Nevertheless, C.K. remains a sex-offender registrant. That tainted status has permeated various spheres of his life — professional, personal, and social. He often feels isolated and depressed. He has turned down opportunities for professional advancement for fear that his juvenile sex-offender registrant status will be revealed. He despairs that the permanent designation of sex offender registrant will impair his ability to fully participate in the lives of his children, if he one day has a family.
Solely because of the nature of the offense he committed as a juvenile, C.K. is presumed under subsection (g) to be a permanent, lifetime risk to the safety of the public. That irrebuttable presumption, however, is not supported by scientific or sociological studies, our jurisprudence, or the record in this case. Because it does not further a legitimate state interest when applied to juveniles, subsection (g) does not withstand scrutiny under Article I, Paragraph 1 of our State Constitution.
For the reasons expressed, we hold that N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g) is unconstitutional as applied to juveniles adjudicated delinquent as sex offenders. Under subsection (f) of N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2, fifteen years from the date of his juvenile adjudication, C.K. will be eligible to seek the lifting of his sex-offender registration requirements. At that time, he must be given the opportunity to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that he has not reoffended and no longer poses a threat to others and therefore has a right to be relieved of his Megan’s Law obligations and his status as a sex-offender registrant.
This opinion presents an excellent road map for what petitioners for sex offender de-registration should do before filing their petitions. Among the more important tasks are obtaining expert reports regarding their lack of present dangerousness and the undue psychological impact that continued sex offender registration has caused.
Notification of the constitutional challenge was provided to the Attorney General’s Office, which declined to participate in the PCR proceeding. At oral argument before the Court, neither the Bergen County Prosecutor, appearing for the State, nor the Attorney General, appearing as amicus curiae, identified any additional evidence that contradicted the testimony presented at the PCR hearing. The New Jersey Supreme Court gave the Attorney General’s Office an additional opportunity to “bring to the Court’s attention expert evidence that is contrary to the expert testimony presented to the PCR court with respect to the application of N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g) with respect to juveniles.” The Attorney General’s Office responded with a proffer of the expert testimony it would “potentially” offer. The information was too speculative and therefore not helpful to the Court.
Note that under N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(1), an adult or juvenile is guilty of aggravated sexual assault if he commits an act of sexual penetration with a person who is less than thirteen years old. Therefore, a thirteen-year old who sexually penetrates a person under the age of thirteen, pursuant to that statute, is guilty of aggravated sexual assault as a juvenile. The New Jersey Supreme Court also noted that other states had already enacted statutes that permitted a retrospective review of lengthy juvenile sentences. Zuber, 227 N.J. at 452, n.4. In light of this disposition, the Court did not address C.K.’s claims that subsection (g) violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and the New Jersey Constitution’s corollary provision under Article I, Paragraph 12.