In 2006, President Bush signed into law the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. As an update to “Meghan’s laws,” the Act created a national sex offender registry and greatly expanded the government’s and public’s ability to monitor sex offenders. The most restrictive part of the law is commonly known as SORNA (Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act). Under SORNA, a state must implement a program in which defendants convicted of certain offenses must register with the database for a certain period of years.

As of 2012, Pennsylvania has complied with these stringent SORNA requirements. But what does it really mean to be a sex offender under this new law? More specifically, what are the consequences of being convicted of a SORNA offense? Below is an outline of the law’s requirements.


Under the law, the term sex offender is actually broader than its common meaning. Anyone convicted of a sex-related offense such as rape, sexual assault, incest or involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, must register under SORNA. In addition, the law covers many crimes against children, such as child pornography, luring a child into a vehicle, corruption of minors (certain sections of the statute) and child prostitution/exploitation.

However, violent offenses are not the only crimes covered by SORNA. A defendant convicted of unlawfully restraining, kidnaping, falsely imprisoning or trafficking a minor must register. A defendant convicted of invasion of privacy, video voyeurism or certain online offenses must also register. In addition, institutional sexual assault includes not only the commonly-cited student/teacher relationship, but also extends to guards/inmates, youth counselors/juveniles, and sexual conduct within mental health facilities. These defendants must also register under SORNA.


Depending on the specific statute and prior criminal history, a defendant must register for a certain period of time. Offenders are classified as either Tier I offenders (15 year registration – must register and be photographed once a year), Tier II offenders (25 year registration – must register and be photographed twice a year), or Tier III offenders (lifetime registration – must register and be photographed every 3 months).

All offenders must register in each state he or she resides, works or goes to school. If an offender does not have a personal residence or is in transient, he or she must register once a month and provide a description of where he or she frequents. When registering, defendants must have new photographs taken and supply all biographic information, including telephone numbers, email accounts, social security number, social media accounts, licenses, passports, DNA, fingerprints and any changes in the above. If an offender wishes to travel outside the United States, he or she must notify the registrant.  All this must be done in person and within a specific period of time, although there are mailing exceptions. Natural disasters and personal problems do not allow a sexual offender to miss a deadline to register. A violation or misrepresentation of the registration or photograph requirements is a felony, punishable by mandatory jail time.

Under SORNA, the following information is publicly available online: an offender’s name, photograph, primary address, employment address, date of birth, physical description including tattoos and scars, vehicle information including make, model and license plate number, offense information, and compliance status. The public can access this information for as long as an offender’s registration period remains.


In very serious circumstances, an offender may be deemed a Sexually Violent Predator (SVP). After an evaluation by the Sexual Offenders Assessment Board (SOAB), a court may find an offender is likely to engage in predatory behavior. SOAB allows for the monitoring and community notification of these potentially dangerous individuals. When an SVP moves to a new residence or is released from prison, written notice must be provided to neighbors, HOA boards, schools, day care centers, colleges and universities, and CYS departments within a certain radius of his or her residence. The notice includes a photograph of the offender.


As one can see from above, sexual and child offenses are serious crimes. If you have been charged with a SORNA offense, you will likely have to register as a sex offender even if the offense did not involve sex. Be sure to contact a qualified attorney regarding the specifics of your case.

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