Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

State ex rel. C.K.

Supreme Court of New Jersey

April 24, 2018

STATE OF NEW JERSEY IN THE INTEREST OF C.K.

          Argued September 25, 2017

          On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

          James H. Maynard argued the cause for appellant C.K. (Maynard & Sumner, attorneys; James H. Maynard, on the briefs).

          Elizabeth R. Rebein, Special Deputy Attorney General/Acting Assistant Prosecutor, argued the cause for respondent State of New Jersey (Gurbir S. Grewal, Bergen County Prosecutor, attorney; Elizabeth R. Rebein, of counsel and on the briefs).

          Fletcher C. Duddy, Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause for amicus curiae New Jersey Office of the Public Defender (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney; Fletcher C. Duddy, on the letter brief).

          Laura A. Cohen argued the cause for amici curiae American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, the Advocates for Children of New Jersey, and the Northeast Juvenile Defender Center (Rutgers University School of Law - Newark Criminal and Youth Justice Clinic and Constitutional Litigation Clinic, attorneys; Rebecca J. Livengood, on the brief).

          Louise T. Lester, Assistant Attorney General, argued the cause for amicus curiae Attorney General of New Jersey (Christopher S. Porrino, Attorney General, attorney; Louise T. Lester, of counsel and on the brief).

          Karen U. Lindell submitted a brief on behalf of amicus curiae Juvenile Law Center (Juvenile Law Center, attorneys; Karen U. Lindell, and Marsha L. Levick, of the Pennsylvania bar, admitted pro hac vice, on the brief).

         ALBIN, J., writing for the Court.

         Subsection (f) of N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2 subjects all sex offenders, including juveniles, to presumptive lifetime registration and notification requirements but allows a registrant to seek relief from those requirements fifteen years after his juvenile adjudication, provided he has been offense-free and is "not likely to pose a threat to the safety of others." Subsection (g) imposes an irrebuttable presumption that juveniles adjudicated delinquent of certain sex offenses, such as defendant C.K., are irredeemable, even when they no longer pose a public safety risk and are fully rehabilitated. In this case, the Court addresses the constitutionality of N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g) as applied to juveniles.

         When C.K. was approximately fifteen years old, he began sexually assaulting his younger adopted brother, A.K., who was then seven years old. After A.K. turned sixteen, he disclosed his older brother's abuse. The State charged C.K. with aggravated sexual assault. At the time of the charge, C.K. was twenty-three years old.

         In his plea colloquy, C.K. admitted that when he was between the ages of fifteen and seventeen, he performed oral sex on his younger brother. In 2003, C.K. was sentenced to a three-year probationary term, conditioned on his attending sex-offender treatment and having no contact with his brother unless recommended by a therapist. The court also ordered C.K. to comply with the Megan's Law requirements, N.J.S.A. 2C:7-1 to -11, -19, and barred him from working with children without the court's permission. The State classified C.K. as a Tier One offender-the lowest risk category for re-offense.

         C.K. received an undergraduate degree in psychology and a master's degree in counseling. At the time of his arrest, C.K. was a teacher's assistant for children with autism. After his juvenile adjudication, C.K. stopped working with children. By age thirty-three, C.K. had worked for many years at a nonprofit agency that provides adults suffering from mental illness a range of services. C.K. has turned down opportunities for advancement from fear that a background check might "out" his status as a Megan's Law registrant. It has now been more than twenty years since C.K. engaged in any unlawful conduct and more than fourteen years since his juvenile adjudication.

         C.K. filed a post-conviction relief (PCR) petition challenging the constitutionality of his Megan's Law requirements. A second PCR court held an evidentiary hearing. C.K. presented five expert witnesses who testified about the current body of research on juvenile sex offender recidivism. The evidentiary hearing also focused on the experts' individualized risk assessments of C.K., now thirty-eight years old, and on the negative impact the registration requirements continue to have on his ability to lead a normal life.

         The PCR court found the "evidence presented by [C.K.'s] psychologists [to be] credible and persuasive" and noted that "[t]he State did not present any evidence to the contrary." The PCR court concluded, however, that any loosening of the strictures of Megan's Law must come from the Supreme Court of New Jersey in assessing the constitutionality of the registration scheme as applied to juveniles or from the Legislature, which has the paramount role in forging public policy. A panel of the Appellate Division affirmed the denial of C.K.'s second PCR petition. The Court granted C.K.'s petition for certification "limited to the issue of the constitutionality of imposing the lifetime registration requirements of Megan's Law on juvenile offenders." 228 N.J. 238 (2016).

