NJ Case Raises Questions About Meghan's Laws


The appellate judges acknowledged that the consequences of their ruling, would be extreme for the two. "We are keenly aware that our decision may have profound lifelong ramifications for these two boys as well as others similarly situated," Judge Jose Fuentes wrote.

But the panel claimed they were duty bound by law to rule as they did. "Although we are not unsympathetic to the arguments criticizing the application of the lifelong registration requirements in Megan's Law to 14-year-old offenders," they said, "we are bound to uphold such application because that outcome is mandated by the Legislature."

Furlong, who wrote Megan's law guide "Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification: A Megan's Law Sourcebook," says once you plead guilty or are found guilty of a criminal sexual act there's not much you can do to avoid Megan's law. "Megan's law is agnostic," he explains, "you plead guilty to an enumerated offense, you shall register." At this stage he says the only solution for the teens is to attack the integrity of the evidence that found them guilty.

The case serves to highlight aspects of Megan's law which many believe when applied to juveniles have glaring flaws. Asked if the language of the legislature means that in theory a 12-year-old can be prosecuted under Megan's law for pulling down a classmate's pants in front of other kids, for example, Furlong says yes, indeed it does.

Siblings 'Flashed' Each Other

Leah DuBuc was convicted of criminal sexual conduct age 12 after she and her 2 stepbrothers, 8 and 5, 'flashed' each other and simulated sex while clothed. She told a court she engaged in sexual conduct with her brothers, but later said she had lied about that part in order to "get away" from her stepmother.

DuBuc, who's still on Megan's list, told USA Today that, years after she was first put on the list, it's still overshadowing her life. Dubuc claimed she suffered social persecution at college, was turned down for jobs and internships, and was unable to attend half-siblings' school events because of her conviction. She said although since that time she's worked teaching English abroad and volunteered at a homeless shelter – she can't escape her stigma. "It was stupid child's play," she said, "and now I'm on the list until I'm 37."

The issues with Megan's law are particularly acute because the language of the law defines so many acts as criminal sexual behavior, and requires that legislators do the same. The effect of the law is sometimes to lump juveniles who have committed fairly minor crimes in with the same boat as dangerous pedophiles, which many believe can be irrevocably damaging.

After being placed on Michigan's sex offender registry age 17 for having sex with a fellow student, Justin Fawcett believed he'd never again have a job or a girlfriend, owing to the stigma of being publicly registered under Megan's Law. Although his family reassured him Michigan would change the law and allow his name to be removed from the registry, by the time this did in fact happen – Justin had overdosed at age 20.

Furlong says this case is only one of many he's seen follow the same path. "I've had to deal the the suicide of 3 clients," he says. "I had a case recently of a guy who drank himself to death after pleading guilty at 17 years old for a Megan's law offense that a subsequent marijuana possession felony meant he could never overturn. So have I seen the consequences? Yes."

Indeed not only do detractors believe Megan's Law can be harmful to juveniles, but some evidence suggests Megan's Law has also been unsuccessful at preventing sex crimes. A 2009 study by independent psychologists for the New Jersey department of corrections policy and planning, found that Megan's law in that state "has no demonstrable effect in reducing sexual re-offenses."

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