The Registration and Community Notification Laws were enacted in New Jersey on October 31st, 1994. This law made it mandatory for certain sex offenders to register information with law enforcement upon being convicted of certain sex crimes. The registration serves as notice to the registrant’s community, including information about his or her offense, home address, physical description and more. This is done because some research shows that sex offenders have a higher than average rate of recidivism (tendency to repeat the same or similar offense after release).
Following New Jersey’s lead, the U.S. Congress passed Megan’s Law as an amendment to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. This amendment made it mandatory for every state to adopt some method for notifying the public of a recently released sex offender’s presence in a community.
In 2001, New Jersey established the state’s Sex Offender Internet Registry. The registry houses information of all sex offenders required to register with law enforcement officials, and contains all information they were required to provide. The registry can be found on the New Jersey State Police website here.
Megan’s Law and the registration requirement have been at the heart of hotly contested legal disputes. The arguments against Megan’s Law and the registration requirement were that they violated a registrant’s right to privacy, and that the law punished registrants in violation of the Constitution, particularly the Double Jeopardy Clause in the Fifth Amendment.
Congress responded to litigation efforts throughout the country by enacting the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, also known as SORNA. This law was passed in 2006 and it established guidelines to help states construct sex offender registration and community notification requirements.
*Information was obtained from New Jersey’s Report on Implementation of Megan’s Law, written by the Administrative Office of the Courts, Criminal Practice Division.
Purpose of Megan’s Law: Legislative Intent
It is important to understand the story of Megan Kanka – after whom Megan’s Law was named. The seven-year-old child was raped and murdered by a known child molester who had moved into her neighborhood. Her parents were unaware of the man’s past and were unaware of the danger he posed to their daughter.
The purpose of Megan’s Law is to increase the public’s knowledge of individuals who might pose a risk to the safety of the community, particularly to children. It allows communities to develop safety plans, programs and prevention strategies to combat the risk a sex offender might present.
Crimes and the Impact of Registering as a Sex Offender
Does Megan’s Law go too far? A person is required to register as a sex offender if he or she is convicted of:
- Aggravated sexual assault
- Sexual assault
- Aggravated criminal sexual conduct
- Kidnapping (in select circumstances)
He or she will also be required to register if he or she attempted any of the above crimes so long as the court found the behavior to be repetitive or compulsive.
The public is torn on the effectiveness of Megan’s Law and its implementation. Most people typically believe that everyone listed on the registry is a danger to the community. Is this true? Of course not. For example, a teenager who engages in consensual intercourse could be found guilty of a sex offense if his or her partner is below a certain age. Is it fair for him or her to be branded for the rest of his or her life? That is a primary question that stirs hotly contested debates. Unfortunately, it is difficult for the public to push aside their concerns and allow convicted sex offenders to truly become part of their community.
What impact does this have on those registered with law enforcement? Here are some common concerns:
- The inability to keep or maintain gainful employment
- Housing restrictions (difficultly to secure a place to rent)
- Treated as an outcast
- Perceived as dangerous
- Reduced privacy
- Possible travel restrictions
How Many Sex Offenders Are Registered in New Jersey?
New Jersey has some of the most populous counties in the nation. In fact, CBS New York writes that 10 of the nation’s most populous counties are located in New Jersey – a surprising fact considering New Jersey’s size.
In total, there are approximately 4,000 individuals listed on New Jersey’s Sex Offender Internet Registry, which only includes moderate and high-risk reoffenders. The Department of Law and Public Safety, Office of the Attorney General, breaks down the number of registrants by county, with the most populous counties listed below:
For additional information on the rest of New Jersey’s counties, please visit the New Jersey State Police website here. Numbers listed are current as of February 7th, 2014.
Megan’s Law FAQs and Statistics
According to Family Watchdog, nearly 630,000 individuals are listed on U.S. state’s Internet registry systems as of February, 2014. Keep in mind, however, that this number reflects only those individuals who have been released from law enforcement custody; so many more sex offenders remain in prisons and other facilities. Other commonly asked questions and statistics include:
- How much do Megan’s Law and SORNA cost New Jersey?
- The U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justiceestimates that Megan’s Law costs New Jersey $555,565 to implement in 1995. Estimates from 2006 revealed New Jersey spent approximately $3.9 million to implement the law. This number has only increased, especially when you consider individuals receiving rehabilitation and other forms of treatment.
- Are juveniles required to register as sex offenders?
- Yes. Juveniles are required to register the same as adults.
- What happens if a sex offender registered in another state moves to New Jersey?
- By law, anyone registered as a sex offender outside of New Jersey has 10 days to register with law enforcement officials. Failure to do so is a crime.
- How long is someone listed on the registry?
- Sex offenders are required to register for the remainder of their lives. However, registrants may petition the court to be removed from the registry system if they (i) have not committed a similar offense for 15 years and (ii) demonstrate that they are not a threat to their communities.
- Does New Jersey distinguish different levels of offenders?
- New Jersey requires everyone convicted of certain crimes to register with law enforcement. However, New Jersey does evaluate each individual on a case-by-case basis to determine the future risk he or she poses to the public. Those with the lowest likelihood of reoffending are given a Tier I classification, moderate-risk reoffenders being classified as Tier II, and high-risk individuals being classified as Tier III.
Where Can I Get More Information on Megan’s Law?
Our firm hopes you found the above information helpful and that you were able to gain a better understanding of Megan’s Law, its history, and its effect on sex offenders and on New Jersey’s communities.
Please schedule a free initial consultation with our New Jersey criminal defense attorneys online today if you have additional questions or need help defending yourself against sex crimes charges. You may also call our firm directly at 973-540-0054 or toll free at 888-668-4845 to speak with an experienced lawyer about your situation.