Constitutionality of Megan’s Law (Part 1)

by | Sep 1, 2023 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

On May 25, 2023, a three-judge appellate panel decided the Somerset County case of In the Matter of Registrant M.H. The principal issue before the Court under N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2 concerned the constitutionality of denying release from Megan’s Law due to the offender’s single failure to register violation.

Judge Natali wrote for the panel in relevant part: Finally, we reject M.H.’s contention that even if subsection (f) does not violate substantive due process on its face, it does so as applied to him. As noted, Doe rejected such an argument, concluding the registrant’s alleged special characteristics, even if accepted as true, did not “confer on him any constitutional or legal rights different from any other offender.” Similarly, here, M.H. has alleged no facts which suggest he stands on different constitutional or legal grounds from other Tier II registrants who fail to satisfy one of the criteria for termination of their Megan’s Law obligations under subsection (f). As noted by Doe, to the extent he has proffered evidence with respect to his risk of re-offense, that evidence is relevant to his tier status, which he has never challenged and does not challenge before us. Ibid.

M.H. also argues Megan’s Law violates procedural due process guaranteed by the New Jersey Constitution by imposing upon him indefinite registration and community notification obligations. He specifically maintains the fact that those requirements become indefinite upon a registrant’s failure to satisfy the requirements of subsection (f) creates “an irrebuttable presumption of dangerousness . . . based solely on the commission of any offense, no matter how minor and unrelated to sex offense recidivism,” thereby precluding registrants from demonstrating they no longer pose a risk to their communities. Relying on C.K. and Doe, M.H. contends such a presumption results in the erroneous deprivation of his fundamental rights and due process and is unnecessary in light of the “reasonable alternative means of achieving the State’s interests,” such as allowing registrants to demonstrate they no longer pose a risk to their communities. We disagree.

A potential reason for M.H. to not argue for a different tier status is that it could have watered down his arguments in support of Megan’s Law release. Higher tiers require a greater amount of public notification and more onerous registration requirements.