Constitutionality of Megan’s Law (Part 4)

by | Sep 7, 2023 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Court concluded with the following in relevant part: The equal protection analysis “under the New Jersey Constitution slightly differs from the analysis of those fundamental rights under the United States Constitution. When a statute is challenged on the ground that it does not apply evenhandedly to similarly situated people, the State’s equal protection jurisprudence requires that the legislation, in distinguishing between two classes of people, bear a substantial relationship to a legitimate governmental purpose.” Lewis v. Harris (2006). Similar to our substantive due process analysis under Article I, Paragraph 1, “the test that we have applied to such equal protection claims involves the weighing of three factors: the nature of the right at stake, the extent to which the challenged statutory scheme restricts that right, and the public need for the statutory restriction.”

Applying that balancing test to the registrant’s equal protection challenge, Doe concluded “the public need for information about dangerous sex offenders greatly outweighs the registrant’s right to privacy and the intrusion of that right associated with registration and notification.” The Court also noted a registrant’s classification within the statute’s tier system “is not only rational, but closely related to a strong state interest,” as registrants are “placed in a class that is carefully defined to reflect their specific characteristics that reasonably predict their specific risk of re-offense.” Accordingly, the Court held “the registration and notification requirements do not violate the registrant’s right to equal protection under either the Federal or State Constitution.”

We reject M.H.’s equal protection challenge as the intrusion on his privacy interests imposed by the registration and community notification requirements are “carefully defined” to reflect a reasonable prediction of his specific risk of re-offense as a Tier II registrant. Again, we discern no reason to depart from the Doe Court’s reasoning that the registration and community notification system devised by Megan’s Law constitutionally classifies and intrudes upon individual registrant’s privacy interests based on their level of risk of re-offense. We also reiterate M.H. has not sought to reduce his community notification obligations by seeking designation as a Tier I registrant. See H.R. v. N.J. State Parole Bd. (2020) (“A Megan’s Law offender may file a motion with a judge for a change in tier designation based on a change in circumstances.”).

Here, the Appellate Division weighed the registrant’s decision not to argue for tier reassignment against him. In light of this, registrants seeking release from Megan’s Law would be wise to make that alternative argument.