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New Jersey can't post sex offenders' addresses on Net

By The Associated Press

12.10.01

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TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey will be allowed to list only a sex offender's name, without an address or hometown, when it begins posting Megan's Law information on the Internet next month, a federal judge has ruled.

The ruling, issued Dec. 6 and made public Dec. 7, crimped a state constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved by voters last year. The amendment was aimed at getting around restrictions placed by the courts on Megan's Law, named for a murdered New Jersey girl whose case inspired similar laws across the nation.

U.S. District Judge Joseph E. Irenas "basically allowed it to go forward but said you had to exclude certain information from it," said Chuck Davis, spokesman for the state attorney general. "But he excluded a lot of information."

Irenas wrote that an offender's constitutional right to privacy trumps any state need to broadcast the information. Existing notification laws allow prosecutors to release details like a street address to the immediate neighbors, the judge said.

"Providing unlimited access via the Internet to the name of the specific street, block of residence, apartment building, or even municipality in which a resident resides may permit numerous individuals with no legitimate public safety need to quickly ascertain an offender's precise home address," the judge wrote.

The ruling closely follows previous court decisions that said the state can't circulate a person's home address, said Jeff Beach, a spokesman for the public defender's office.

"Earlier cases consistently offered protection of home address for all residents, not just sex offenders," Beach said.

The New Jersey amendment would have let the state post offenders' addresses, physical descriptions and criminal histories. A law passed by the Legislature outlines the posting system and provides some privacy safeguards for low-risk offenders.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the public defender's office challenged the amendment, saying it would have let the state broadcast what federal courts have said is confidential information.

The state was unsure if it would appeal or how it would proceed with its Internet registry, Davis said.

Advocates for Megan's Law — including Maureen Kanka, mother of the girl for whom the law is named — believe parents statewide should have access to the information and that the restrictions imposed by the courts have limited the usefulness of the law.

Seven-year-old Megan Kanka was abducted, raped and murdered in 1994 by a convicted sex offender, Jesse Timmendequas, who lived across the street. Her parents were unaware of his criminal background. He is now on New Jersey's death row.

As modified by the courts over the years, Megan's Law groups convicted sex offenders into three tiers. For those labeled most at risk of committing another crime, the law lets prosecutors provide the offender's name, address and photo to residents living in a carefully defined area. Lower-risk offenders get more privacy. All offenders are required to register with police once released from prison.

Related

High court agrees to hear challenge to sex-offender list
Connecticut officials appealed after federal judge struck down state's registry.  05.20.02

Federal judge strikes down Michigan sex-offender registry
Critics say ruling will restrict information that should be available to public.  06.05.02

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