Superior Court Upholds Mandatory Minimum Sentence for Violation of Sex Offender Registration Requirement

A mandatory minimum sentence imposed upon a convicted sex offender for failing to comply with a statutory registration requirement is constitutional, the Pennsylvania Superior Court held in Com. v. Pennybaker, __ A.3d __ (No. 1068 WDA 2014, filed July 28, 2015). Keith Pennybaker is subject to a lifetime registration requirement under the Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) as a result of a 1997 rape conviction. Following his release from prison in 2013, Pennybaker failed to register and was charged with one count of failure to comply with registration requirements. The trial court sentenced him to the mandatory minimum of 36 to 72 months required by 42 Pa. C.S. §9718.4. Pennybaker appealed his sentence to the Superior Court.

On appeal, Pennybaker asserted that Section 9718.4 is unconstitutional because it requires a judge to find a “fact” that triggers the mandatory minimum sentence (i.e., the length of the registration requirement) by a preponderance of evidence standard. Pennybaker argued that “

[a]ny fact that, by law, increases the penalty for a crime is an ‘element’ that must be submitted to the jury and found beyond a reasonable doubt.” Alleyne v. U.S., 133 S.Ct. 2151, 2155 (2013). The Superior Court disagreed and affirmed the judgment of sentence. Writing for the unanimous panel, Judge Musmanno observed that the mandatory minimum sentence in 42 Pa. C.S. §9718.4 is not contingent on any undetermined factual question. Rather, the length of an individual’s SORNA registration requirement is established by statute and is, according to Judge Musmanno, “an objective fact that initially was cloaked in all the constitutional safeguards, and is now a matter of public record.” The Court compared Section 9718.4 to statutes that enhance sentences based on prior convictions, which are not unconstitutional under Alleyne. For these reasons, the Court held that 42 Pa. C.S. §9718.4 is constitutionally valid.

By | 2017-05-19T22:51:27+00:00 August 17th, 2015|Categories: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, General|Tags: , , , , , , , |Comments Off on Superior Court Upholds Mandatory Minimum Sentence for Violation of Sex Offender Registration Requirement

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