New Jersey in the Interest of C.K.

Annotate this Case
Justia Opinion Summary

In New Jersey, juveniles adjudicated delinquent of certain sex offenses were barred for life from seeking relief from the registration and community notification provisions of Megan’s Law. That categorical lifetime bar cannot be lifted, even when the juvenile becomes an adult and poses no public safety risk, is fully rehabilitated, and is a fully productive member of society. Defendant C.K. was adjudicated delinquent for sex offenses committed more than two decades ago and challenged the constitutionality of N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g)’s permanent lifetime registration and notification requirements as applied to juveniles. After review of the specific facts of this case, the New Jersey Supreme Court concluded subsection (g)’s lifetime registration and notification requirements as applied to juveniles violated the substantive due process guarantee of Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution. “Permanently barring juveniles who have committed certain sex offenses from petitioning for relief from the Megan’s Law requirements bears no rational relationship to a legitimate governmental objective.” The Court determined that in the absence of subsection (g), N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f) provided the original safeguard incorporated into Megan’s Law, and a criminal defendant may petition to be released from registration and notification requirements when a superior court judge is persuaded the defendant has been offense-free and does not likely pose a societal risk after a fifteen-year look-back period. Defendant may apply for termination from the Megan’s Law requirements fifteen years from the date of his juvenile adjudication, and be relieved of those requirements provided he meets the standards set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f).

SYLLABUS

(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the
convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the
interest of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized.)

                          State of New Jersey in the Interest of C.K. (A-15-16) (077672)

Argued September 25, 2017 -- Decided April 24, 2018

ALBIN, J., writing for the Court.

          Subsection (f) of 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2 subjects all sex offenders, including juveniles, to presumptive lifetime
registration and notification requirements but allows a registrant to seek relief from those requirements fifteen years
after his juvenile adjudication, provided he has been offense-free and is “not likely to pose a threat to the safety of
others.” Subsection (g) imposes an irrebuttable presumption that juveniles adjudicated delinquent of certain sex
offenses, such as defendant C.K., are irredeemable, even when they no longer pose a public safety risk and are fully
rehabilitated. In this case, the Court addresses the constitutionality of 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g) as applied to juveniles.

        When C.K. was approximately fifteen years old, he began sexually assaulting his younger adopted brother,
A.K., who was then seven years old. After A.K. turned sixteen, he disclosed his older brother’s abuse. The State
charged C.K. with aggravated sexual assault. At the time of the charge, C.K. was twenty-three years old.

         In his plea colloquy, C.K. admitted that when he was between the ages of fifteen and seventeen, he
performed oral sex on his younger brother. In 2003, C.K. was sentenced to a three-year probationary term,
conditioned on his attending sex-offender treatment and having no contact with his brother unless recommended by
a therapist. The court also ordered C.K. to comply with the Megan’s Law requirements, 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-1 to -11, -19,
and barred him from working with children without the court’s permission. The State classified C.K. as a Tier One
offender—the lowest risk category for re-offense.

          C.K. received an undergraduate degree in psychology and a master’s degree in counseling. At the time of
his arrest, C.K. was a teacher’s assistant for children with autism. After his juvenile adjudication, C.K. stopped
working with children. By age thirty-three, C.K. had worked for many years at a nonprofit agency that provides
adults suffering from mental illness a range of services. C.K. has turned down opportunities for advancement from
fear that a background check might “out” his status as a Megan’s Law registrant. It has now been more than twenty
years since C.K. engaged in any unlawful conduct and more than fourteen years since his juvenile adjudication.

          C.K. filed a post-conviction relief (PCR) petition challenging the constitutionality of his Megan’s Law
requirements. A second PCR court held an evidentiary hearing. C.K. presented five expert witnesses who testified
about the current body of research on juvenile sex offender recidivism. The evidentiary hearing also focused on the
experts’ individualized risk assessments of C.K., now thirty-eight years old, and on the negative impact the
registration requirements continue to have on his ability to lead a normal life.

