Youth Ministries & Sex Offenders: Part 1

by | Aug 12, 2017 | Blog, Criminal Law, Laws Protecting Children, Monmouth County, Ocean County

On July 20, 2017, Justice Timpone wrote for a unanimous New Jersey Supreme Court in the case of State v. S.B. In this appeal, the Court determines whether a youth ministry associated with a church or religious organization is exempt from the definition of a “youth serving organization” under N.J.S.A. 2C:7-22, a provision of Megan’s Law.

Defendant was a congregant of the Eternal Life Christian Center (ELCC), a registered non-profit and religious institution. Defendant was also subject to Megan’s Law because of two sexual assault convictions in 1991. To comply with the Megan’s Law reporting requirements, defendant notified the ELCC pastors and elders of his convictions. Defendant participated in the church’s No Limits Youth Ministry (NLYM), the stated goal of which is “to prepare students to be effective at home, junior high, senior high, and college.”

Based on defendant’s participation in the NLYM, the grand jury indicted him for third-degree prohibited participation in a “youth serving organization,” in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:7-23. Defendant moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that the NLYM was not a youth serving organization under Megan’s Law.

The trial court granted defendant’s motion, reasoning that the statute was vague with respect to how religious institutions fit within the definition of youth serving organization. The court distinguished the case from a 2014 published Appellate Division case in which the panel found a violation of Megan’s Law where a defendant participated in a school marching band’s pit crew because it was separate from the school, making the statute’s school exemption inapplicable.

In S.B., the prosecution appealed and the Appellate Division affirmed the indictment’s dismissal. The panel rejected the prosecution’s argument that the definition of youth serving organization encompassed the NLYM. It reasoned that because the definition does not specifically address religious organizations, the Legislature did not intend to include religious organizations in the definition of youth serving organization. The Court New Jersey Supreme Court granted the prosecution’s petition for certification. Setting aside our courts’ trend of siding against convicted sex offenders, a reversal was likely since the clear majority of cases in which certification is granted result in reversal. It stands to reason that if our Supreme Court agreed with the Appellate Divisions decision, they would usually not grant certification just to issue the same ruling.