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Pennsylvania Court Upholds 'Sexually Violent Predator' Laws

Matt Rourke

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld laws Thursday that require offenders deemed “sexually violent predators” to undergo lifetime counseling and registration and be the subject of community notices.

The requirements have the legitimate purpose of keeping the community safe and therefore do not amount to extra punishment, the court said in reversing a lower court's decision.

The case is one of several under review in Pennsylvania that challenge the constitutionality of sex offender registries amid concerns about harassment, ostracism and unfair punishment.

Nearly 10% of the state’s about 2,000 registered sex offenders have been deemed sexually violent predators thought to be at the highest risk of reoffending.

The case in Thursday's ruling involves a Butler County man, Joseph Butler, who pleaded guilty to statutory sexual assault and corruption of minors for repeated sexual encounters with a 15-year-old girl. The judge sentenced him to prison and, after an evidentiary hearing, designated him a sexually violent predator.

The court, in an opinion by Justice Kevin Dougherty, found “there is a rational connection between the (reporting, notice and counseling) requirements and the government’s interest in protecting the public."

The judge in actor Bill Cosby’s sexual assault case in suburban Philadelphia similarly deemed him a sexually violent predator in a hearing that followed his 2018 jury conviction. Cosby, 82, who is serving a three- to 10-year prison term, has raised the issue and others in appeals that have so far been unsuccessful.

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