The facts of the case are unsettling, as is the conclusion. The court held that James and Daniel (not their real names) physically held down two twelve-year-old boys and placed their bare buttocks on the faces of the two younger boys, resulting in physical contact between their bare buttocks and the victims’ faces.
The trial court found James and Daniel committed these acts for the purpose of degrading or humiliating the younger boys.
This finding results in a conviction for fourth degree criminal sexual contact and the potential for the boys to a lifetime of registration as sex offenders.
The court noted, “We are keenly aware that our decision may have profound, lifelong ramifications for these two boys as well as others similarly situated.”
New Jersey Law
The offense of fourth degree criminal sexual contact is based on a person committing sexual contact by force or coercion without the victim sustaining serious injury.
The Legislature defined “sexual contact” as “an intentional touching by the victim or actor, either directly or through clothing, of the victim’s or actor’s intimate parts for the purpose of degrading or humiliating the victim or sexually arousing or sexually gratifying the actor.” “Intimate parts” includes the buttocks.
The court goes on to comment that it has little choice in finding the boys guilty as sex offenders, as they are bound by the statutory language of the legislature. They quote the N.J. Supreme Court’s statement on how a court may interpret the actions of the Legislature:
“When interpreting statutory language, the goal is to divine and effectuate the Legislature’s intent. In furtherance of that goal, we begin each such inquiry with the language of the statute, giving the terms used therein their ordinary and accepted meaning.”
Megan’s Law And The Penalties Of A Sex Offender
Notification and registration laws like Megan’s Law attempt to increase public safety by ensuring that violent sex offenders who are released into the community and who may pose a threat to children are tracked, and that members of the community are aware of their presence.
The Registration Requirement
Megan’s Law requires that “any person who is on probation, parole, furlough, or work release, or other similar program” must register with a local law enforcement agency at the time they are placed under supervision.
The sex offender is statutorily required to provide the police the following information:
- Social Security number
- Date of birth
- Hair and eye color
- Address of legal residence
- Address of any current temporary residence
- Place of employment
The most serious offenders are required to verify their addresses every 90 days. Lesser offenders have to verify their addresses annually.
Offenders can ask a court to terminate the registration requirement upon a showing that they have not committed another offense within 15 years following release.
The prosecutors of the county where the offender was convicted and where the offender is planning on living have to determine the likelihood of re-offense by administering the Registrant Risk Assessment Scale (RRAS). The RRAS determines if the risk is low, medium or high. The prosecutor’s office must notify the community based on this assessment.
- Low risk: notification is given to police who are likely to encounter the sex offender
- Moderate risk: notification is given to child-care centers, schools, summer camps and groups which work with children and battered women
- High risk: notification is given to members of the public who are likely to encounter the sex offender and offender’s personal information is publicly accessible on the Internet
Lifetime Registration or Lifetime Punishment?
While the legislative intent is to protect the public, specifically children, the impact of this law on those adjudicated as sex offenders must be considered. These laws have unintended consequences.
The legislature may not have had a case involving 14-year-olds (as offenders) in mind when it enacted “Megan’s law.” Nonetheless, if convicted, the two boys will have to register as sex offenders for at least 15 years, and potentially the rest of their lives.
Another problem with aspects like lifetime registration is that the police are expected to track registered offenders. This requires computer databases and staff to administer and maintain them. It requires officers’ time to check-up and investigate offenders’ whereabouts. All of this takes money. The police, like most public entities these days, find it difficult to adequately fund all of their duties.
Another consequence of the use of community notification is vigilantism. Examples include an offender’s house being set on fire. A sex offender has been forced to move out after signs were posted on his house, which was later ransacked and flooded.
A registered sex offender is not a very popular person. Many communities have adopted a “Not In My Back Yard” (NIMBY) attitude. In New Jersey, municipalities have created ordinances that prohibit offenders from public places and severely limit where they can live.
Some cities have created exclusion zones that make it virtually impossible for a convicted sex offender to find anywhere to reside.
Lifetime sex offender registration is a significant burden for anyone to face. It becomes even more daunting when it is a 14-year-old facing it. If you or a loved one is accused of a sex offense that could result in lifetime registration as a sex offender, speak to an aggressive, competent defense attorney with experience in Megan’s Law matters.