How Does Megan’s Law Affect Juveniles?
Posted on: June 14, 2021
Megan’s Law, which was enacted in New Jersey in 1994, requires people convicted of certain sex crimes to register as sex offenders with the state. Subsequent court actions led to the state establishing the New Jersey Sex Offender Internet Registry.
This registry makes public the names of certain individuals convicted of sex crimes and includes the following information about the offender:
- Social Security number
- Home address
- School location
- Age and date of birth
- Place of employment
- Type of car
There are currently 5,800 people on New Jersey’s sex offender registry.
Megan’s Law was enacted after the horrific rape and murder of seven-year-old Megan Kanka in Hamilton, New Jersey. The crime was perpetrated by a neighbor who had previously been jailed for sex crimes. Unfortunately, Megan’s parents had no way of knowing they were living near a sex offender. Megan’s Law changed that, enabling the public to know where sex offenders live.
Megan’s Law became federal in 1996, requiring sex offenders to register but giving states leeway as to how and when names are made public.
In 2016, President Obama signed International Megan’s Law to Prevent Child Exploitation and Other Sexual Crimes Through Advanced Notification of Traveling Sex Offenders. This law requires notifying foreign governments when a U.S. citizen registered as an offender for sex crimes involving a minor is entering their country. The law also requires a visual identifier on passports and for offenders to notify law enforcement 21 days before traveling outside the country,
Note that in New Jersey, Megan’s Law is sometimes seen with its accompanying phrase Community Supervision for Life (CSL). This means that offenders must check in with the court regularly, notify the court when they move, and reregister with the local police department of their new jurisdiction, among other requirements.
Impact of Megan’s Law on Juvenile Offenders
Juveniles are not exempt from Megan’s Law. Those under age 18 are treated much the same as adult offenders. Note that the term adjudicated delinquent of sex crimes is used for juvenile offenders instead of the word convicted, which is used for an adult.
Juveniles who are convicted of the following crimes must register under Megan’s Law in New Jersey:
- Sexual assault
- Aggravated sexual assault
- Aggravated criminal sexual contact
- Criminal sexual contact with a minor
- Endangering the welfare of a child involving sexual contact
- Kidnapping a victim under age 16 with an attempted or committed sex crime
- False imprisonment of a minor
- Criminal restraint
- Luring or enticing
The original law allowed juvenile sex offenders to apply to be removed from the list and lifetime registration if they had not reoffended during the last 15 years. But in 2001, New Jersey enacted more stringent provisions that required certain juvenile sex offenders to register for the rest of their lives.
In another twist that stills stands today, in 2018, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that lifetime sex offender registration for juveniles who committed a sex crime was unconstitutional. In a unanimous decision, the Court ruled that a permanent mandate violated a juvenile’s right to due process.
Effectively, the Court stated that the lifetime registration mandate did not give juveniles the benefit of the doubt about their likelihood of reoffending. They also argued that it was not lawful to brand a juvenile irredeemable before their adult lives have begun and their personalities were fully formed. Finally, they stated that being on a lifetime sexual offender registry would not allow the juvenile to become rehabilitated into a healthy and integrated adult member of society.
As a result, the Supreme Court reinstated the original provision, allowing juvenile offenders to apply for deregistration from Megan’s Law after 15 years if they had not committed a sexual crime in that time. That provision still stands.
Note that juveniles who commit sex crimes before age 14 can apply for deregistration when they turn 18 if they have not committed an offense since their initial conviction.
What is Required for a Juvenile to be Removed from the Megan’s Law List?
Juvenile sex offenders must still register in New Jersey but can apply to get off the sex offender/Megan’s Law registry after 15 years. The juvenile offender can appeal to a judge for deregistration. The judge will hold a hearing to affirm the following:
- The offender has not committed an offense within 15 years following the conviction or release from a correctional facility, whichever is later.
- They are not likely to pose a threat to the safety of others.
A court will require that a doctor evaluate the person seeking removal. In some cases, a juvenile offender will have committed a sex crime while under the influence of drugs or alcohol or having personal or emotional problems.
Although that does not make the crimes lawful, a medical expert will determine the offender’s physical and emotional state at the time of the offense. They will evaluate who the person is now, 15 years later, and whether they are mentally and emotionally stable and do not pose a risk of reoffending.
What Factors Determine Whether an Offender is at Risk for Reoffending?
The court and the state’s Attorney General have guidelines and procedures for determining whether the person appealing to be deregistered will likely reoffend.
For a person who committed the crime as a juvenile, the court will consider the expert medical evaluation, history within the last 15 years, and results of the Juvenile Risk Assessment Scale. This evaluation is completed immediately after the crime is committed and can affect whether the juvenile’s name is made public.
This scale classifies the offender as either low risk, moderate risk, or high risk according to criteria in three areas:
- Sex offense history. The juvenile offender will be evaluated on degree of force and contact, age of victim and selection of victim, number of offenses and victims, duration of offensive behavior, length of time since last crimes, and the victim’s gender.
- Antisocial behavior. This evaluation includes the offender’s history of antisocial acts and substance abuse.
- Environmental characteristics. These factors help determine whether the person is likely to reoffend, including response to sex offender therapy, residential support, and stability in the offender’s employment and education since the offense.
Depending on the circumstances, courts may also consider the following factors used primarily for adult offenders:
- Whether the offender is under probation or parole supervision; receiving counseling, therapy, or treatment; or living in a home situation that provides guidance and supervision.
- Physical conditions such as age or illness that minimize the risk of reoffense.
- Criminal history factors, including repetitive or compulsive behavior, use of a weapon, violence, and infliction of serious bodily injury, among other considerations.
- Psychological or psychiatric profiles that would indicate risk of reoffense.
- Response to treatment after the original offense.
- Recent behavior in the community and recent threats or expression of intent to commit additional crimes.
A person will need to have a criminal defense lawyer to appeal for deregistration to the judge. The lawyer will arrange for the medical evaluation and submit the assessment and a brief that advocates for the person’s removal from the registry.
Monmouth County Criminal Defense Lawyers at Ellis Law Advocate for Juveniles Accused of Sex Crimes
Sexual offenses are egregious crimes. Sometimes, the allegations of the crime are not what they appear to be. Every day, juveniles and adults are wrongfully charged or accused of a criminal sexual offense. In the case of juveniles, circumstances surrounding the allegations may be overblown, exaggerated, or downright lies. The Monmouth County criminal defense lawyers at Ellis Law have helped hundreds of juveniles be proved innocent of sex crime allegations. We also successfully help juvenile offenders petition to be removed from the Megan’s Law public registry. Whatever the need, Ellis Law can help save the reputation and future of a juvenile accused of a sexual offense. Call us at 732-308-0200 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Marlboro Township, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.