On August 9, 2021, a unanimous New Jersey Supreme Court decided the Hunterdon County case of In the Matter of Registrant J.D.-F. The principal issue under N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2 was whether the statute barring certain sex offenders from terminating lifetime registration applied to the defendant who committed an offense before the statute became effective, but was convicted afterwards.
Justice Fernandez-Vina wrote in relevant part: The holding that subsection (g) cannot be applied retroactively transcends the facts of G.H.; it is a general finding. But, in light of the facts of G.H., that general principle was applied there only to “the time of the registrants’ pleas.” We did not find in G.H. that the plea date was dispositive and that all pleas and convictions entered after the effective date of subsection (g) would be controlled by that subsection if the Megan’s Law offenses at issue were among those specified in subsection (g). That is the question posed here. Applying the principles set forth above, we now hold that the relevant dates for determining the applicability of subsection (g) are the dates on which a registrant committed the relevant sex offenses rather than the date of conviction of those offenses.
Here, registrant was convicted of committing criminal sexual contact and child endangerment between May 1 and August 31, 2001, which subjected him to registration under Megan’s Law. See N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(b)(1) to (2). Subsection (g) was not effective until January 8, 2002, L. 2001, c. 392. Therefore, at the time that registrant committed the sex offenses that subjected him to lifetime registration under subsection (g), that provision had not yet taken effect.
Subsection (g) states that a person “who has been convicted of . . . more than one sex offense” may not apply under subsection (f) to terminate the Megan’s Law registration obligations. As the Appellate Division in G.H. aptly noted, “the Legislature’s use of the present perfect tense indicates subsection (g) applies to an action completed, although not at any definite time in the past.” G.H., 455 N.J. Super. at 522 (emphasis added). Nowhere in the text of subsection (g) does it state that the statute’s applicability is to be measured by the date of conviction. In our view, the Legislature’s use of the language “who has been convicted of” serves merely to refer to the class of people to whom the statute may apply. The phrase cannot be divorced from the specified offenses that follow it, which reveal that subsection (g) is applicable to only a specific subset of the offenses to which Megan’s Law registration requirements apply. That language does not mean that the date by which courts are to analyze the applicability of subsection (g) is the date of conviction.
The Court’s reasoning is not easy to follow. The statute at issue is another example of the Legislature not being precise and thorough with its language.