          The PCR court found the “evidence presented by [C.K.’s] psychologists [to be] credible and persuasive”
and noted that “[t]he State did not present any evidence to the contrary.” The PCR court concluded, however, that
any loosening of the strictures of Megan’s Law must come from the Supreme Court of New Jersey in assessing the
constitutionality of the registration scheme as applied to juveniles or from the Legislature, which has the paramount
role in forging public policy. A panel of the Appellate Division affirmed the denial of C.K.’s second PCR petition.
The Court granted C.K.’s petition for certification “limited to the issue of the constitutionality of imposing the
lifetime registration requirements of Megan’s Law on juvenile offenders.” 
228 N.J. 238 (2016).

HELD: 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g) is unconstitutional as applied to juveniles adjudicated delinquent as sex offenders. In the
absence of subsection (g), 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f) provides the original safeguard incorporated into Megan’s Law: no
juvenile adjudicated delinquent will be released from his registration and notification requirements unless a Superior
Court judge is persuaded that he has been offense-free and does not likely pose a societal risk after a fifteen-year look-
back period.

                                                           1
1. 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g) is part of the registration and community notification provisions of Megan’s Law. The
requirements imposed by 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g) are categorical. A juvenile, fourteen years or older, who has
committed an enumerated sex offense, or multiple sex offenses, under subsection (g) cannot seek relief ever from
those requirements. Subsection (g) was not part of the original legislative scheme that became Megan’s Law in
1994. The Legislature enacted subsection (g) in 2002 with the intended purpose of conforming our State registration
and notification scheme to federal law. In 2006, Congress passed a new law, under which C.K. would be classified
as a Tier III offender. Unlike 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g), that law has no permanent lifetime registration provision for
juveniles. 34 U.S.C. § 20915(a)(3) to (b). (pp. 18-25)

2. Before the passage of subsection (g) of 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2 in 2002, subsection (f) governed the termination of
registration requirements for all adult and juvenile sex offenders. Subsection (f) was part of the original Megan’s
Law registration and notification requirements, which the Court declared constitutional in Doe v. Poritz, 
142 N.J. 1,
12 (1995). In In re Registrant J.G., 
169 N.J. 304 (2001), the Court held that for juveniles under the age of fourteen
the “registration and community notification orders shall terminate at age eighteen,” provided the juvenile can
establish in the Law Division by “clear and convincing evidence that [he] is not likely to pose a threat to the safety
of others.” Id. at 337. Neither Doe nor J.G. addressed whether permanent lifetime registration and notification
requirements imposed on a juvenile would violate our State Constitution. (pp. 25-30)

3. Laws and jurisprudence recognize that juveniles are different from adults. The United States Supreme Court
declared unconstitutional legal regimes that imposed capital punishment on juvenile offenders, Roper v. Simmons,

543 U.S. 551, 568-70 (2005); life without parole on juveniles convicted of non-homicide offenses, Graham v.
Florida, 
560 U.S. 48, 82 (2010); and mandatory life without parole on juveniles convicted of homicide offenses,
Miller v. Alabama, 
567 U.S. 460, 489 (2012). The Court grounded its decisions on scientific and sociological
notions. In the wake of Roper, Graham, and Miller, this Court held in State v. Zuber that sentencing judges must
consider “the mitigating qualities of youth” and “exercise a heightened level of care before they impose multiple
consecutive sentences on juveniles which would result in lengthy jail terms.” 
227 N.J. 422, 429-30 (2017). In In re
C.P., the Ohio Supreme Court declared an Ohio statute that subjected certain juvenile offenders to automatic and
mandatory lifetime sex-offender registration requirements—with the potential for reclassification after twenty-five
years—violative of the Federal and Ohio Constitutions. 
967 N.E.2d 729, 732, 737 (Ohio 2012). Similarly, the
Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared that a statute imposing lifetime registration requirements on sexually violent
juvenile offenders violated its state constitution. In re J.B., 
107 A.3d 1, 2, 10, 14-16 (Pa. 2014). (pp. 31-39)

