Sex Offenses and Ex Post Facto Laws (Part 2)

by | Feb 25, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The New Jersey Supreme court majority continued in relevant part: Finally, the logic espoused by the Appellate Division and the defendants here is further undermined by Riley, in which we considered whether the requirements of the Sex Offender Monitoring Act (SOMA), N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.89 to 123.95, could be applied to an individual whose predicate offenses predated the law’s enactment. SOMA requires qualifying sex offenders to wear an electronic ankle bracelet that tracks their movements via global positioning satellite (GPS). Id. at 277. Individuals subject to this monitoring were required to ensure that their bracelet was continuously charged, provide advance notice of any out-of-state travel, and report their weekly work schedules to a parole officer. We concluded that the burdens of twenty-four-hour GPS monitoring and the attendant requirements of reporting to a parole officer “clearly placed this law in the category of a penal rather than civil law.” Applying the factors set forth in Kennedy v. Mendoza-Martinez, 372 U.S. 144, 168 (1963), we noted that SOMA’s monitoring regime “looks like parole, monitors like parole, restricts like parole, serves the general purpose of parole, and is run by the Parole Board.” That similarity with parole, which this Court has consistently held to be punitive, compelled the conclusion that SOMA was a punitive law subject to the Ex Post Facto Clause.

Riley illustrates that Megan’s Law registration requirements are not rendered punitive merely because they are policed by penal means. Our focus in Riley was on the punitive or nonpunitive nature of SOMA’s GPS monitoring imposed retroactively on certain individuals, not on the unquestionably penal nature of a prospective prosecution for failure to comply with that monitoring. Under the logic of the argument in support of defendants and the decision under review, Riley’s conclusion that continuous GPS monitoring is punitive was purely superfluous — the decision could have rested simply on the fact that the monitoring was policed by punitive means, namely the threat of prosecution for non-compliance. But Riley expressly found that “the constraints and disabilities imposed on Riley by SOMA, and SOMA’s similarity to parole supervision for life, clearly place this law in the category of a penal rather than civil law.” And just as the potential prosecution for a SOMA violation was not what rendered SOMA punitive, the potential prosecution for failure to register does not render the registration obligation punitive in its own right.

The Court continues with its trend of citing to federal precedent in Martinez. Federal constitutional precedent establishes the floor or minimum rights for New Jersey citizens. State constitutional precedent establishes the ceiling of our rights. For decades, the New Jersey Supreme Court consistently providing citizens with greater rights than the federal minimums. As Court personnel has changed in recent years, so has New Jersey’s historical trend of valuing liberty over “crime control.”