A federal judge Tuesday ruled unconstitutional New Jersey’s “Megan’s Law” requirement that law enforcement authorities notify the public when a convicted sex offender is released into a community.
U.S. District Judge Nicholas H. Politan said the law amounts to additional punishment for released sex offenders. However, he said the requirement that offenders register with authorities is constitutional.
Megan’s Law was enacted Oct. 31 in response to the killing of 7-yearold Megan Kanka, allegedly by a sex offender who lived across the street from her home in Hamilton Township.
The ruling came in the case of 49-year-old Alexander A. Artway. He was convicted in 1965 of statutory rape and was found guilty in 1969 of sodomizing a 21-year-old woman.
Artway said the requirements that he register with local police and that authorities notify the public of his presence constitute additional punishment and violate constitutional guarantees of privacy and due process.
It isn’t likely the decision will have an effect on Washington’s sex offender registration laws, officials with the state attorney general’s office said Tuesday.
Law enforcement officers are not required to notify the public when a sex offender is released, but are allowed to if they feel the public’s safety is threatened, said Greg Canova, a senior assistant attorney in charge of the state’s criminal division.
Two registered sex offenders challenged Washington’s law last March and the state’s Supreme Court upheld it as constitutional, he said.
“Our judges have spoken and they disagree with the federal court judge in New Jersey,” Canova said. “My guess, though, is that the Supreme Court will rule on this some day.”
Washington is one of five states that have laws addressing the public’s notification of released sex offenders.
In his ruling, Judge Politan questioned whether public notification is akin to branding or the Nazi practice of making Jews wear a Star of David.
New Jersey Attorney General Deborah T. Poritz responded that the yellow star was imposed on innocent people, and said that Artway’s right to privacy ended when he committed his offenses. She said the law is not additional punishment even though it might carry “unpleasant consequences” and stigma.
Several sex offenders are challenging the law in federal and state courts. And in a case brought by an anonymous offender, a New Jersey state judge last week required hearings before police can warn a community that an offender lives there.
The state of New Jersey has asked county prosecutors, who are responsible for classifying offenders and notifying the community, to refrain from carrying out any notifications pending its appeal of that ruling.
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