733 A.2d 593 (Pa. 1999), Commonwealth v. Williams

Citation:733 A.2d 593, 557 Pa. 285
Party Name:COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant, v. Donald Francis WILLIAMS, Appellee. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. Donald Francis Williams, Appellant.
Case Date:June 30, 1999
Court:Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
 
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Page 593

733 A.2d 593 (Pa. 1999)

557 Pa. 285

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant,

v.

Donald Francis WILLIAMS, Appellee.

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Appellee,

v.

Donald Francis Williams, Appellant.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

June 30, 1999.

Argued Sept. 16, 1998.

[557 Pa. 286] Joseph P. Conti, Elvage G. Murphy, Marshall J. Piccinini, Erie, for Commonwealth.

Andrea F. McKenna, Intervenor Commonwealth.

Joseph Burt, Keith Clelland, Erie, for Donald Williams.

Kari Baker, for Defender Assoc. of Philadelphia.

Stefan Presser, American Civil Liberties Union.

Gary Neil Asteak, Public Defender Assoc. of PA, Amicus Curiae.

Before FLAHERTY, C.J., and ZAPPALA, CAPPY, CASTILLE, NIGRO, NEWMAN and SAYLOR, JJ.

OPINION

ZAPPALA, Justice.

This matter is before us on direct appeal from the order of the Erie County Common Pleas Court dated September 23, 1997, granting Donald Francis Williams' motion for extraordinary relief, which challenged the constitutionality of the sexually violent predator provisions of Title 42, Sections 9791-9799.6, Subchapter H, entitled, Registration of Sexual Offenders, 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9791-9799.6, commonly known as Pennsylvania's Megan's Law (hereinafter Act). 1

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The factual history of this case is as follows. On February 2, 1997, Appellee Williams was arrested and charged with numerous sexual offenses. On May 23, 1997, a criminal information was filed, charging Williams with two counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, 18 Pa.C.S. § 3123(a)(6), two counts of indecent assault, 18 Pa.C.S. § 3126(a)(7), and one count of corruption of minors, 18 Pa.C.S. § 6301(a). The charges stemmed from an allegation that Williams performed fellatio upon a nine year old male victim during the period between May 19, 1996 through December 23, 1996 and December 24, 1996 through December 31, 1996.

A jury found Williams guilty of the foregoing charges on July 15, 1997. Immediately following the verdict, the common pleas court ordered an evaluation of Williams pursuant to Section 9794(a) of the Act, which provides that

[a]fter conviction, but before sentencing, a court shall order a person convicted of a sexually violent offense specified in section 9793(b) (relating to registration of certain offenders for ten years) to be assessed by the [State Board to Assess Sexually Violent Predators].

Williams filed a motion for extraordinary relief raising numerous federal and state constitutional challenges to the sexually violent predator provisions of the Act, 42 Pa.C.S. § 9794-9799.6. Among the challenges made, Williams asserted that the Act violates his procedural due process rights pursuant to the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, because the Act impermissibly shifts the burden of persuasion to the offender by establishing a presumption that he is a sexually violent predator and requiring that he rebut the presumption by clear and convincing evidence. Section 9794(b) provides:

An offender convicted of any offense set forth in section 9793(b) shall be presumed by the board and the court to be a sexually violent predator. This presumption may be rebutted by the offender by clear and convincing evidence at a hearing held in accordance with subsection (e).

42 Pa.C.S. § 9794(b).

By opinion and order dated September 23, 1997, the common pleas court held that

[b]y shifting the burden of proof to the defendant such that s/he is presumed to be a sexually violent predator and by placing the burden of rebuttal of that presumption on the defendant, [the Act] violates the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Section Nine of Article One of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Slip op. at 19. 2 Accordingly, the common pleas court refused to proceed with an assessment of whether Williams is a sexually violent predator in accordance with the Act and sentenced Williams in conformity with the sentencing guidelines [557 Pa. 289] applicable to his convictions. 3 The common pleas court noted that the effect of its decision was to leave intact only the purpose, definition, registration and some administrative

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provisions of the Act. Slip op. at 20, n. 11.

