When can I get off of New Jersey’s Community Supervision for Life (“CSL”) Law?
When does the 15 year time period clock start to run for CSL Law in New Jersey?
Is CSL different than Megan’s law?
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
J.M. and H.D. were convicted of sex offenses, see N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(b), in 1994 and 1998 respectively, and sentenced to periods of probation. Pursuant to the provisions of Megan’s Law, N.J.S.A. 2C:7-1 to 11, both were sentenced to community supervision for life (CSL) as required by N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6.4(a), the Violent Predator Incapacitation Act (VPIA), “enacted as a ‘component’ of Megan’s Law at the time of its passage in 1994.” In re G.H., 455 N.J. Super. 515, 524 (App. Div. 2018) (quoting State v. Schubert, 212 N.J. 295, 305 (2012)).1 J.M. and H.D. also registered as sex offenders pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(a) and (c).
H.D. sought the same relief in 2017, and additionally moved to terminate CSL pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6.4(c), which states: [A] judge may grant a petition for release from a special sentence of [community] supervision for life only upon proof by clear and convincing evidence that the person has not committed a crime for [fifteen] years since the last conviction or release from incarceration, whichever is later, and that the person is not likely to pose a threat to the safety of others if released from [community] supervision.
In 2001, J.M. was convicted of computer-related theft, N.J.S.A. 2C:20- 29, a disorderly persons offense, and sentenced to one year of probation.2 Also in 2001, H.D. was convicted of fourth-degree failure to register as a sex offender, N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(a)(3), and sentenced to one year of probation. Both J.M. and H.D. have remained offense free since 2001.
One of the key distinctions in this case is the facts presented. The se two cases involve defendant’s who had been placed on CSL and were convicted of non sexually violent crimes. As a result, the court stated, ” we need not address the “permanent [and] irrevocable” “lifetime registration requirements” imposed by N.J.S.A. 2C:7- 2(g) on those convicted of aggravated sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a), sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(c)(1), or more than one sex offense. G.H., 455 N.J. Super. at 521 (quoting In re State ex rel. C.K., 233 N.J. 44, 66 (2018)).”
In addition, in this case the court looked to the different nature of CSL and Magen’s law. CSL was a penal statute and part of any sex crime sentencing. However, Magen’s law was a remedial statute applied only to certain elevated sexual crimes that involved initial findings of repetitive and compulsive behavior on the part of the defendant at the time of sentencing. The court recognized the state’s argument that, “…. Legislature’s use of different language in N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6.4(c), specifically, that the applicant remain offense free for fifteen years from “the last conviction or release from incarceration,” evidences an intention to treat CSL differently from registration, because registration is remedial, while CSL is penal in nature. Compare Doe, 142 N.J. at 73 (holding Megan’s Law’s registration requirements were “clearly and totally remedial in purpose”), with Schubert, 212 N.J. at 308 (holding CSL was “punitive rather than remedial at its core”).”
Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f) (subsection (f)), any registrant may apply “to the Superior Court . . . to terminate the [registration] obligation upon proof that the person has not committed an offense within [fifteen] years following conviction or release from a correctional facility for any term of imprisonment imposed, whichever is later, and is not likely to pose a threat to the safety of others.” NJSA 2C:7-2(f) is the Community Supervision for Life parol supervision section in the new jersey criminal code. It is not the Magen’s Law section and is entirely different than Magen’s Law!
- Legislative Intent, What does that mean?
This court started with a analysis of what the legislature intended and what is the plain meaning of the statute. “Because we confront a “question . . . of statutory interpretation, . . . we are ‘neither bound by, nor required to defer to, the legal conclusions of a trial . . . court.'” In re N.B., 222 N.J. 87, 94 (2015) (quoting State v. Gandhi, 201 N.J. 161, 176 (2010)). “The overriding goal of all statutory interpretation ‘is to determine as best we can the intent of the Legislature, and to give effect to that intent.'” State v. S.B., 230 N.J. 62, 67 (2017) (quoting State v. Robinson, 217 N.J. 594, 604 (2014)). “[W]e begin with the statute’s plain language and give terms their ordinary meaning[,]” permissibly “draw[ing] inferences based on the statute’s overall structure and composition.” Id. at 68 (first citing DiProspero v. Penn, 183 N.J. 477, 492 (2005); and then citing State v. Hupka, 203 N.J. 222, 231-32 (2010)). “We do not view [statutory] words and phrases in isolation but rather in their proper context and in relationship to other parts of [the] statute, so that meaning can be given to the whole of [the] enactment.” State v. Twiggs, 233 N.J. 513, 533 (2018) (alteration in original) (quoting State v. Rangel, 213 N.J. 500, 509, (2013)). “If the Legislature’s intent is clear on the face of the statute, then the ‘interpretative process is over.'” S.B., 230 N.J. at 68 (quoting Hupka, 203 N.J. at 232).
