Incest Exception Cited in Reversal for Sex Offender

     TRENTON, N.J. (CN) – A 19-year-old indicted for sexually assaulting his half-sister several times when he was a juvenile should be treated as if he molested her only once, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled today.
     Identifying the offender by his initials, the court said N.B. was indicted in 2011 on several counts of first- and second-degree sexual assault, as well as endangering the welfare of a child.
     N.B. eventually pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault with a child less than 13 years old, and admitted he had molested his half-sister when they were living together.
     Though indicted at age 19, N.B. was a minor at the time of the molestation. Facing mandatory registration with local police, N.B. also received a three-year suspended sentence.
     Convicted sex offenders are classified under a three-tier system, and the court later classified N.B. as a Tier-2 offender, which is defined as a “moderate risk of re-offense.” Tier 1 offenders are considered low risk, while Tier 3 offenders are considered high risk.
     In New Jersey, Megan’s Law requires certain Tier-2 offenders to publicly register unless they fall under the “sole sex offenses” exemption.
     A series of amendments to state registry law in 2004 clarified the “sole sex offense” definition to mean a single sex act involving a single victim resulting in a single conviction.
     The amendments also specified that exclusionary offenses involve “members of no more than a single household,” essentially covering most sex offenses involving incest.
     A 2014 report on Megan’s Law implementation by the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts notes that the incest exception was the most frequently raised objection by defense attorneys in cases involving child molesters.
     During N.B.’s trial, prosecutors sought to keep the incest exclusion off the table by noting that he had assaulted his sister over several years.
     Prosecutors also pointed to allegations that N.B. made a sexual comment to one of his half-sister’s friends.
     The trial court had agreed, and so did New Jersey’s appellate court, ruling that nearby schools and community organizations be notified.
     The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed today, however, based on the “sole sex offense” definition in a 2004 law.
     N.B.’s registration may still become public, the ruling notes.
     “The legislature intended the household/incest exception to apply … [but] even if one of the exceptions [to the New Jersey statute] applies to a given offender, that offender’s registration record may nonetheless be made available to the public through the Internet if certain statutory requirements are met,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote for the court.
     Citing the 2004 amendments, Rabner wrote that N.B. should be included in the Megan’s Law public registry if the trial court finds the sexual assaults were “characterized by a pattern of repetitive, compulsive behavior” and that N.B.’s comments to the half-sister’s friend could be indicative of a greater risk to the public than another offender included in the incest exclusion.
     Megan’s Law was passed in 1996 by New Jersey after seven-year-old Megan Kanka was led into tall weeds in a nearby park by a twice-convicted pedophile in her Hamilton, N.J., neighborhood. She was then raped and murdered. Variations of the law have since passed in other states, most of which include a public online registry.

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