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State v. S.R.

December 12, 2002

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
S.R., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

In this appeal, the Court must decide whether a defendant's failure to pay a $60 Violent Crimes Compensation Board (VCCB) assessment prior to the effective date of Megan's Law, but after he was discharged from probation, constitutes an "other form of community supervision" requiring that he register as a sex offender.

S.R. pled guilty to two counts of fourth-degree sexual contact involving child victims in 1991. On July 26, 1991, he was sentenced to concurrent probationary terms of three years. When Megan's Law became effective on October 31, 1994, all of the terms and conditions of S.R.'s probationary sentence had been met, except for the payment of a $60 VCCB penalty. S.R. was discharged from probation on May 27, 1994, but the probation department was required to collect the VCCB penalty. Because the $60 assessment had not been paid within a year after S.R.'s discharge from probation, contempt charges were instituted. The contempt proceedings were adjourned until October 16, 1995, at which time the Morris County Probation Department noted in its records that S.R. was "discharged completely" and his "financial obligations fulfilled."

In April 1999, S.R. was indicted for failure to register under Megan's Law, N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2b. That statute requires registration by offenders who, among other things, have been convicted of sex offenses or other predatory acts against minors and are "serving a sentence of incarceration, probation, parole or other form of community supervision as a result of the offense . . . on the effective date of this act." N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2b(2). S.R. pled guilty to failing to register. Prior to sentencing, however, S.R. moved to vacate his plea and to dismiss the indictment. S.R. argued that he was not subject to the registration requirement because he had been discharged from probation on May 27, 1994, and, thus, was not serving a sentence on the effective date of Megan's Law. The State, on the other hand, argued that when Megan's Law became effective, S.R. was still under a "form of community supervision" because he had not paid his VCCB penalty.

The trial court denied S.R.'s application to withdraw the guilty plea. It sentenced S.R. to a two-year probationary term and imposed the requisite fines and penalties. The Appellate Division affirmed in an unpublished opinion. The Appellate Division reasoned that Megan's Law is a remedial statute that should be broadly interpreted to advance the purpose of protecting the community from the dangers of recidivism by sexual offenders. The Appellate Division concluded that the Legislature intended "other form of community service" to encompass all sentencing provisions beyond incarceration, and that the VCCB penalty was clearly a part of the criminal sentence.

The Supreme Court granted S.R.'s petition for certification.

HELD: S.R. was not subject to the registration provisions of Megan's Law. His failure to pay the VCCB penalty did not mean he was serving "some other form of community supervision." The Legislature intended that phrase to mean some kind of critical monitoring by parole or probation authorities beyond merely acting as a collection agency.

1. The pertinent language of Megan's Law identifies four types of adult sentencing dispositions covered by Megan's Law - incarceration, probation, parole, and "other form of community supervision." The dispositions covered by the final category are those where the sentence has been suspended and the person is supervised pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:43-2b(5) (community supervision or community-related service with supervision) and -2b(6) (placement in a halfway house or residential facility). Probation places the defendant under the supervision of the County Probation Office and normally carries a requirement to report to that office periodically. Suspension ordinarily does not involve such supervision. Because Megan's Law specifically refers to probation, an authorized sentencing disposition, a probationary sentence ordinarily would not be an "other form of community supervision." By operation of law, when S.R.'s three-year probationary term ended on May 27, 1994, by order of the court, or on July 25, 1994, at the end of three years, S.R. satisfied his sentence except for the payment of the VCCB penalty. S.R.'s probationary sentence ended before Megan's Law became effective on October 31, 1994. (pp.6-10)

2. If a statute is clear and unambiguous on its face and admits of only one interpretation, a court need look no further to determine the Legislature's intent. The court finds that the disputed language of Megan's Law is clear and unambiguous. Since the Legislature did not attach any special meaning to the word "supervision," it should be given its ordinary definition - "a critical watching and directing." Although the Legislature surely intended the collection of VCCB penalties to be enforced seriously, it does not require the same type of strict supervision associated with the probation or parole of a defendant. Because S.R. failed to pay the VCCB penalty, he was held in contempt of court and ordered to pay. That remedy was completely unrelated to the probation he served for the Megan's Law offense. Moreover, as opposed to a violation of probation or parole, the failure to pay the penalty was no reflection of S.R.'s tendency to commit another Megan's Law offense. (pp. 10-13)

3. Other provisions of Megan's Law and the Criminal Code provide further support for the conclusion that the Legislature intended the phrase "other form of community supervision" to involve a form of critical monitoring by community or probation authorities. Federal law addressing the issue has reached a similar conclusion, also distinguishing supervised release from the payment of a fine. Such critical monitoring also is reflected in the statutes of other states permitting non-custodial supervision. (pp. 13-19)

4. The Court agrees with the trial court and the Appellate Division that Megan's Law should be construed broadly to achieve its goal of protecting the public, but finds that interpreting the language "other form of community supervision" to include the collection of unpaid VCCB penalties does not further that goal. Under the Appellate Division's decision, a marginal sex offender without the financial resources to pay the VCCB penalty would be required to register, while a more egregious sex offender who had the financial wherewithal to have paid the penalty would not. Such a distinction is intolerable. (pp. 19-20)

The judgment of the Appellate Division is REVERSED, and the matter is REMANDED to the Law Division to dismiss the indictment and to remove S.R.'s name from the list of Megan's Law registrants.

JUSTICES LONG, LaVECCHIA, ZAZZALI, and ALBIN join in JUSTICE COLEMAN's opinion. CHIEF JUSTICE PORITZ and JUSTICE VERNIERO did not participate.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Coleman, J.

Argued October 22, 2002

In this appeal we must decide whether a defendant's failure to pay a $60 Violent Crimes Compensation Board (VCCB) assessment prior to the effective date of Megan's Law, but after he was discharged from probation, constitutes an "other form of community supervision" requiring that he register as a sex offender pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2b(2). To answer that question, we must interpret the meaning of the phrase "other form of community supervision" as used in N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2b(2). The Appellate Division concluded that "the Legislature intended 'other form of community supervision' to [include] . . . [t]he payment of the VCCB penalty." We disagree and reverse. We hold that the Legislature intended the phrase "other form of community supervision" to ...


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