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Doe v. Poritz

Supreme Court of New Jersey

May 2, 1995, Argued ; July 25, 1995, Decided

A-170/171 September Term 1994


 [*12]  [**372]   

*3*Table of Contents

The Legislative Purpose: Addressing the Problem

of Repetitive Sex Offenders

The Laws and the Attorney General's Guidelines

The Challenges to the Law

Interpretation of Statute; Revision of Attorney

General's Guidelines; Judicial Review

Challenges Based on the Claim that the Laws

Constitute Punishment


Equal Protection

Administrative Procedure Act

Procedural Due Process and Fairness and Rightness


The opinion of the Court was delivered by


On October 31, 1994, a group of bills concerning sex offenders became law. They are generally referred to as "Megan's Law," named after the second female child abducted, raped, and murdered during the prior year. The question before us is whether two of those bills, the Registration and Community Notification Laws, are constitutional. L.1994, c. 133 (Registration Law, N.J.S.A. 2C:7-1 to -5) and L.1994, c. 128 (Community Notification, N.J.S.A. 2C:7-6 to -11). We hold that they are, but that the prosecutor's decision to provide community notification, including the manner of notification, is subject to judicial review before such notification is given, and that such review is constitutionally required. In most respects, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The essence of our decision [***15]  is that ] the Constitution does not prevent society from attempting to protect itself from convicted sex offenders, no matter when convicted, so long as the means of protection are reasonably designed for that purpose and only for that purpose, and not designed to punish; that the community notification provided for in these laws, given its remedial purpose, rationality, and limited scope, further assured by our opinion and  [*13]  judicial review, is not constitutionally vulnerable because of its inevitable impact on offenders; that despite the possible severity of that impact, sex offenders' loss of anonymity is no constitutional bar to society's attempt at self-defense. The Registration and Notification Laws are not retributive laws, but laws designed to give people a chance to protect themselves and their children. They do not represent the slightest departure from our State's or our country's fundamental belief that criminals, convicted and punished, have paid their debt to society and are not to be punished further. They represent only the conclusion that society has the right to know of their presence not in order to punish them, but in order to protect itself. The laws represent a conclusion [***16]  by the Legislature that those convicted [**373]  sex offenders who have successfully, or apparently successfully, been integrated into their communities, adjusted their lives so as to appear no more threatening than anyone else in the neighborhood, are entitled not to be disturbed simply because of that prior offense and conviction; but a conclusion as well, that the characteristics of some of them, and the statistical information concerning them, make it clear that despite such integration, reoffense is a realistic risk, and knowledge of their presence a realistic protection against it.

The choice the Legislature made was difficult, for at stake was the continued apparently normal lifestyle of previously-convicted sex offenders, some of whom were doing no harm and very well might never do any harm, as weighed against the potential molestation, rape, or murder by others of women and children because they simply did not know of the presence of such a person and therefore did not take the common-sense steps that might prevent such an occurrence. The Legislature chose to risk unfairness to the previously-convicted offenders rather than unfairness to the children and women who might suffer because [***17]  of their ignorance, but attempted to restrict the damage that notification of the public might do to the lives of rehabilitated offenders by trying to identify those most likely to reoffend and limiting the extent of notification based on that conclusion.

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142 N.J. 1 *; 662 A.2d 367 **; 1995 N.J. LEXIS 519 ***; 36 A.L.R.5th 711


Subsequent History: As Corrected September 29, 1995. Second Correction November 8, 1995.

Prior History:  [***1]  On certification to the Superior Court, Law Division, Burlington County, whose opinion is reported at     N.J. Super.     (1995).


notification, offender, Tier, sex offender, Guidelines, registration, punitive, factors, cases, reoffense, punish, disclosure, convicted, notice, classification, deterrent, provisions, encounter, purposes, reputation, ex post facto, constitutes, privacy, legislative intent, impose punishment, privacy interest, double jeopardy, Facto, organizations, forfeiture

Criminal Law & Procedure, Postconviction Proceedings, Sex Offenders, Challenges to Sex Offender Laws, Family Law, Family Protection & Welfare, Children, General Overview, Notification of Community & Victims, Crimes Against Persons, False Imprisonment, Governments, Legislation, Effect & Operation, Operability, Criminal Offenses, Kidnapping, Elements, Sex Crimes, Sexual Assault, Abuse of Children, Penalties, Delinquency & Dependency, Delinquency Proceedings, Local Governments, Police Power, Transportation Law, Vehicle Registration, License Plates, Issuance, Registration, Business & Corporate Law, Agency Relationships, Termination, Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Search & Seizure, Scope of Protection, Expectation of Privacy, Procedural Due Process, Double Jeopardy, Congressional Duties & Powers, Bills of Attainder & Ex Post Facto Clause, Case or Controversy, Constitutionality of Legislation, Ex Post Facto Clause, Bills of Attainder, Bill of Rights, Cruel & Unusual Punishment, Sentencing, Interpretation, Entry of Pleas, Guilty Pleas, Allocution & Colloquy, Preliminary Proceedings, Plea Bargaining Process, Breach of Plea Agreements, Substantive Due Process, Privacy, Personal Information, Courts, Court Records, Private Vehicles, Equal Protection, Nature & Scope of Protection, Judicial Review, Standards of Review, Disability, Controlled Substances, Delivery, Distribution & Sale, Administrative Law, Agency Rulemaking, Notice & Comment Requirements, State Proceedings, Formal Rulemaking, Trade Secrets Law, Civil Actions, Evidence, Trade Secret Determination Factors, Scope, Presentence Reports