Local New Jersey laws restricting where Megan’s Law sex offenders may live were once determined to be in violation of state law by the New Jersey Appeals Court in the case G.H. v. Township of Galloway, 401 N.J. Super. 392 (2008). However, a new bill, A1141, has been introduced before the New Jersey Assembly that would establish housing restrictions on Megan’s Law sex offenders.
Introduced on January 27, 2016 by New Jersey Assemblymen Rumpf and Gove (District 9 – Atlantic, Burlington, and Ocean counties), Bill A1141 seeks to establish a residency restriction, prohibiting convicted Megan’s Law sex offenders from living 500 feet near areas where children frequent, such as schools, daycare centers, or parks. The bill provides that when a Megan’s Law registrant moves to a new town and registers with his/her local police department, the police department must notify municipal officials of the offender’s residence. The municipal officials would then be required to enforce the residency restrictions. The bill excludes certain sex offenders, such as those that are incarcerated in a prison or jail that is located within 500 feet of a school, etc. Megan’s Law registrants currently living in homes within the 500-foot zone would not be required to move.
If residential restrictions against Megan’s Law registrants were deemed unconstitutional in the past, how can this law be constitutional now?
In the original New Jersey case addressing local housing restrictions against Megan’s Law sex offenders, the Township of Galloway, located in Atlantic County, established municipal ordinances restricting sex offenders from residing 2,500 feet from a school, daycare center, park, or any place frequented by children. Megan’s Law registrants were notified of the law and given 90 days to change housing. Failure to comply with the ordinance resulted a jail term and fine. Cherry Hill, NJ, located in Camden County, had a similar municipal ordinance.
The Appellate Division determined that the municipal ordinances were invalid in G.H. for the following reason:
“[I]f municipalities are permitted to restrict the residency of CSOs [Convicted Sex Offenders] to the point where they will have difficulty finding housing in a traditional neighborhood, the entire tier system would become obsolete and the chance of reoffense would increase. The residency restrictions imposed by the ordinances hamper a CSO’s ability to be near family and employment, thus hindering reintegration into the community. These restrictions make it difficult for a CSO to find stable housing, which can cause loss of employment and financial distress, factors which inadvertently increase the chance of reoffense. By restricting all CSOs, without regard to tier, the ordinances substantially hinder the integration of CSOs into the community, and conflict with the goal of the Legislature in designing a comprehensive and uniform system for protecting communities throughout the state.”
If A1141 passes into law, the legislative goal of stabilizing convicted Megan’s Law sex offenders will again be frustrated. The law is certain to be litigated in the New Jersey courts.