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When Megan’s Law was being debated in the New Jersey Legislature, the standard profile of its intended target was a middle-aged, pathological pedophile who preyed on neighborhood children. What wasn’t discussed, and hasn’t been resolved, is what happens when the subject is a 10-year-old boy who inappropriately touched younger family members? Does he wear a scarlet “M” for life? Last week, lawyers for the youth, in In the Matter of Registrant J.G., A-18-00, asked the state supreme court to rule that New Jersey’s sex offender registration and community notification statutes do not apply to juveniles who commit sex crimes under the age of 14. Mercer County Superior Court Judge Andrew Smithson classified the boy Tier 2, finding him a moderate risk for committing another similar offense, and ordered limited community notification. The Appellate Division upheld Smithson’s ruling but limited notification to the principal, teachers and guidance counselors at J.G.’s high school. (He is now 15.) He was not required to register with his local police department. Craig Hubert, one of J.G.’s lawyers, told the court there is confusion between Megan’s Law as it applies to minors and juvenile justice statutes that treat minors differently depending on their ages. No juvenile under 14 can be tried as an adult, for example, and thus it makes no sense to impose Megan’s Law ramifications on that minor, argued Hubert, a partner at Trenton, N.J.’s Brotman, Graziano & Hubert. When Justice James Coleman Jr. pointed out that Megan’s Law specifically states that juveniles are covered, Hubert answered that there is no scheme within the statute to differentiate among various classes of juveniles. “There was no analysis in Megan’s Law,” said Hubert. “The court has the opportunity to review the inconsistencies between Megan’s Law and the juvenile justice code.” The goal of the juvenile justice statutes is to promote rehabilitation, not punishment, of youthful offenders, Hubert said. However, if J.G. is required to register yearly with his local police department, his rehabilitation could be adversely affected, he argued. Coleman said the court’s ruling in Doe v. Poritz, 142 N.J. 1 (1995), which upheld Megan’s Law, also noted that its provisions applied to juveniles. Under what authority, he asked, could the court overturn its precedent? Said Hubert: “I have to concede that we’re asking the court to revisit this particular group because this group requires special protection.” Justice James Zazzali said that, traditionally, newer statutes are given deference over older ones. Therefore, Megan’s Law, which was enacted after most juvenile justice statutes, would govern. Hubert said the court also had to look at what each statute says. “Portions of the code are more specific than Megan’s Law,” he said. “Juveniles are given more general treatment in Megan’s Law.” Coleman appeared at one point to attempt to move away from revisiting the issue of how juvenile sex offenders should be treated as a whole and asked whether the court could, perhaps, merely change J.G.’s status. “The court can exercise review,” said Hubert. “It could stay any type of notification.” Hubert asked the court to consider the long-term effect that registration, in particular, would have on J.G. “We want no registration because that comes with the label of sex offender,” he said. “Ten-year-olds and 11-year-olds are not considered sex offenders in the medical community.” Another lawyer for J.G., James Graziano, said Megan’s Law runs contrary to the theory of rehabilitation for juvenile offenders. “Throughout our history we have sought to protect and rehabilitate minors,” said Graziano, an associate at Roseland, N.J.’s Wolff & Samson. “We need to rehabilitate juveniles. We always come back to that.” Appellate Division Judge Harold Wells III, sitting in for one of two justices who recused themselves, suggested that perhaps there be a different tier system for sex offenders under the age of 14. “Perhaps,” said Graziano. “The courts should look at juveniles separately.” Deputy Attorney General Jessica Oppenheim said the court should lift the stay and allow registration to continue and to permit the limited notification to proceed. “The law is clear on this,” she said. Notification should not harm J.G. because it is limited to only a few adults, she added. Zazzali interrupted, saying that it made “common sense” that other students would learn of J.G.’s criminal history and that he has been determined to be a sex offender. Oppenheim disagreed, saying that principals, teachers and guidance counselors are privy to a great deal of information that is not made available to students, and noted that they offer special training in learning how to deal with notifications made under Megan’s Law. Megan’s Law says that registration must continue for a minimum of 15 years, at which time a sex offender could apply to be removed from its requirements. Justice Gary Stein said he was “uncomfortable” with the notion that a 25-year-old could be required to register with police for an offense that occurred when he was 10. “The Legislature gave a great deal of thought to the time provision of registration,” said Oppenheim. “Public safety is the paramount purpose of this legislation.” The Appellate Division’s order has been stayed pending the outcome of the supreme court review. Stein presided over last week’s hearing because Chief Justice Deborah Poritz recused herself from the case, along with Justice Peter Verniero. Both had served as attorney general and assisted in enacting and defending Megan’s Law. Wells and Appellate Division Judge Philip Carchman filled their seats.
Kids and the Law: Juvenile Justice and Child Law Practice. On Demand.

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