On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, 03-08-00924-I.
Before Judges Coburn, Wecker and Graves.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Coburn, J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 9, 2004
The primary goal of Megan's Law, N.J.S.A. 2C:7-1 to -19, is protection of the public from the dangers of recidivism posed by sex offenders. To achieve that goal the Legislature enacted a system of registration that requires defendants to keep the police informed of where they reside by registration, re-registration, notification, and verification. We granted defendant's motion for leave to appeal to decide whether a defendant's failure to annually verify his address with the local police department with which he had registered is a crime under Megan's Law. Because we believe that Megan's Law gives fair notice that a failure to verify annually is a crime, we affirm the trial court's decision denying defendant's motion to dismiss the indictment.
The Grand Jury minutes reveal the following facts. In 1994, a judgment was entered adjudicating defendant delinquent for an aggravated sexual assault. He was placed on probation and thereafter registered under Megan's Law with the Washington Township Police Department. He later moved, apparently to another county, and in 2002, he returned to live in Washington Township. On January 29, 2002, he re-registered with the Washington Township Police Department. At that time he signed a standard form acknowledging that his next verification date was January 29, 2003. Although the form was not marked in evidence before the Grand Jury, defendant does not deny that it includes this statement:
7. I understand that I may be charged with a fourth degree crime subjecting me to 18 months in prison (Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2) if I fail to register, re-register, verify my address, or provide correct information, as required by law. Defendant failed to verify his address with the Washington Township Police Department until March 14, 2003, and did so at that time only in response to a police inquiry.
The Morris County Grand Jury indicted defendant for failure to register under N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2a, a fourth-degree crime. Defendant moved for dismissal, arguing that his conduct, a failure to verify his address one year after re-registering, is not a failure to register. He claimed that although the statute expressly makes failure to register and re-register a crime, it provides no penal consequence for a defendant's failure to annually verify his address. The State argued that under a proper construction of the statute, a failure to verify on an annual basis is a crime. The trial court agreed with the State and denied the motion to dismiss.
We begin our analysis with a description of the relevant provisions of Megan's Law, which contain four critical and interrelated requirements: registration, re-registration, notification, and verification. The central role played by all of those requirements is explained in the statute's opening section:
The Legislature finds and declares:
a. The danger of recidivism posed by sex offenders and offenders who commit other predatory acts against children, and the dangers posed by persons who prey on others as a result of mental illness, require a system of registration that will permit law enforcement officials to identify and alert the public when necessary for public safety.
b. A system of registration of seX offenders and offenders who commit other predatory acts against children will provide law enforcement with additional information critical to preventing and promptly resolving incidents involving abuse and missing persons.
[N.J.S.A. 2C:7-1 (emphasis added).]
The next subsection begins with the statement that an included defendant"shall register as provided in subsections c. and d. of this section." N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2a (emphasis added). We note that the specific references to subsections c and d are critical to defendant's argument because he claims that it is only a failure to follow the dictates of those sections that results in commission of the fourth-degree crime. But subsection N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2a(2) speaks more generally. After giving certain initial registration requirements for persons registered as sex offenders in another state, it concludes with these words:"A person who fails to register as required under this act shall be guilty of a crime of the fourth degree." Ibid. (emphasis added).
After detailing the sex offenses requiring registration, N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2b, the statute then describes the requirements for registration, indicating when, with whom, and how various categories of defendants are to register. N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2c (emphasis added). Subsection 2d then states what a defendant must do on a change of address, employment, or school enrollment by way of re-registration, if another municipality becomes involved, and notification in all instances. Because its specific language is important, we quote it in full:
Upon a change of address, a person shall notify the law enforcement agency with which the person is registered and shall re register with the appropriate law enforcement agency no less than 10 days before he intends to first reside at his new address. Upon a change of employment or school enrollment status, a person shall notify the appropriate law enforcement agency no later than five days after any such change. A person who fails to notify the appropriate law enforcement agency of a change of address or status in accordance with this subsection is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree.
[N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2d (emphasis added).]
The next subsection, the one that defendant specifically violated, concerns address ...