4. Since the passage of 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g) in 2002, scientific and sociological studies have shined new light on
adolescent brain development and on the recidivism rates of juvenile sex offenders compared to adult offenders.
Our commonsense and historical understanding that children are different from adults is enshrined in our juvenile
justice system and fortified by recent United States Supreme Court decisions and Zuber, which embraced those
studies that found that juveniles do not possess immutable psychological or behavioral characteristics. That body of
jurisprudence and the evidentiary record in this case tell us that adolescents are works in progress and that age
tempers the impetuosity, immaturity, and shortsightedness of youth. They tell us that, generally, juvenile sex
offenders are less likely to reoffend than adult sex offenders and that the likelihood of recidivism is particularly low
for those who have not reoffended for a long period of time. Subsection (g), as applied to juveniles, no longer bears
a rational relationship to a legitimate state purpose and arbitrarily denies those individuals their right to liberty and
enjoyment of happiness guaranteed by Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution. C.K.’s case in many
ways exemplifies why. Solely because of the nature of the offense he committed as a juvenile, C.K. is presumed
under subsection (g) to be a permanent, lifetime risk to the safety of the public. That irrebuttable presumption is not
supported by scientific or sociological studies, our jurisprudence, or the record in this case. (pp. 39-46)

5. Under subsection (f) of 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2, fifteen years from the date of his juvenile adjudication, C.K. will be
eligible to seek the lifting of his registration requirements. At that time, he must be given the opportunity to
demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that he has not reoffended and no longer poses a threat to others and
therefore has a right to be relieved of his Megan’s Law obligations and his status as a registrant. (pp. 46-47)

     CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER and JUSTICES LaVECCHIA, PATTERSON, FERNANDEZ-VINA,
SOLOMON, and TIMPONE join in JUSTICE ALBIN’s opinion.



                                                           2
                                      SUPREME COURT OF NEW JERSEY
                                        A-
15 September Term 2016
                                                    077672

STATE OF NEW JERSEY IN THE
INTEREST OF C.K.




          Argued September 25, 2017 – Decided April 24, 2018

          On certification to the Superior Court,
          Appellate Division.

          James H. Maynard argued the cause for
          appellant C.K. (Maynard & Sumner, attorneys;
          James H. Maynard, on the briefs).

          Elizabeth R. Rebein, Special Deputy Attorney
          General/Acting Assistant Prosecutor, argued
          the cause for respondent State of New Jersey
          (Gurbir S. Grewal, Bergen County Prosecutor,
          attorney; Elizabeth R. Rebein, of counsel
          and on the briefs).

          Fletcher C. Duddy, Deputy Public Defender,
          argued the cause for amicus curiae New
          Jersey Office of the Public Defender (Joseph
          E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney;
          Fletcher C. Duddy, on the letter brief).

          Laura A. Cohen argued the cause for amici
          curiae American Civil Liberties Union of New
          Jersey, the Advocates for Children of New
          Jersey, and the Northeast Juvenile Defender
          Center (Rutgers University School of Law –
          Newark Criminal and Youth Justice Clinic and
          Constitutional Litigation Clinic, attorneys;
          Rebecca J. Livengood, on the brief).

          Louise T. Lester, Assistant Attorney
          General, argued the cause for amicus curiae
          Attorney General of New Jersey (Christopher
          S. Porrino, Attorney General, attorney;


                                1
          Louise T. Lester, of counsel and on the
          brief).

          Karen U. Lindell submitted a brief on behalf
          of amicus curiae Juvenile Law Center
          (Juvenile Law Center, attorneys; Karen U.
          Lindell, and Marsha L. Levick, of the
          Pennsylvania bar, admitted pro hac vice, on
          the brief).

     JUSTICE ALBIN delivered the opinion of the Court.

     Juveniles adjudicated delinquent of certain sex offenses

are barred for life from seeking relief from the registration

and community notification provisions of Megan’s Law.    
N.J.S.A.

2C:7-1 to -11, -19; 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g).   That categorical

lifetime bar cannot be lifted, even when the juvenile becomes an

adult and poses no public safety risk, is fully rehabilitated,

and is a fully productive member of society.    Defendant C.K. was

adjudicated delinquent for sex offenses committed more than two

decades ago and now challenges the constitutionality of N.J.S.A.

