HOLLIDAYSBURG - There could be a court challenge to the implementation of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act if local people who accepted plea agreements without registration requirements are now mandated to register with police as sexual offenders, an Altoona defense attorney said Wednesday.
Thirty-eight local residents are scheduled to be added to Blair County's list of 85 sexual offenders when the new federal registration system becomes effective in Pennsylvania, Blair County probation officials said.
Tom Shea, director of the Blair County Adult Parole and Probation Office, said the Adam Walsh provisions will go into effect on Dec. 20.
Shea has been working with the Blair County district attorney's staff, the public defender's staff, the county prison and state police in preparing for the implementation of the new act.
Compliance is mandatory if Pennsylvania is to continue to receive federal money for certain programs.
Attorney Thomas M. Dickey said that he has been approached by at least three previous clients who are concerned they may be among those who will now be required to register.
Dickey said he is hoping that he will not have to launch a court challenge to the new law.
He is hoping that some agreement can be reached with prosecutors that would permit those individuals to withdraw their initial guilty pleas and enter pleas to charges not requiring registration.
The original pleas did not require registration for the offenses his clients pleaded to and to make them now register as sex offenders "is not what they bargained for," Dickey said.
He said other defense attorneys are closely watching the situation.
Blair County Probation Officer William Decker, who supervises sex offenders on probation, said a review of county records determined that 38 people who previously did not have to register with police will now have to do so under the new law.
Shea and his staff initially thought they would be required to review records back to 1953 to determine if there were people convicted of offenses like corruption of a minors who would now have to register.
It would have required the review of thousands of criminal records.
The requirement has now been relaxed in Pennsylvania, and Shea said that Blair County is about 90 percent ready to implement the new requirements that will be put into place to track sexual offenders in Pennsylvania and nationwide.
The Adam Walsh Act imposes a three-tier system in which sexual offenders will be required to register with the state police every three months, six months or a year, depending on which tier they are placed.
The Blair County Prison's Central Booking facility will register people as they are being released from the facility, Shea said. Released inmates must have a residence to go to live.
The new law also will require individuals to notify authorities when they move, when they change their work places, when they change their telephone numbers or get a new automobile, Decker said.
Under the present system, sexual offenders are listed by their hometown. Under the new system their places of employment will also be listed.
Failing to register will bring a gradual increase in punishment, moving from a third-degree felony to a first-degree felony depending on the number of repeat offenses.
The new system will also have an effect on the plea agreements that are offered by the District Attorney's Office.
As Decker pointed out, defense attorneys in the past have bargained to have their clients receive plea offers to corruption of minors charges, an offense that
didn't require registration but now does.
Blair County Assistant District Attorney Dan Kiss, who handles many of the child-sexual offense cases in Blair County, will be reviewing the charges to determine if there are registration requirements.
About 98 percent of corruption of minors' cases are sexual in nature and will be covered by the new regulations, but someone charged in the past with corruption of minors for giving a juvenile alcohol will not have to register, Decker said.
The Adam Walsh Act is named after a Florida boy who was kidnapped and murdered in 1981. Adam's father, John, is nationally known for his efforts to protect children.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.