Superior Court enforces pre-SORNA agreement to limit sex offender registration even though motivation for plea deal not mentioned at time of plea

Commonwealth of PA v. Jonathan Ritz, 2016 PA Super 296 (12/21/16)

The Superior Court affirmed a CP court’s enforcement of a 2005 plea agreement that resulted in the defendant’s Megan’s Law, and now SORNA, registration being limited to ten years, rather than ballooning to lifetime, even though the Defendant’s motivation for the plea— a ten year instead of lifetime registration— was not set forth at the time of the plea. This is long and thoughtful decision. The case contains a good review of the development pre-registrant case law to date, based on contract law principles, that has enforced pre-SORNA plea deals that arose from a defendant’s desire to limit the length of time he/she would have to register, but adds a new wrinkle. In this case, and in some of the prior cases, the defendant’s motivation to limit the period of registration was not mentioned at the time of the plea. Instead, the Court looked at the facts and concluded that had to be a factor in the plea, i.e., the facts clearly called for a lengthier period of registration (i.e., conviction of a more serious crime) but the Commonwealth acceded to a plea to lesser charges. The language of the Court is worth quoting: “The terms that Ritz and the Commonwealth affirmatively placed on the record provided ample consideration to both parties and created a binding and enforceable agreement between Ritz and the Commonwealth.” The Court also rejected the Commonwealth’s argument that prior judicial interpretations of the Contract Clauses of the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions allow legislatures to modify the terms of the plea agreement. Not in this case, the Court ruled.

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