However, “[i]f the language does not lead to a single, clear meaning, we can look to extrinsic evidence, including legislative history, for guidance.” State v. O’Driscoll, 215 N.J. 461, 474 (2013) (citing Rangel, 213 N.J. at 509). The statute’s purpose and context provide sources of extrinsic evidence of legislative intent, J.S., 444 N.J. Super. at 308, as does the policy supporting its enactment. State v. Thomas, 166 N.J. 560, 567 (2001). We may also consider extrinsic evidence of legislative intent “if a literal reading of the statute would yield an absurd result, particularly one at odds with the overall statutory scheme.” N.B., 222 N.J. at 99 (quoting Wilson ex rel. Manzano v. City of Jersey City, 209 N.J. 558, 572 (2012)). If ambiguity in a penal statute remains after consideration of extrinsic sources, the rule of lenity requires us to resolve that ambiguity in favor of a defendant. Twiggs, 233 N.J. at 533.
- What does the CSL statute say?
Recall, subsection (f) permits relief from registration obligations if “the person has not committed an offense within [fifteen] years following conviction or release from a correctional facility for any term of imprisonment imposed, whichever is later, and is not likely to pose a threat to the safety of others.” N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f) (emphasis added). We conclude that the emphasized portion of subsection (f) is ambiguous, not as to when the fifteen- year-offense-free clock starts, but rather, more accurately, whether the clock may ever reset. Only those “convicted, adjudicated delinquent or found not guilty by reason of insanity for commission of a sex offense” are required to register. N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(a)(1). Subsection (f), in turn, only applies to “person[s] required to register” under Megan’s Law. N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f).
In addition, the Legislature decided the fifteen-year period began even later for some offenders, i.e., upon their “release from a correctional facility.” N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f). However, it chose to use the indefinite term — “any” — to describe the term of imprisonment, which release therefrom starts the fifteen-year clock. See ibid. (permitting relief from registration if offender remains offense free for fifteen years following “release from a correctional facility for any term of imprisonment imposed”) (emphasis added). Here, too, the Legislature could have clearly stated that the fifteen-year period began only after the offender completed the “term of imprisonment imposed” on the conviction for the underlying sex offense, and no other. But, again, it chose not to do so.
The appellate court goes on to harmonize the different results between a Magen’s Law timer period and the CSL time period. “…..It follows that permanently denying relief to a registrant who has led a law-abiding life for fifteen years after conviction and otherwise meets the requirements of subsection (f) serves no remedial purpose. One need only consider that the State’s interpretation would permanently deny relief to an offender who: 1) lives offense free for 14 years and 364 days after his conviction for a sex offense; 2) then commits a petty disorderly persons offense; and 3) lives another 15 offense-free years thereafter. That result does not serve any of Megan’s Law remedial purposes and demonstrates the State’s construction of subsection (f) leads to illogical and absurd outcomes that the Legislature never intended. In J.S., we were asked to decide if subsection (f)’s fifteen-year period commenced upon entry of a guilty plea or entry of a judgment of conviction. 444 N.J. Super. at 306. We recognized Megan’s Law’s comprehensive legislative scheme, noted the Legislature’s ability to “fairly measure” the risk of re-offense, and held subsection (f)’s fifteen-year period began to run from the entry of a judgment of conviction, thus, measuring “the offense-free time frame against fifteen years of compliance with the registration requirements.” J.S., 444 N.J. Super. at 312. We specifically found support for our conclusion in the language of N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6.4(c), “adopted contemporaneously with Megan’s Law.” Id. at 312. Despite the somewhat different language employed by the Legislature in N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6.4(c), we concluded that provision supported our interpretation of subsection (f), noting, “[w]e find it anomalous to suggest the Legislature intended one time frame for termination of Megan’s Law registration and a different time frame for release from CSL.” Ibid.
B: When does the 15 year bar time period for CSL commence and when does the clock reset for a new offense?
The trial judge quoted In re A.D., 441 N.J. Super. 403, 423 (App. Div. 2015), aff’d o.b., 227 N.J. 626 (2017), in which we expressed some sympathy for, but ultimately rejected the argument that “there should be no absolute bar . . . to the termination of registration requirements, particularly where the repeat offenses are minor; and . . . not sexual in nature . . . .” Noting the panel in A.D. refused to substitute its judgment for that of the Legislature, id. at 424, the judge denied H.D.’s motion to terminate his registration obligations. However, the judge reached a different result regarding termination of CSL. He concluded that N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6.4(c) was “unlike the statute that governs Megan’s Law registration.” He reasoned, “CSL may be terminated after a showing that a registrant has not committed an offense for a period of [fifteen] years. This [fifteen]-year period is measured from the date of the registrant’s last conviction, not [his] underlying conviction under Megan’s Law.”
He entered an order terminating CSL for H.D., and subsequently denied H.D.’s motion for reconsideration of the denial of the termination of his registration obligations. Before us, appellants argue subsection (f)’s clear and unambiguous language permits relief from their registration obligations because they remained offense free for fifteen years following their last conviction. They note that subsection (f)’s reference to the “conviction” that starts the fifteen- year clock is not limited to the sex-offense conviction that triggered Megan’s Law’s registration in the first instance. In other words, according to appellants, the fifteen-year clock reset in 2001, due to appellants’ subsequent “conviction or release from a correctional facility for any term of imprisonment.” N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f).
As a result, this appellate panel ordered both of these cases remanded for a determination by the trial court concerning the second prong of the test to get off of CSL; the first being the 15 timer period, when does that clock start, and the second prong being whether the defendant is/are ‘not likely to pose a threat to others”.