Court: Man must register as sex offender for life

A Huntingdon County man serving a 10- to 20-year sentence for the sexual assault of a minor will be required to register as a sex offender for life, according to an opinion issued late last week by the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

John Allen Barton, 43, of Wood, was arrested in 2014 for sexually abusing a teenager multiple times over a four-year period.

Huntingdon County President Judge George N. Zanic sentenced Barton to consecutive five- to 10-year terms on charges of rape, threat of forcible compulsion, and aggravated indecent assault.

He is incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Forest in Marienville, Forest County.

According to an opinion issued by a three-judge Superior Court panel, Barton confessed to committing the abuse and ultimately entered guilty pleas to rape and aggravated indecent assault.

The sentencing judge classified Barton as a sexually violent predator and imposed lifetime registration requirements under what was known as Megan’s Law III.

Megan’s Law has since been replaced by the Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act.

Under this act lifetime registration for the crimes Barton committed remain in effect, but the new act, which went into effect on Dec. 20, 2012, requires in-person reporting and posting of personal information on the Pennsylvania State Police registration website on a quarterly basis.

This requirement represents a “greater punishment” than the requirements under Megan’s Law, and according to Barton’s challenge, are illegal under the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions.

Barton’s attorney, Ray A. Ghaner of Huntingdon, contended that the enhancement violated the bar against ex-post facto application of laws under both constitutions.

The Superior Court panel that included Judges Mary Jane Bowes, Carolyn H. Nichols and Correale F. Stevens, related that in a 2017 case the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that SORNA’s registration provisions are punitive and that retroactive application of the requirements violated the state constitution.

But the Superior Court judges rejected the defense argument in the Barton case because the defendant’s challenge to the application of SORNA was not timely.

Barton’s sentence became final on April 13, 2015, when he did not file an appeal.

That meant he had a year, or until April 13, 2016, to file an appeal to the application of SORNA in his case.

His appeal was not filed until Jan. 3, 2018, and, therefore, is untimely, according to the Superior Court opinion.

While the Superior Court recognizes the bar against retroactive applications of SORNA under timely filed petitions, it ruled in the Barton case, the law does not allow an exception for an untimely petition.

It concluded, because Barton’s post-trial petition was untimely, it cannot address the issue.

In making its ruling the Superior Court upheld a ruling by Huntingdon County Senior Judge Stewart L. Kurtz, who dismissed the appeal last Nov. 27 as untimely.