The Court continued: With those fundamental principles in mind, we conclude that N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g) violates the substantive due process rights of juvenile sex offenders. We first acknowledge that since the passage of N.J.S.A. 2C:7-29(g) in 2002, scientific and sociological studies have shined new light on adolescent brain development and on the recidivism rates of juvenile sex offenders compared to adult offenders. Our commonsense and historical understanding that children are different from adults is enshrined in our juvenile justice system and fortified by recent United States Supreme Court decisions and Zuber, which embraced those studies that found that juveniles do not possess immutable psychological or behavioral characteristics. That body of jurisprudence and the evidentiary record in this case tell us that adolescents are works in progress and that age tempers the impetuosity, immaturity, and shortsightedness of youth. They tell us that, generally, juvenile sex offenders are less likely to reoffend than adult sex offenders and that the likelihood of recidivism is particularly low for those who have not reoffended for a long period of time. They tell us that the permanent status of sex-offender registrant will impair a juvenile, as he grows into adulthood, from gaining employment opportunities, finding acceptance in his community, developing a healthy sense of self-worth, and forming personal relationships. In essence, the juvenile registrant will forever remain a social pariah.
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-29(g) is grounded on the irrebuttable presumption that juveniles adjudicated delinquent for committing certain sex offenses will forever pose a danger to society. That irrebuttable presumption disregards any individual assessment of whether a particular registrant is likely to reoffend, long after the adjudication and long after the juvenile has become an adult. Those juveniles are, in effect, branded as irredeemable — at a point when their lives have barely begun and before their personalities are fully formed. They must carry this stigma even if they can prove that they pose no societal threat. But that irrebuttable lifetime presumption is not supported by scientific and sociological studies or our jurisprudence and is not needed given the fifteen-year look back required by subsection (f).
It will be interesting to see how the Attorney General responds to this decision. A Directive will likely be drafted that guides prosecutors in how to oppose the lifting of Megan’s law requirements at the numerous hearings that will result from this opinion as those adjudicated delinquent for remote sex offenses will seek to get out from under their Megan’s law requirements.