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Assembly Grants Approval to DeAngelo & Benson Bill to Toughen Penalties Under Megan’s Law & Bolster Surveillance & Monitoring of Sex Offenders

Megan’s Law Requires the Registration of Sex Offenders and Notification to the Community of Their Whereabouts

The Assembly granted approval 78-0-1 to a bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats Wayne DeAngelo and Daniel R. Benson (both D-Mercer/Middlesex) to revise Megan’s Law to toughen penalties for offenders and provide law enforcement with advanced technology and training.

“This bill tweaks Megan’s Law to help prevent innocent children from becoming victims,” said DeAngelo. “Measures like ensuring that parole officers are not overwhelmed by large case loads and creating penalties that can help fund initiatives to aid in the surveillance of these offenders will all help ensure that these perpetrators do not become repeat offenders at the expense of our children.”

“The purpose of this bill is to supplement the protections already provided under Megan’s Law,” said Benson. “The bill toughens the penalty for offenders targeting children who are especially vulnerable because of a mental or physical disability. It also charges a monthly fee to convicted offenders to help fund greater resources and training for enforcement, further protecting children from these predators.”

The bill (A-3886) implements a monetary penalty to be paid by convicted sex offenders to provide monies to the State Parole Board for additional parole officers and programs to monitor sex offenders.

It upgrades the crime of sexual assault, which constitutes a crime of the second degree if the victim is physically or intellectually incapacitated. In these cases, the offense would be upgraded to aggravated sexual assault, a crime of the first degree.

Under the provisions, a person who violates a condition of a special sentence of community supervision for life would be sentenced to a special sentence of parole supervision for life.

Sentencing the offender to parole supervision for life permits any violations of the special sentence to be treated as a parole violation. Under current law, first offenders are sentenced to parole supervision for life, as the special sentence of community supervision for life was repealed and replaced by parole supervision for life. The bill also upgrades a violation of a special sentence of community or parole suspension for life from a crime of the fourth degree to a crime of the third degree.

The bill upgrades the penalty for failure to register a new address with the appropriate law enforcement agency when a sex offender moves to another residence. Under current law this is a crime of the fourth degree; under the provisions of the bill it is a crime of the third degree.

The bill also requires sex offenders who currently are required to periodically verify their address to also submit any other information required by the Attorney General, such as information on co-habitants, occupation, length of employment, whether they are in therapy, and whether they have Internet access.

The bill further provides that a young person who has been adjudicated delinquent for an offense that would constitute “sexting” would not be required to register as a sex offender. For purposes of Megan’s Law, the bill specifies that a sex offense would not include any offense in which: (1) the facts of the case are limited to the creation, exhibition or distribution of a photograph involving nudity through the use of an electronic communication device, an interactive wireless communications device, or a computer; (2) the creator and subject of the photograph were juveniles at the time of its making; and (3) the subject of the photograph whose nudity is depicted knowingly consented to the making of the photograph.

The bill also requires the registration information of all sex offenders whose conduct has been characterized by a pattern of repetitive, compulsive behavior to be published on the Internet registry. Under current law, the registration information of all Tier Two offenders (moderate risk to re-offend) who do not fit within the statutory exceptions and Tier Three offenders (high risk to re-offend) is published on the Internet registry regardless of the offender’s tier. The registration information of Tier One offenders (low risk to re-offend) is not published on the Internet registry.

This bill requires an offender whose conduct was found to be repetitive and compulsive to appear on the Internet registry. The bill prohibits a sex offender who is at moderate risk to reoffend but found to be compulsive and repetitive from invoking one of the statutory exceptions to keep his registration information from being published on the Internet.

The bill also imposes additional requirements on the State Parole Board to improve the board’s supervision and monitoring of sex offenders. A monthly penalty of $30 would be imposed on every person convicted of or adjudicated delinquent for a sex offense to fund these initiatives.

The bill specifies that sex offenders whose income does not exceed 100 percent of the federal poverty level would be required to pay 50 percent of the monthly penalty and sex offenders whose income does not exceed 149 percent of the federal poverty level would be required to pay 75 percent of the monthly penalty.

The bill provides that the moneys from the monthly penalty would be forwarded to the Department of the Treasury to be deposited in a nonlapsing, revolving fund to be known as the “Sex Offender Supervision Fund.” Monies deposited into the fund are to be used for operational expenses incurred by the board in supervising sex offenders.

Moneys in the fund also would be appropriated by the Legislature to the State Parole Board on an annual basis for the development of a program utilizing computers and other technology for parole officers who supervise sex offenders in order to detect crimes or violations of conditions of parole..

Parole officers who participate in the program would receive instruction in: conducting investigations to determine if supervised sex offenders have illegally used computers, telecommunications devices and other high technology instruments, or have used these instruments to commit unlawful or criminal acts; forensic recovery, evidence preservation and analysis of data in computer systems seized because of possible criminal activity; monitoring the use of interactive computer services by supervised sex offenders, especially those who are suspected of contacting minors for sexual activity; and cooperation with other law enforcement agencies to coordinate efforts in investigating and prosecuting unlawful computer activity by supervised sex offenders.

The bill also amends the statutes concerning the collection and priority of criminal fines, assessments, and penalties to reference the new penalty created in the bill.