Article provided by Maynard & Sumner, LLC
Allegations of sex crimes, even if totally unfounded, can haunt you for the rest of your life. Once an allegation has been made, you not only must face the criminal justice system, you unfortunately also may have to defend yourself in the court of public opinion. Should you be convicted of a sex offense in New Jersey, the punishments are severe, including the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence and lifelong registration as a sex offender. Registration could severely limit your housing, educational and employment opportunities. Such strict penalties demand that you present a strong and effective defense against the allegations.
What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?
If you have been accused of, or suspect you are under investigation for, any sex-related offense, you need to begin your defense immediately. You can take steps to lessen potential penalties, avoid incriminating yourself and possibly even prevent charges from being brought in the first place.
Most importantly, you should consult an experienced attorney before speaking with anyone about what happened, especially the police, or giving consent to search your home or signing anything. The U.S. Constitution gives you the right against self-incrimination and the right to an attorney; you should actively exercise both of these rights. Police investigations are results-oriented — they often accept the victim’s allegations as true and may not pursue leads that could result in exculpatory information coming to light. Officers and prosecutors are also specially trained in interrogation techniques, some of which are designed to confuse and disorient a suspect, causing the suspect to reveal incriminating information.
It is also important to keep in mind that many sex-crime laws, particularly those commonly known as “statutory rape” laws, are strict-liability laws. This means that even if you were under a reasonable impression that the alleged victim was over the age of consent (in New Jersey this is 16 years old in most, but not all, cases) when the intimate contact occurred, you are technically in violation of the law. Such a strict interpretation of the law may seem unfair in certain circumstances, especially where the defendant believed that he or she was having a consensual relationship with a person of legal age, but the police and prosecutors will follow it nonetheless, particularly if it looks likely that they will get a conviction.
What Are the Penalties for a Conviction on Sex-Related Offenses?
If you are convicted of this type of crime, you not only face prison time, but you also could be subjected to Parole Supervision for Life (PSL) and mandatory sex offender registration, with a number of other restrictions, for a minimum of 15 years. After that initial 15-year period has lapsed, there is, based on the provisions set forth in New Jersey’s version of Megan’s Law, the possibility for termination of your sex offender registration and monitoring.
Some offenses may be deemed serious enough to not only require sex offender registration, but additional monitoring as well. Upon conviction for one of these crimes, you could face mandatory reporting to a probation/parole officer, limitations on your travel, the inability to associate with certain people, and having to wear a tracking device like a GPS or electronic-monitoring anklet. These laws are evolving as technology advances, but for now their enforcement is largely left to the individual probation and parole officials. This subjectivity means that numerous justifications can be made for additional penalties or for extending your period of registration.
How Can I Fight This Punishment?
Sometimes, sex offender registration, monitoring and reporting provisions can be challenged and modified. A recent landmark New Jersey case, State v. Frank Gyori (862 A.2d 1178), dismissed the indictment of a convicted sex offender who was arrested for noncompliance with registration provisions after his attorneys successfully argued that such noncompliance was not a criminal offense.
If probation or parole officials are considering additional restrictions that would have an impact on your life, you have the right to appeal to an administrative law judge or to the court. You and your attorney may also negotiate directly with the probation officials themselves. Arguments can be made based on your current successes, including your work history, treatment progress and witness testimony, to prevent the imposition of additional restrictions, remove recently added restrictions or terminate your supervision altogether.
Obviously the best-case scenario would be to avoid conviction or minimize the charges that you are convicted of in the first place by offering a strenuous defense from the very beginning, but even after conviction you don’t have to lose hope. You can appeal the conviction itself, and while an appeal is pending, you and your attorney can be working to lessen the impact of any penalties imposed upon you. A lawyer who is knowledgeable about New Jersey’s sex offender statutes and case law could give you give invaluable advice about your potential legal options and counsel you on the most effective course of action to pursue.