makes it likely that no local ordinance restricting where sex offenders can live can survive a challenge. Instead, Megan’s Law and its reporting requirements will continue as the primary mechanism affecting the release and reintegration of convicted sex offenders back into Pennsylvania’s communities. Megan’s Law requires offenders to report their location to local agencies and provides for notice of their presence to their neighbors.

The Allegheny County solicitor has conceded there are no further grounds for appeal and the issue appears to have been conclusively decided. You can read more about sex crimes here.

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