Sex Crime Law in New Jersey

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 Must a Sex Offender Register in New Jersey?

On a warm July evening in 1994, Megan Kanka was lured into a New Jersey home across the street from where she lived by a twice-convicted sex offender of 5 and 7-year-old girls. She was raped, brutally choked with a bag over her head, and assaulted again.

The sex offender, who had offered to show her a puppy, lived with two other convicted sex offenders. Nevertheless, the local police department was forbidden by New Jersey law from notifying the neighbors about sex offenders in their area.

What Is Megan’s Law?

Megan’s Law is a federal law that requires law enforcement authorities to make details regarding registered sex offenders available to the public. State laws enacted after the federal law are often referred to informally as “Megan’s Law.”

The federal Megan’s Law refers to the public disclosure of sex offender registry information. A state-level “Megan’s Law” may refer to a law requiring sex offender registration and law or provision in a law requiring public disclosure of sex offender registry information.

The federal Megan’s Law requires that only individuals convicted of sex crimes involving children notify local law enforcement of any change of address or employment after being released from custody, i.e., prison or a psychiatric facility. They may be required to provide notification for a fixed time, usually at least ten years, or permanently. It is a felony to fail to register or to fail to update information.

The federal Megan’s Law was preceded by the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act. This act required all states to set up sex offender registration programs. They are required to include the identification and registration of lifelong sexual predators. Megan’s Law then directed the states to disclose the information in their registries to the public.

Before release from various institutions, convicted sex offenders are notified by authorities that they are required to register. Once they relocate and register, the registration is sent to the Department of Justice in New Jersey. When released from custody, the institutions that notify sex offenders of their registration requirements include jails, prisons, mental institutions, and mental hospitals.

Megan’s laws stipulate that offenders must re-register every year and when they move from one residence to another.

The federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act supplements Megan’s Law with new registration requirements and a three-tier system for classifying sex offenders according to certain identified criminal offenses that require registration. Tier 3 is the most severe offense; Tier 2 is somewhat less grave, and Tier 1 is the least serious offense.

The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act also mandates that Tier 3 offenders update their locations every three months for the remainder of their life. Tier 2 offenders must update their locations every six months for 25 years of registration, and Tier 1 offenders must update their whereabouts every year for 15 years.

Failure to register and update information are both felony offenses under the Adam Walsh act. New Jersey must disclose information about Tier 2 and Tier 3 offenders publicly. It also contains civil commitment provisions for sexually dangerous people.

The Adam Walsh Act also organizes all U.S. state and territory sex offender registries into one searchable national database and instructs New Jersey to apply the same criteria for posting offender data on the internet. The data that must be posted include the offender’s name, address, date of birth, place of employment, and a photograph. The Act was named after Adam Walsh, a boy abducted from a shopping mall in Florida and later found murdered.

The federal database is online as well. The federal database enables searches through state websites by first and last name.

Are All Sex Offenders Disclosed to the Public?

Certain classes of convicted sex offenders are exempted from disclosing their identities and locations to the public. For instance, a person caught urinating in a park could be arrested for committing a lewd act in public, classified as a sex offense requiring registration.

Reasonable individuals, nevertheless, might view the crime as one that does not show the same degree of criminality as that of a person who committed rape or molestation.

Registration of New Jersey Sex Offenders

This heinous assault of Megan Kanka resulted in the original New Jersey Megan’s Law, which was enacted on a federal level in the same year. Megan’s Law calls for a mandatory state registry and public access to the list. The law is retroactive in that it requires sex offenders previously convicted of violent crimes to register.

Out-of-state and out-of-country sex offenders must register with the New Jersey authorities within 70 days of entering the state. Registration is for life unless the offender applies to the Superior Court for de-registration 15 years after release or at the end of their probation. In making the determination, the judge will look at all elements, such as the seriousness of the crime, activity since the conviction, and other proof of rehabilitation.

Almost all New Jersey sex criminals are required to register, such as those convicted of luring a child into a motor vehicle, sexual assault, rape, possession of obscene materials, incest, and indecent contact with the child. New Jersey repealed unlawful sodomy as a crime in 1979.

Expunction of New Jersey Criminal Records

Expunction in New Jersey is when a criminal record is collected and isolated such that it will never be able to be accessed by a private company or citizen. Sometimes records are destroyed. In New Jersey, “indictable crimes” (felony) and “disorderly persons offenses” (misdemeanor) can be expunged. Nevertheless, even after de-registration, sex offender registry crimes cannot be expunged in New Jersey.

Are There Any Legal Protections for Sex Offenders?

Megan’s Law allows the general public access to a registered sex offender’s location but does not endorse or condone violence or any other criminal activity against an offender. If a registered sex offender feels that they are being attacked, ridiculed, or otherwise assaulted, they should contact local law enforcement authorities and speak to a lawyer.

There is limited and mixed evidence to support the effectiveness of public sex offender registries. Most research results do not show a statistically significant shift in sexual offense trends following the implementation of sex offender registration and notification requirements.

A few studies show that recidivism among sex offenders may have been diminished by sex offender registration and notification policies; a few studies have found statistically significant increases in sex crimes following the implementation of offender registration and notification policies.

Some critics indicate that sex offender registration and notification requirements arguably have been implemented without empirical proof that shows they are practical. Opponents of Megan’s Law, such as Human Rights Watch, have condemned the laws as overbroad and an invitation to vigilante violence.

Among the critics are treatment professionals who cite the lack of evidence that the laws are useful. They also point out that offenders are automatically included among those who must register when no judgment is made on whether they pose a risk of reoffense. There are risk assessment tools that have been scientifically validated and could be used to assess the individual risk of reoffending.

There is a widespread belief that recidivism among sex offenders is high, but this is not supported by science. Other critics have argued that the laws can hurt rather than enhance public safety by exacerbating factors, such as unemployment and instability, that may lead to recidivism.

In addition, civil rights and other pro-reform groups stress the collateral adverse effects on the family members of registrants. They question whether it is appropriate to require indefinite registration that may last a lifetime, particularly when the offender may be a person under the age of consent who engaged in consensual acts with someone close in age, i.e., a teenager who engaged in consensual acts with another teenager.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you are a registered sex offender or live in a neighborhood with registered sex offenders, you may want to consult with a criminal defense attorney.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can explain the requirements for registration in the state in which you are located. They can also explain how you can inform yourself about whether registered sex offenders live close to you.

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