Megan’s Law Risk Assessment Scale (Part 1)

by | Jun 23, 2020 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

On April 13, 2020, a three-judge appellate panel decided the consolidated Monmouth and Camden County cases of In the Matter of Registrant J.G. and In the Matter of Registrant C.C. The principal issue under N.J.S.A. 2C:7-8 involved the propriety of Megan’s Law risk assessment scale with regard to one-time child pornography offenders.

Judge Gilson held in relevant part: In challenging a tier determination, a registrant may argue that (1) the RRAS score was erroneously calculated, (2) the case falls outside the “heartland” of Megan’s Law cases, or (3) the extent of community notification required is excessive due to “unique” aspects of the registrant’s case. In re T.T. (2006). The Court has also ruled that in limited circumstances, a registrant can call an expert to “establish the existence of unique aspects of a registrant’s offense or character that render the RRAS score suspect.” Accordingly, our Supreme Court has explained that if the expert testimony is believed, “such evidence would lead to the conclusions that the RRAS does not adequately represent the risk of recidivism for that particular registrant and that, therefore, in such circumstances the scope of notification should be more limited than that indicated by the registrant’s RRAS score and attendant tier classification.” The Court noted that such challenges will be rare.

The Court has also made clear, however, that registrants cannot argue that the RRAS as a scale is unreliable. Instead, the Court has repeatedly held that the RRAS “is presumptively reliable.” Thus, the Court has explained: The RRAS is presumptively accurate and is to be afforded substantial weight – indeed it will even have binding effect – unless and until a registrant “presents subjective criteria that would support a court not relying on the tier classification recommended by the RRAS.”

Challenges to the RRAS itself, or challenges to the weight afforded to any of the individual factors that comprise the RRAS, are not permitted. Instead, all challenges must relate to the characteristics of the individual registrant and the shortcomings of the RRAS in his particular case.

The holdings cited by the Appellate Division seem to be based, a t least in part, on a desire of our appellate courts to manage the number of cases on their dockets. Megan’s Law registrants have little to lose when it comes to challenging the conditions of the community supervision. This is especially true in theses two cases, where their defenses are handled by the Office of the Public Defender at a substantially reduced cost to the registrants.