         HELD: N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g) is unconstitutional as applied to juveniles adjudicated delinquent as sex offenders. In the absence of subsection (g), N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f) provides the original safeguard incorporated into Megan's Law: no juvenile adjudicated delinquent will be released from his registration and notification requirements unless a Superior Court judge is persuaded that he has been offense-free and does not likely pose a societal risk after a fifteen-year look-back period.

         1. N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g) is part of the registration and community notification provisions of Megan's Law. The requirements imposed by N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g) are categorical. A juvenile, fourteen years or older, who has committed an enumerated sex offense, or multiple sex offenses, under subsection (g) cannot seek relief ever from those requirements. Subsection (g) was not part of the original legislative scheme that became Megan's Law in 1994. The Legislature enacted subsection (g) in 2002 with the intended purpose of conforming our State registration and notification scheme to federal law. In 2006, Congress passed a new law, under which C.K. would be classified as a Tier III offender. Unlike N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g), that law has no permanent lifetime registration provision for juveniles. 34 U.S.C. § 20915(a)(3) to (b). (pp. 18-25)

         2. Before the passage of subsection (g) of N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2 in 2002, subsection (f) governed the termination of registration requirements for all adult and juvenile sex offenders. Subsection (f) was part of the original Megan's Law registration and notification requirements, which the Court declared constitutional in Doe v. Poritz, 142 N.J. 1, 12 (1995). In In re Registrant J.G., 169 N.J. 304 (2001), the Court held that for juveniles under the age of fourteen the "registration and community notification orders shall terminate at age eighteen, " provided the juvenile can establish in the Law Division by "clear and convincing evidence that [he] is not likely to pose a threat to the safety of others." Id. at 337. Neither Doe nor J.G. addressed whether permanent lifetime registration and notification requirements imposed on a juvenile would violate our State Constitution. (pp. 25-30)

         3. Laws and jurisprudence recognize that juveniles are different from adults. The United States Supreme Court declared unconstitutional legal regimes that imposed capital punishment on juvenile offenders, Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 568-70 (2005); life without parole on juveniles convicted of non-homicide offenses, Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 82 (2010); and mandatory life without parole on juveniles convicted of homicide offenses, Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 489 (2012). The Court grounded its decisions on scientific and sociological notions. In the wake of Roper, Graham, and Miller, this Court held in State v. Zuber that sentencing judges must consider "the mitigating qualities of youth" and "exercise a heightened level of care before they impose multiple consecutive sentences on juveniles which would result in lengthy jail terms." 227 N.J. 422, 429-30 (2017). In In re C.P., the Ohio Supreme Court declared an Ohio statute that subjected certain juvenile offenders to automatic and mandatory lifetime sex-offender registration requirements-with the potential for reclassification after twenty-five years-violative of the Federal and Ohio Constitutions. 967 N.E.2d 729, 732, 737 (Ohio 2012). Similarly, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared that a statute imposing lifetime registration requirements on sexually violent juvenile offenders violated its state constitution. In re J.B., 107 A.3d 1, 2, 10, 14-16 (Pa. 2014). (pp. 31-39)

         4. Since the passage of N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g) in 2002, scientific and sociological studies have shined new light on adolescent brain development and on the recidivism rates of juvenile sex offenders compared to adult offenders. Our commonsense and historical understanding that children are different from adults is enshrined in our juvenile justice system and fortified by recent United States Supreme Court decisions and Zuber, which embraced those studies that found that juveniles do not possess immutable psychological or behavioral characteristics. That body of jurisprudence and the evidentiary record in this case tell us that adolescents are works in progress and that age tempers the impetuosity, immaturity, and shortsightedness of youth. They tell us that, generally, juvenile sex offenders are less likely to reoffend than adult sex offenders and that the likelihood of recidivism is particularly low for those who have not reoffended for a long period of time. Subsection (g), as applied to juveniles, no longer bears a rational relationship to a legitimate state purpose and arbitrarily denies those individuals their right to liberty and enjoyment of happiness guaranteed by Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution. C.K.'s case in many ways exemplifies why. Solely because of the nature of the offense he committed as a juvenile, C.K. is presumed under subsection (g) to be a permanent, lifetime risk to the safety of the public. That irrebuttable presumption is not supported by scientific or sociological studies, our jurisprudence, or the record in this case. (pp. 39-46)

         5. Under subsection (f) of N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2, fifteen years from the date of his juvenile adjudication, C.K. will be eligible to seek the lifting of his registration requirements. At that time, he must be given the opportunity to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that he has not reoffended and no longer poses a threat to others and therefore has a right to be relieved of his Megan's Law obligations and his status as a registrant. (pp. 46-47)

          CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER and JUSTICES LaVECCHIA, PATTERSON, FERNANDEZ-VINA, SOLOMON, and TIMPONE join in JUSTICE ALBIN's opinion.

