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NJ Supreme Court Slams Door on Individual Towns' Sex Offender Residency Limits

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By Javier Lavagnino, Esq. on May 07, 2009 3:09 PM

New Jersey's high court has shot down two N.J. towns' ordinances which placed limits on where certain sex offenders can live, reports the AP. The decision addresses sex offender residency laws passed by the New Jersey towns of Galloway and Cherry Hill, but as will be discussed below, could have a far more wide-reaching impact.

For a little background about these laws and the case, Galloway's sex offender residency laws prohibited certain sex offenders whose victims were children from "living within 2500 feet of any school, park, playground, or daycare center" in the city. Upon getting notice from the city, a sex offender would have 60 days to move or risk getting fined and/or imprisoned. In one town, a 20-year-old college freshman who was convicted of a sex offense when he was 15 years old (the girl was 13) challenged the law after he was told to move more than 2500 feet away from campus.

New Jersey's high court didn't really give a whole lot of its own explanation in the ruling, and instead used the reasoning of the appeals court below in finding that the towns' ordinances conflicted with New Jersey's Megan's Law (which requires authorities to disclose certain sex offender information to the public). But it's probably fair to wonder, how could restrictions on sex offenders conflict with the very law trying to inform the public about sex offenders?

The main reason, as explained by the court of appeals in the case, is that the Megan's law basically prohibits using information disclosed under it to deny someone housing or accomodations. As suggested previously , this ruling could also affect far more than just the two towns at issue in this case. The appeals court itself indicated that "more than 100 municipalities in New Jersey have recently adopted similar ordinances". Some of the other cities' laws covered even more territory, adding in other locales such as "school bus stops, libraries, convenience stores, sporting facilities, and the like."

The court also explained that state law controlled in these cases also because allowing individual towns to make their own rules about residency would essentially allow for "mischievous" results, such as towns entirely banishing offenders. Further, offenders would find it very difficult to know with any certainty where they can live in a state, and might be pushed to crime once again by making it hard for them to live near family and/or work. Of course, on the other hand, communities and families concerned with safety, particularly where kids are concerned, might disagree.

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