Defense attorney to appeal judge’s ruling to state court

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Blair County Judge Elizabeth Doyle has ruled that a provision of the new Megan’s Law requiring an Altoona-area man to register with police even though he had completed his sentence on a child pornography charge is constitutional.

Defense attorney Phillip O. Robertson said Monday he will appeal Doyle’s ruling to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.

Robertson complained that the man he represents, John C. Peoples, 62, of Altoona RD 1, entered a plea in 2006 to one count of possession of child pornography and was sentenced by Blair County Judge Hiram A. Carpenter to seven years’ probation.

He was to register with state police for 10 years.

But in 2009, the state parole and probation officer in Peoples’ case came before Carpenter and said the defendant was not a threat and noted he had fulfilled all the provisions of his sentence.

The judge declared at that time Peoples’ sentence was completed.

In 2012, however, the Pennsylvania General Assembly updated its child sexual abuse laws to conform with the federal Adam Walsh Act, and Peoples was notified he had to fulfill a 15-year registration requirement.

Robertson said that this new requirement on a defendant who had completed his sentence violated his constitutional rights because it imposed a punishment on him that was not part of the law when his case was heard in Blair County Court.

Blair County Deputy District Attorney Jackie Bernard argued that registration requirements are within the purview of the Pennsylvania State Police, not Doyle or any other judge.

Any appeal to the Megan’s Law registration requirements would have to be heard by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, which has oversight of actions by state agencies.

Doyle agreed with Bernard on that point, stating that state law specifically says the county courts do not have the power to release sexual offenders from the duty to register.

But the judge said it was within her powers to review the constitutionality of the law, and her opinion filed Monday afternoon in the Office of the Blair County Prothonotary and Clerk of Courts concluded Peoples’ rights had not been violated.

“The Commonwealth has a legitimate interest in promotion public safety, and the Act is rationally connected to providing communities with information on sexual offenders,” she stated.

The judge focused on whether the registration requirements under the state act were put in place to “punish” an individual.

Citing the legislative intent of the state law, she said it was passed “to increase its regulation of offenders in a manner which is non-punitive, but offers an increased measure of protection to the citizens.”

Robertson tried to make the case that the registration requirements were tantamount to added punishment in that they carried with it the threat of jail for not registering, loss of a job, loss of schooling opportunities and possibly housing.

She said the registration requirements do not prevent someone from moving, seeking employment or going to school.

The law only requires convicted offenders notify police when they makes those moves.

The judge said if public stigma is a concern, removal of the registration requirements do not address that problem.

A person’s conviction is a matter of public record, regardless of Megan’s Law, the judge pointed out.

Registration, she stated, “Is to further the legitimate government objective of enhancing that public safety by allowing the public to have access to information regarding sexual offenders.”

Bernard could not be reached for comment Monday.