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New Jersey’s SOMA Violates Ex Post Facto Prohibitions

The New Jersey Supreme Court held that the retroactive application of the 2007 Sex Offender Monitoring Act (SOMA) violates state and federal ex post facto prohibitions.

In 1986, George Riley was convicted of sex offenses against a child and sentenced to 20 years in prison. New Jersey law did not require lifetime parole supervision for sex offenders and Riley was released in February 2009, without any form of parole supervision.

In August 2009, however, the New Jersey State Parole Board ordered Riley to submit to GPS monitoring under SOMA. This required Riley, who was then 76-year old, to wear ankle bracelet 24-hours a day for the rest of his life. GPS satellites, continuously tracked his movements and he was assigned a monitoring parole officer. While the ankle bracelet charged one to two hours a day, Riley’s movement was limited to the length of the cord. Failure to comply with the program is a third-degree crime, with a possible penalty of five years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

“SOMA looks like parole, monitors like parole, restricts like parole, serves the general purposes of parole, and is run by the Parole Board,” the New Jersey Supreme Court found. “Calling this scheme by another name does not alter its essential nature.”

Given that “parole and probation have historically been viewed as punishment,” the Court ultimately concluded “that SOMAs adverse effects are so punitive ... as to negate the State’s intent to deem it only civil and regulatory.” Therefore, “the retroactive application of SOMA to George Riley twenty-three years after he committed the sexual offense at issue and after he fully completed his criminal sentence violates the Ex Post Facto Clauses of the United States and New Jersey Constitutions.” See: Riley v. New Jersey State Parole Board, 219 N.J. 270 (2014).

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Related legal case

Riley v. New Jersey State Parole Board