Bill in Response to Sexual Misconduct on Bergen County School Trip to Germany
(TRENTON) – A bill expanding New Jersey’s jurisdiction to prosecute crimes of child endangerment occurring outside of the state — sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gordon Johnson, Gary Schaer, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Joann Downey– cleared the full Assembly 78-0 Thursday. The bill will now go to the Senate for further review.
The legislation was prompted by the state Supreme Court case of State v. Sumulikoski, which determined that New Jersey courts do not have jurisdiction to prosecute school officials from Bergen County who were chaperones on a school trip to Germany where they allegedly engaged in sexual conduct with students.
“As a state, we have a responsibility to ensure that adults who assume the responsibility of caring for a child from New Jersey are held accountable,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “This bill would make sure they are subject to prosecution if unlawful sexual conduct occurs, regardless of where this conduct took place.”
The bill (A-1013) would expand the state’s jurisdiction to prosecute crimes concerning endangering the welfare of a child in situations where a person having a legal duty or the assumed responsibility for the care of a child in New Jersey engages in sexual conduct with that child in a jurisdiction other than New Jersey.
In addition, the bill is intended to be consistent with the provisions of other state statutes concerning territorial jurisdiction in criminal cases. The statute provides that a person may be convicted in New Jersey if “the offense is based on a statute of this state which expressly prohibits conduct outside of the state, when the conduct bears a reasonable relation to an interest of this state.”
“Changing the language of this statute will make it clear that endangering the welfare of a child applies to sexual conduct that takes place within and outside of New Jersey under these circumstances,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). “There should be no ambiguity about this.”
“If we send our children on a class trip, we want to know that the adults who assume responsibility for their care will be held accountable for their safety and well-being,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “This change will essentially empower New Jersey to protect its children better.”
“There is no question that chaperones engaging in sexual conduct with students whom they are charged with protecting is patently wrong. To allow individuals who violate a trust and endanger our children to walk free because the state’s hands are tied is unacceptable,” Downey (D-Monmouth). “This bill will ensure this jurisdictional shield from prosecution does not occur again.”
Current state statute (N.J.S.2C:24-4) makes it a crime of the second degree if a person with the legal duty for the care of the child or someone who has assumed responsibility for the care of the child “engages in sexual conduct which would impair or debauch the morals of a child.” A crime of the second degree is punishable by a term of imprisonment of five to 10 years, a fine of $150,000 or both.
The Assembly Judiciary Committee approved the bill September 17.