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July 15, 2008

n.j. appeals court strikes down sex offender residency law

Filed under: lawyer news or ethics — David Giacalone @ 5:21 pm

exitSign An appellate court in New Jersey agreed today with two trial courts: the State’s Megan’s Law pre-empts local attempts to restrict where sex offenders can live. See the decision in G.H. v. Township of Galloway (SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY, APPELLATE DIVISION, DOCKET NO. A-3235-06T1, July 15, 2008).  Over 100 New Jersey municipalities have enacted such restrictions.

According to the Associated Press, in “N.J. towns’ sex-offender residency limits rejected” (AP/, July 15, 2008):

“New Jersey towns cannot ban sex offenders from living near schools, parks, or other places where children gather, a state appeals court ruled on Tuesday.

“The three-judge panel found that New Jersey’s Megan’s Law was ‘pervasive and comprehensive’ and should be the only law governing how sex offenders are treated. The ruling upheld findings by judges who invalidated ordinances in Cherry Hill and Galloway townships.”

In its decision, the appellate court stated:

“A comprehensive apparatus has been constructed to address, on a uniform and statewide basis, the underlying problem of dealing with CSOs who have completed serving their sentences and are released into the community. In varying degrees, these individuals have a likelihood of reoffending. Therefore, there is a need for protection of the public. At the same time, to minimize the risk of reoffending, there is a need to provide appropriate living accommodations for CSOs, with support systems provided by family members and others, reasonably proximate to employment, public transportation networks, and treatment programs, in order to provide stability for CSOs in these respects. The Legislature has chosen a system by which CSOs will be uniformly classified based upon their risk of reoffending, notification to the community will be tailored according to that risk, registration will be required to keep local law enforcement apprised at all times of the whereabouts of the CSOs, and parole officers will approve where CSOs may live and supervise their daily activities.” . . .

“The statutory and regulatory scheme, viewed in light of the exclusionary effect of the ordinances, provides strong evidence that the ordinances substantially interfere with the ability of parole officers to carry out their statutorily mandated function of finding the most appropriate housing for CSOs. In many cases, the most appropriate housing would be in a location prohibited by the residency restriction ordinances.” . . .

” . . . We conclude that the residency restriction ordinances conflict with the policies and operational effect of the statewide scheme implemented by Megan’s Law, which was intended, both expressly and impliedly, to be exclusive in the field. The subject matter reflects a need for statewide uniformity. The scheme chosen by the Legislature, refined by the judiciary, and firmly entrenched for more than a decade on a uniform statewide basis, is pervasive and comprehensive, thus precluding the coexistence of municipal regulation. The ordinances interfere with and frustrate the purposes and operation of the statewide scheme.”

Thanks to Rev. David Hess of the for the pointer to this important decision, which we hope courts in New York State will find persuasive, as they face similar challenges (see our prior post). For a list of the many posts at f/k/a concerning sex offender residency laws, go here and scroll down.

update (July 16, 2008): Prof. Corey Rayburn Yung at the Sex Crimes weblog notes today that “I think it is clearly true that the local residency restrictions are inconsistent with the state’s Megan’s Law. However, if the state was so inclined, it could simply amend the registry statute to allow local residency restrictions.”

See Sex Offenders: A Flawed Law: from Gatehouse News Service.

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