The Commonwealth filed a direct appeal from the order of the common pleas court to this Court, 4 complaining that the common pleas court improperly declared the applicable provisions of the Act to be unconstitutional. 5 Before specifically addressing the arguments made by the Commonwealth regarding the constitutionality of the Act, a brief outline of its provisions and the statutory scheme set forth therein by the Legislature is instructive.

The Act is basically divided into two parts. Section 9794 of the Act and certain provisions that follow apply to those "offenders" who are designated "sexually violent predators." Section 9793 of the Act applies to "offenders" who are not classified as sexually violent predators. A person is an "offender" for purposes of the Act if he or she has been convicted of any of the offenses specified in Section 9793(b). Subsection (1) of Section 9793(b) lists applicable predicate offenses where the victim is a minor. The offenses specified include the crimes of kidnapping (except by a parent), rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, promoting prostitution, and crimes relating to obscene and other sexual materials and performances involving minors. Subsection [557 Pa. 290] (2) sets forth predicate offenses involving victims of any age and includes rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault and spousal sexual abuse. Indecent assault is also a predicate crime when the offense is a misdemeanor of the first degree. 42 Pa.C.S. § 9793(b)(3).

A person who is convicted of any of the foregoing predicate offenses is presumed to be a sexually violent predator. 42 Pa.C.S. § 9794(b). The Act defines a "sexually violent predator" as

[a] person who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense as set forth in section 9793(b) (relating to registration of certain offenders for ten years) and who is determined to be a sexually violent predator under section 9794(e) (relating to designation of sexually violent predators) due to a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes the person likely to engage in predatory sexually violent offenses.

42 Pa.C.S. § 9792.

There is a distinct difference under the Act between the requirements and sanctions applicable to those persons who are classified as sexually violent predators and those who are not. Those offenders who are not classified as sexually violent predators are subject to the registration requirements set forth at Section 9793 of the Act. This provision requires that an offender register a current address with the Pennsylvania State Police upon release from incarceration, being placed on parole, the commencement of a sentence of intermediate punishment or probation, or under the parole board's supervision. The State Police must be notified of an offender's change of address and a current address must be registered. The period of registration under this provision is ten years

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and failure to comply with the provision is a felony of the third degree. 6

[557 Pa. 291] If a person is classified as a sexually violent predator under the Act, he or she is subjected to much broader registration and notification requirements. Specifically, Section 9795(a) of the Act requires potentially lifetime registration of a current address with the State Police "unless the court determines the person is no longer a sexually violent predator." Verification of a current address is required every 90 days. 42 Pa.C.S. § 9796(a).

Section 9797(b) of the Act specifies that the crime victim of a sexually violent predator shall be given written notice when an offender registers an address initially, and when a change of address is provided. Section 9798(a) provides for extensive public notification of the name, address, offense, designation and photograph of sexually violent predators. Subsection (b) specifies that notification of the foregoing information is to be given to the neighbors of sexually violent predators, the director of county child and youth services where the sexually violent predator resides, the superintendent of each school district in the area, including private and parochial schools, the director of licensed day care facilities in the municipality where the sexually violent predator resides and the president of any college, university and community college located within 1,000 feet of a sexually violent predator's residence.

In addition to the foregoing, Section 9799.4(a) of the Act provides for enhanced punishment of sexually violent predators. Specifically, this section provides that once a person is classified as a sexually violent predator, "the offender's maximum term of confinement for any offense or conviction specified in section 9793(b)... shall be increased to the offender's lifetime notwithstanding lesser statutory maximum penalties for these offenses." Subsection (b) of this provision requires sexually violent predators to attend monthly counseling sessions and subsection (c) provides that

[n]otwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, when a person who has been designated as a sexually violent predator is convicted of a subsequent sexually violent offense, the mandatory sentence shall be life imprisonment....

42 Pa.C.S. § 9799.4.

The issue here involves the constitutionality of the method by which offenders are designated sexually violent predators. As noted, once a person is convicted of one of the predicate offenses specified in...

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