We receive many inquiries from defendants who are currently required to register pursuant to Megan’s Law, and are on Community Supervision for Life or Parole Supervision for Life, about termination of their overly burdensome and needlessly restrictive obligations. In light of a recent New Jersey Supreme Court case, we believe that this may be a good time to review some of the basics of a successful termination motion.
Briefly, people who are saddled with Megan’s and lifetime supervision requirements can apply for relief under the following circumstances, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f). First, the application may not be made for at least 15 years from the date of conviction or release from custody, whichever is later. Next, the applicant must be able to show that they were offense-free during that time period. Finally, the applicant must be able to show that they are not a threat to the safety of others. This last requirement is typically satisfied by submitting a written evaluation from a forensic psychologist along with the motion papers.
However, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g), certain defendants are not eligible for relief. These include defendants with more than one sex offense, or defendants convicted of aggravated sexual assault or sexual assault as defined in the State’s criminal code.
The New Jersey Supreme Court considered whether subsection (g) applied retroactively. Registrants G.H. and G.A. both pleaded guilty to offenses that required them to register under Megan’s Law. At the time of their pleas, they would have been eligible to apply for relief from lifetime registration years later, under subsection (f) if all of the conditions were met. After the entry of both pleas, the Legislature enacted subsection (g). The new law barred registrants like G.H. and G.A., who had been convicted of more than one sex offense, of aggravated sexual assault, or of sexual assault, from applying to terminate their registration requirements under subsection (f). The trial courts applied subsection (g) retroactively in their cases.
The Appellate Division reversed, finding that the Legislature did not explicitly provide that subsection (g) applied retroactively and that there was no implied intent of retroactive application in the legislative history of Megan’s Law or subsection (g). The Appellate court added that “[a] statute also may be applied retroactively if it is ‘curative’ . . . or if the parties’ expectations warrant retroactive application” but found those “categories of potential retroactive application” inapplicable in this case. Finally, the Appellate Division explained that, in light of its finding as to legislative intent, it did not need to reach the additional considerations of whether applying subsection (g) retroactively would interfere unconstitutionally with vested rights or work a manifest injustice, but it addressed those issues “for the sake of completeness.”
The State Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division’s decision. The Supreme Court held that like the Appellate Division, it found no statement of legislative intent, express or implied, that subsection (g) should be applied retroactively. Further, the Court did not find that subsection (g) was curative, or that the parties’ expectations warranted retroactive application.
Thus, defendants with more than one sex offense, or with convictions for aggravated sexual assault or sexual assault, can still seek relief from the registration and supervision requirements if they were convicted before January 8, 2002, the effective date of this provision.
The curious thing about Megan’s Law registration and CSL/PSL is that there appears to be no empirical proof that shows they benefit or protect anyone. This is particularly galling in light of the fact that the registration and supervision regimens cost considerable amounts of money to administer. What we do know is that these requirements, which include restrictions on work and living arrangements, place onerous burdens on defendants that make it difficult – if not impossible – for them to survive in the community. We also know that these requirements can destroy families by making it impossible for parents to associate with their own children because of their convictions. Finally, I know from speaking with clients that the downright sadistic behavior of many of the parole officers tasked with supervising offenders basically goes unchecked. Unfortunately, however, this is the law and we have to comply until it changes – whether we like it or not.
James S. Friedman, Esq., is a criminal defense attorney based in New Brunswick New Jersey. Mr. Friedman represents defendants in all State and Federal courts in New Jersey and New York City. If you have a criminal charge in one of these courts, call Mr. Friedman to discuss your charges, to learn about your options, and to plan your defense.