          ALBIN JUSTICE

         Juveniles adjudicated delinquent of certain sex offenses are barred for life from seeking relief from the registration and community notification provisions of Megan's Law. N.J.S.A. 2C:7-1 to -11, -19; N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g). That categorical lifetime bar cannot be lifted, even when the juvenile becomes an adult and poses no public safety risk, is fully rehabilitated, and is a fully productive member of society. Defendant C.K. was adjudicated delinquent for sex offenses committed more than two decades ago and now challenges the constitutionality of N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g)'s permanent lifetime registration and notification requirements as applied to juveniles.

         Subsection (f) of N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2 subjects all sex offenders, including juveniles, to presumptive lifetime registration and notification requirements. Unlike subsection (g), however, subsection (f) allows a registrant to seek relief from those requirements fifteen years after his juvenile adjudication, provided he has been offense-free and is "not likely to pose a threat to the safety of others." Subsection (g) imposes an irrebuttable presumption that juveniles, such as defendant, are irredeemable, even when they no longer pose a public safety risk and are fully rehabilitated.

         The record in this case reveals what is commonly known about juveniles -- that their emotional, mental, and judgmental capacities are still developing and that their immaturity makes them more susceptible to act impulsively and rashly without consideration of the long-term consequences of their conduct. See State v. Zuber, 227 N.J. 422 (2017). The record also supports the conclusion that juveniles adjudicated delinquent of committing sex offenses, such as C.K., who have been offense-free for many years and assessed not likely to reoffend, pose little risk to the public. Indeed, categorical lifetime notification and registration requirements may impede a juvenile's rehabilitative efforts and stunt his ability to become a healthy and integrated adult member of society.

         We conclude that subsection (g)'s lifetime registration and notification requirements as applied to juveniles violate the substantive due process guarantee of Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution. Permanently barring juveniles who have committed certain sex offenses from petitioning for relief from the Megan's Law requirements bears no rational relationship to a legitimate governmental objective. In the absence of subsection (g), N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f) provides the original safeguard incorporated into Megan's Law: no juvenile adjudicated delinquent will be released from his registration and notification requirements unless a Superior Court judge is persuaded that he has been offense-free and does not likely pose a societal risk after a fifteen-year look-back period.

         Defendant may apply for termination from the Megan's Law requirements fifteen years from the date of his juvenile adjudication, and be relieved of those requirements provided he meets the standards set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f).

         I.

         A.

         We begin with the juvenile offenses that triggered the registration and notification requirements in this case. When C.K. was approximately fifteen years old, he began sexually assaulting his younger adopted brother, A.K., who was then seven years old. After A.K. turned sixteen, he disclosed his older brother's abuse to his priest and then to the police.

         The State charged C.K. with committing, while he was a juvenile, the offense of aggravated sexual assault against his adopted brother. At the time of the charge, C.K. was twenty-three years old.

         The State moved to waive C.K. to the Criminal Part, Law Division, for trial as an adult. The State withdrew its waiver motion after C.K. agreed to plead guilty to the aggravated sexual assault charge in juvenile court. In his plea colloquy, C.K. admitted that when he was between the ages of fifteen and seventeen, he performed oral sex on his younger brother. In 2003, C.K. was sentenced to a three-year probationary term, conditioned on his attending sex-offender treatment and having no contact with his brother unless recommended by a therapist. The court also ordered C.K. to comply with the Megan's Law requirements and barred him from working with children without the court's permission.

         The State classified C.K. as a Tier One offender -- the lowest risk category for re-offense. See N.J.S.A. 2C:7-8(c)(1). As a Tier One offender, C.K. is required to register annually with the law enforcement agency in the municipality where he resides. See N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2; Attorney General Guidelines for Law Enforcement for the Implementation of Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Laws 9 (rev'd Feb. 2007) [hereinafter Attorney General Guidelines].

