Commonwealth v. Santana, No. 23 MAP 2021 (Pa. 2021)
Nature of Case: Defendant was convicted of rape in New York in 1983, prior to the enactment of a sex offender registration scheme in New York or Pennsylvania. Both states enacted sex offender registration laws in 1995. New York’s “Sex Offender Registration Act” (“SORA”) applied retroactively and defendant was required to comply with SORA’s terms and conditions. Defendant appears to have complied with SORA while living in New York, however, upon moving to Pennsylvania defendant did not provide complete information in compliance with Pennsylvania’s registration regime, the Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). As a result, defendant was arrested and charged with failure to provide accurate information under 18 Pa.C.S. 4915.1(a)(3).
After defendant pleaded guilty for failing to provide accurate information under the SORNA, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania issued a decision in Commonwealth v. Muniz, 164 A.3d 1189 (Pa. 2017), holding that retroactive application of SORNA violated the state and federal ex post facto clauses. Defendant filed a post-sentence motion to withdraw his guilty plea and have all charges dismissed, arguing that applying SORNA retroactively to his 1983 New York offense constituted an ex post facto violation like that in Muniz. The trial court denied Defendant’s motion. Defendant appealed and the Superior Court, ruling en banc, reversed. The Commonwealth filed a petition for allowance of appeal, which was granted.
Holding: The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the holding of the Superior Court and held that (1) retroactive application of SORNA to defendant was punitive, supporting a finding that such application amounted to an unconstitutional ex post facto law, and (2) the federal constitution does not require a defendant asserting a claim of an unconstitutional ex post facto law to prove that he was in fact disadvantaged by the retroactively-applied law (abrogating Commonwealth v. Muniz, 164 A.3d 1189 (Pa. 2017)).