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Megan’s Law Preempts Local New Jersey Sex Offender Ordinances

The New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s order that invalidated two townships’ ordinances restricting where registered sex offenders could live. The March 24, 2009 ruling held that the statewide Megan’s Law takes precedence over local statutes that impose residency restrictions on sex offenders.

Before the state Supreme Court were consolidated appeals that challenged the invalidation of ordinances enacted by Galloway and Cherry Hill townships. Other than the penalties for violation, the ordinances were similar. Both prohibited convicted sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of any school, park, playground or daycare center. Upon notification, affected sex offenders had to move within 60 days or face penalties.

G.H., a twenty-year-old freshman at Richard Stockton College, challenged the Galloway ordinance after he was advised that he had to move from his college dormitory and could not live within 2,500 feet of the campus. G.H. was convicted when he was 15 of having criminal sexual contact with a 13-year-old.

The challenge against Cherry Hill’s ordinance, which made nearly the entire township off limits to sex offenders, was brought by convicted sex offenders James Barclay and Jeffrey Finguerra. They were the recipients of Section 8 housing allowances and had been approved to move into a motel within 2,500 feet of Camden Catholic High School by their parole or probation officers. When they failed to move within 60 days after notification by Cherry Hill officials, they were issued citations and later found guilty of violating the local residency restriction ordinance.

The Appellate Division concluded the townships’ ordinances conflicted with the policies and operational effect of the statewide scheme implemented by Megan’s Law. The comprehensiveness of Megan’s Law had been refined over a decade and provided for the rehabilitation and reintegration of convicted sex offenders into the community. Allowing local communities to create their own ordinances would interfere with and frustrate the purposes and operation of the statewide scheme, the appellate court held. See: G.H. v. Township of Galloway, 951 A.2d 221 (NJ App.Div. 2008).

The Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division’s finding that Megan’s Law preempted the Galloway and Cherry Hill ordinances, and declined to address “abstract” or hypothetical questions posed by the townships, “presumably to glean advice that might salvage an ordinance to replace the one invalidated.” See: G.H. v. Township of Galloway, 199 N.J. 135 (N.J. 2009).

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G.H. v. Township of Galloway

G.H. v. Township of Galloway