Summary of Major Litigation on New Jersey's Megan's Law
State Court: The Attorney General of New Jersey successfully defended Megan's Law in State and Federal court against numerous constitutional attacks by or on behalf of convicted sex offenders. In the primary challenge brought in state court, Doe v. Poritz, 142 N.J. 1, 662 A. 2d 367 (1995), the Supreme Court of New Jersey held that the sex offender registration and community notification laws do not impose punishment in violation of Federal and State Constitutional guarantees against ex post facto laws, double jeopardy, bills of attainder and cruel and unusual punishment. The Court held that the State interest in public disclosure of sex offender registration information substantially outweighs the privacy interests of convicted sex offenders, and that the statute's registration and community notification requirements do not violate sex offenders equal protection rights. The Court also held that due process under the State and Federal constitutions and the New Jersey doctrine of fundamental fairness require judicial hearing before public notification may take place. Subsequently, the Court promulgated and implemented such judicial review procedures.
Federal Court: The Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld against ex post facto, bill of attainder, double jeopardy, equal protection and due process challenges the registration provisions of Megan's Law, in Artway v. Attorney General, 81 F. 3d 1235 (3d Cir. 1996), also holding that the challenge to the notification law were not yet ripe for adjudication in that matter.
Thereafter, in E.B. v. Verniero, 119 F. 3d 1077 (3d Cir. 1997), a challenge to the retroactive application of the community notification provisions of Megan's Law brought by a certified class of convicted sex offenders who had committed enumerated sex offenses prior to the effective date of Megan's law, the Third Circuit held that the community notification provisions of Megan's Law do not constitute punishment for purposes of the Ex Post Facto and Double Jeopardy Clauses. The court also held that federal due process required modification to the procedures established by the Supreme Court of New Jersey. Subsequently, in response to a petition by the Attorney General, the State Supreme Court modified its judicial review procedures to comply with the Third Circuit's due process holding.
The challengers petitioned the United States Supreme Court for review of the Third Circuit decision upholding the constitutionality of community notification under Megan's Law. In February 1998, the Supreme Court voted not to grant the petition for certiorari. E.B. v. Verniero, supra, cert. Denied sub nom., W.P. v. Verniero, 522 U.S. 1109 (1998).
One case remained pending in federal court. A privacy challenge brought by a class of offenders who committed sex offenses after the effective date of Megan's Law. The district court rejected their challenge, Paul P. v. Verniero, 982 F. Supp. 961 (D.N.J. 1997), and the Third Circuit affirmed the decision below, 170 F. 3d 396 (1999), but remanded the matter for further review of the adequacy of the safeguards against unauthorized disclosure of protected information. On remand, the district court initially held. The Attorney General Guidelines violated sex offender privacy rights. Paul P. v. Farmer, 92 F. Supp. 2d 410, 411 (D.N.J. 2000). The Attorney General revised the Guidelines and in response to a challenge seeking injunctive relief against proceeding with notification under the revised Guidelines, the district court vacated its earlier order, finding no infringement of registrants' privacy rights under the safeguards established under the new Guideline procedures. Paul P. v. Farmer, 92 F.Supp.2d 410. 411 (D.N.J. 2000). The registrants appealed the court's decision to the Third Circuit, which initially entered a stay against notification, which, it subsequently vacated. The Third Circuit ultimately held that the revised Guidelines do not violate registered sex offenders' privacy rights, and permitted notification to go forward in accordance with the revised Guidelines. Paul P. v. Farmer, 227 F.3d 98 (3d Cir. 2000).
Following the approval by the voters of New Jersey of an amendment to the State Constitution that expressly authorizes the State Legislature to enact laws providing, among other things, for the establishment of a sex offender Internet registry, and the passage of legislation providing for the creation of such a registry, a class of sex offenders challenged, the constitutional amendment and the Internet registry, arguing that the registry imposes impermissible punishment in violation of the Ex Post Facto Clause of the United States Constitution and violates their right to privacy I and that the constitutional amendment violates the Equal Protection Clause. A.A.v. State of New Jersey, 176 F. Supp. 2d 275 (D.N.J. 2001). The case is currently pending in United States District Court, where the judge ruled on a motion seeking to enjoin the Internet registry that, pending a final decision, the State could go forward with the registry but that it could not include sex offender home address information. That decision is under appeal to the Third Circuit. The Sex offender Internet Registry web site is currently available on-line.
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