An appellate court in New Jersey has ruled that the state government cannot retroactively apply a new law that requires life-time registration to registrants who had the possibility of relief from that registration at the time they pled guity. According to the Court, the restroactive application of the new law would be “manifestly unfair” to registrants.
“Although the New Jersey court based its decision on the intent of the state legislature and not on the ex post facto clause of the U.S. Constitution, it reached the right decision when it protected registrants from the application of laws passed many years after their conviction,” stated ACSOL Executive Director Janice Bellucci.
The registrants in the case met the requirement for relief from lifetime registration under the prior law because they were offense free for at least 15 years. In addition, trial courts had found that both registrants “no longer pose a threat to the safety of others.”
In its decision, the Court acknowledged that the requirement to register for life places registrants in danger, including both potential criminal liability (for failure to register) and public opprobrium (shame or scorn). This in turn, “eliminates an incentive integral to Megan’s Law remedial purpose.”
The Court also noted that two state courts — Maine and New Hampshire — have determined that the retroactive application of a lifetime registration requirement violated their state constitutions. The decision includes a discussion of SORNA registration requirements and how New Jersey laws fail to comply with that federal law and therefore is not eligible for federal funding related to those requirements.