This post is from the Sentencing Law & Policy blog written by Professor Douglas Berman. But, before you read it, think of context. In recent years the United States Supreme Court has issued rulings regarding sentencing of juvenile offenders and the necessity to take into account their age. The Supreme Court of New Jersey handed down a lengthy unanimous opinion in Interest of C.K., No. A-15-16 (N.J. April 24, 2018) (available here) declaring that the state’s sex-offender registry law is unconstitutional as applied to some juvenile offenders.
Here is how the opinion begins:
Juveniles adjudicated delinquent of certain sex offenses are barred for life from seeking relief from the registration and community notification provisions of Megan’s Law. N.J.S.A. 2C:7-1 to -11, -19; N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g). That categorical lifetime bar cannot be lifted, even when the juvenile becomes an adult and poses no public safety risk, is fully rehabilitated, and is a fully productive member of society. Defendant C.K. was adjudicated delinquent for sex offenses committed more than two decades ago and now challenges the constitutionality of N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g)’s permanent lifetime registration and notification requirements as applied to juveniles.
Subsection (f) of N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2 subjects all sex offenders, including juveniles, to presumptive lifetime registration and notification requirements. Unlike subsection (g), however, subsection (f) allows a registrant to seek relief from those requirements fifteen years after his juvenile adjudication, provided he has been offense-free and is “not likely to pose a threat to the safety of others.” Subsection (g) imposes an irrebuttable presumption that juveniles, such as defendant, are irredeemable, even when they no longer pose a public safety risk and are fully rehabilitated.
The record in this case reveals what is commonly known about juveniles — that their emotional, mental, and judgmental capacities are still developing and that their immaturity makes them more susceptible to act impulsively and rashly without consideration of the long-term consequences of their conduct. See State v. Zuber, 227 N.J. 422 (2017). The record also supports the conclusion that juveniles adjudicated delinquent of committing sex offenses, such as C.K., who have been offense-free for many years and assessed not likely to reoffend, pose little risk to the public. Indeed, categorical lifetime notification and registration requirements may impede a juvenile’s rehabilitative efforts and stunt his ability to become a healthy and integrated adult member of society.
We conclude that subsection (g)’s lifetime registration and notification requirements as applied to juveniles violate the substantive due process guarantee of Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution. Permanently barring juveniles who have committed certain sex offenses from petitioning for relief from the Megan’s Law requirements bears no rational relationship to a legitimate governmental objective. In the absence of subsection (g), N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f) provides the original safeguard incorporated into Megan’s Law: no juvenile adjudicated delinquent will be released from his registration and notification requirements unless a Superior Court judge is persuaded that he has been offense-free and does not likely pose a societal risk after a fifteen-year look-back period.
Defendant may apply for termination from the Megan’s Law requirements fifteen years from the date of his juvenile adjudication, and be relieved of those requirements provided he meets the standards set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f).