On March 17, 2020, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided the Essex County case of In the Matter of Registrant H.D. The principal issue under N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2 involved the circumstances in which a sex offender can be forever barred from seeking termination of Megan’s Law requirements.
Justice Solomon wrote for the Court in relevant part: Reading subsection (f) as part of N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2, we find its language unambiguous. It plainly refers to the conviction or release that triggers the registration requirement established in subsection (b) and detailed in subsection (c). The mechanism for registration relief set forth in subsection (f) is linked both by logic and by language to the initial mandate of registration which stems from a conviction for certain offenses. See N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(b)(1) to (3). Aside from those required to register on the basis of a conviction that predates the effective date of Megan’s Law, N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(c)(4), the mandate commences upon conviction of a predicate offense for those “under supervision in the community on probation, parole, furlough, work release, or a similar program,” N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(c)(1), or upon release from confinement, N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(c)(2). Like subsection (c), subsection (f) begins with a reference to individuals “required to register under this act,” and reuses the terms “conviction” and “release” that start the registration process under subsection (c). In doing so, the Legislature tethered the registration relief offered in subsection (f) to the same underlying sex offense that marked the starting point of the registration requirement.
The registrants’ reliance on the word “any” is misplaced. N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2 applies to a variety of sex offenses, and sentences upon conviction for Megan’s Law offenses vary from supervised release to confinement in a correctional facility. See N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(c)(1) to (2). “Any” also acknowledges that not all sentences of imprisonment will be the same and makes it clear that the fifteen-year clock will not start until release, no matter how long or short the period of imprisonment. The word thus has meaning within the context of N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2 If the statute read “within 15 years following any conviction or release,” the registrants might have a stronger argument.
“Release” from prison starts the clock because it is rare for inmates to be convicted of criminal offenses while incarcerated. While crimes occur all the time in the prison system, assaults that do not result in serious bodily injury tend to be punished with administrative sanctions as opposed to criminal charges.