         In the years after turning eighteen, C.K. received an undergraduate degree in psychology from Catholic University and a master's degree in counseling from Montclair State University. At the time of his arrest, C.K. was a teacher's assistant for children with autism. After his juvenile adjudication, C.K. stopped working with children. By age thirty-three, C.K. had worked for many years at a nonprofit agency that provides adults suffering from mental illness a range of services, such as securing psychiatric treatment and affordable housing. C.K. has turned down opportunities for professional advancement from fear that a background check might "out" his status as a Megan's Law registrant. It has now been more than twenty years since C.K. engaged in any unlawful conduct and more than fourteen years since his juvenile adjudication.

         B.

         In 2008, five years after his juvenile adjudication, C.K. filed his first petition for post-conviction relief (PCR), seeking, among other things, a judicial declaration that the Megan's Law lifetime registration and notification requirements violated his constitutional rights. The PCR court denied the petition in its entirety. The Appellate Division affirmed the denial of C.K.'s petition, suggesting that an evidentiary record would be necessary to support his constitutional arguments.

         In November 2012, C.K. filed his second PCR petition, alleging that his earlier PCR counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to properly challenge the constitutionality of his Megan's Law requirements. The second PCR court held an evidentiary hearing. C.K. presented five expert witnesses who testified about the current body of research on juvenile sex offender recidivism. C.K. also offered psychological assessments about his mental, emotional, and career development during his adult life. The State cross-examined C.K.'s witnesses but offered no rebuttal testimony or expert reports. The following summarizes the record before us.[1]

         At the evidentiary hearing, C.K. called Dr. Jackson Tay Bosley, Dr. Sean Hiscox, Dr. Robert Prentky, and Dr. James Reynolds, clinical psychologists with expertise in the treatment and rehabilitation of both juvenile and adult sex offenders. Dr. Hiscox was additionally qualified as an expert in the risk assessment of adult and juvenile offenders. Nicole Pittman, Esq., testified about the effects of placing juvenile offenders on registries based on her nationwide research on the subject.

         All of the expert witnesses asserted that juvenile sex offenders are more amenable to rehabilitation and less likely to reoffend than adult sex offenders. They stressed that juvenile offenders, because of their lack of maturity and delayed social and emotional development, are fundamentally different from adult offenders.

         The experts pointed to multiple studies confirming that juveniles who commit sex offenses are more likely to act impulsively and be motivated by sexual curiosity, in contrast to adult sex offenders who are commonly aroused by deviant sexual behavior or engage in predatory or psychopathic conduct. See Elizabeth J. Letourneau & Michael H. Miner, Juvenile Sex Offenders: A Case Against the Legal and Clinical Status Quo, 17 Sexual Abuse: J. Res. & Treatment 293, 297-99 (2005); Human Rights Watch, Raised on the Registry: The Irreparable Harm of Placing Children on Sex Offender Registries in the U.S. 27-29 (2013) [hereinafter Human Rights Watch, Raised on the Registry]. Dr. Hiscox explained that "adolescent sex offense recidivism rates are relatively low" when compared "with higher sex offense recidivism rates of individuals who commit sex offenses as adults." Dr. Bosley and other experts also noted that previous assumptions about high rates of juvenile sex offender recidivism as adults are inaccurate.

         One recent study -- cited by all five expert witnesses --analyzed sixty-three data sets with information about more than 11, 200 juvenile sex offenders. The study averaged the data sets, some of which followed juvenile sex offenders for less than five years and others for more than five years, and concluded that the overall juvenile sex re-offense rate was seven percent. Michael F. Caldwell, Study Characteristics and Recidivism Base Rates in Juvenile Sex Offender Recidivism, 54 Int'l J. Offender Therapy & Comp. Criminology 197, 201-03 (2010).

         According to a report of psychologist Dr. Philip Witt, the recidivism rate for those falling into C.K.'s risk assessment category is 1.1% over a two-year period and 2.0% over a four-year period. In that report, he indicated that "a sibling incest offender whose offense [was] in his early to mid-teens has little bearing on his risk" many years later.

         None of the risk assessment statistics accounted for a juvenile sex offender who had been offense-free for a period of fifteen or more years since his adjudication. The experts, however, explained that juvenile sex offenders who commit subsequent sex offenses generally do so within the first few years following their last offense. See, e.g., James R. Worling et al., 20-Year Prospective Follow-Up Study of Specialized Treatment for Adolescents Who Offended Sexually, 28 Behav. Sci. & L. 54 (2010) ("[M]ost sexual and nonsexual recidivism occurs in the first few years after adolescents are initially ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.