2C:7-2(g)’s permanent lifetime registration and notification

requirements as applied to juveniles.

     Subsection (f) of 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2 subjects all sex

offenders, including juveniles, to presumptive lifetime

registration and notification requirements.    Unlike subsection

(g), however, subsection (f) allows a registrant to seek relief

from those requirements fifteen years after his juvenile

adjudication, provided he has been offense-free and is “not

likely to pose a threat to the safety of others.”    Subsection

                                2
(g) imposes an irrebuttable presumption that juveniles, such as

defendant, are irredeemable, even when they no longer pose a

public safety risk and are fully rehabilitated.

     The record in this case reveals what is commonly known

about juveniles -- that their emotional, mental, and judgmental

capacities are still developing and that their immaturity makes

them more susceptible to act impulsively and rashly without

consideration of the long-term consequences of their conduct.

See State v. Zuber, 
227 N.J. 422 (2017).    The record also

supports the conclusion that juveniles adjudicated delinquent of

committing sex offenses, such as C.K., who have been offense-

free for many years and assessed not likely to reoffend, pose

little risk to the public.   Indeed, categorical lifetime

notification and registration requirements may impede a

juvenile’s rehabilitative efforts and stunt his ability to

become a healthy and integrated adult member of society.

     We conclude that subsection (g)’s lifetime registration and

notification requirements as applied to juveniles violate the

substantive due process guarantee of Article I, Paragraph 1 of

the New Jersey Constitution.   Permanently barring juveniles who

have committed certain sex offenses from petitioning for relief

from the Megan’s Law requirements bears no rational relationship

to a legitimate governmental objective.    In the absence of

subsection (g), 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f) provides the original

                                 3
safeguard incorporated into Megan’s Law:      no juvenile

adjudicated delinquent will be released from his registration

and notification requirements unless a Superior Court judge is

persuaded that he has been offense-free and does not likely pose

a societal risk after a fifteen-year look-back period.

     Defendant may apply for termination from the Megan’s Law

requirements fifteen years from the date of his juvenile

adjudication, and be relieved of those requirements provided he

meets the standards set forth in 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f).

                                I.

                                A.

     We begin with the juvenile offenses that triggered the

registration and notification requirements in this case.      When

C.K. was approximately fifteen years old, he began sexually

assaulting his younger adopted brother, A.K., who was then seven

years old.   After A.K. turned sixteen, he disclosed his older

brother’s abuse to his priest and then to the police.

     The State charged C.K. with committing, while he was a

juvenile, the offense of aggravated sexual assault against his

adopted brother.   At the time of the charge, C.K. was twenty-

three years old.

     The State moved to waive C.K. to the Criminal Part, Law

Division, for trial as an adult.       The State withdrew its waiver

motion after C.K. agreed to plead guilty to the aggravated

                                   4
sexual assault charge in juvenile court.   In his plea colloquy,

C.K. admitted that when he was between the ages of fifteen and

seventeen, he performed oral sex on his younger brother.   In

2003, C.K. was sentenced to a three-year probationary term,

conditioned on his attending sex-offender treatment and having

no contact with his brother unless recommended by a therapist.

The court also ordered C.K. to comply with the Megan’s Law

requirements and barred him from working with children without

the court’s permission.

     The State classified C.K. as a Tier One offender -- the

lowest risk category for re-offense.   See 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-8(c)(1).

As a Tier One offender, C.K. is required to register annually

with the law enforcement agency in the municipality where he

resides.   See 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2; Attorney General Guidelines for

Law Enforcement for the Implementation of Sex Offender

Registration and Community Notification Laws 9 (rev’d Feb. 2007)

[hereinafter Attorney General Guidelines].

     In the years after turning eighteen, C.K. received an

undergraduate degree in psychology from Catholic University and

a master’s degree in counseling from Montclair State University.

At the time of his arrest, C.K. was a teacher’s assistant for

children with autism.   After his juvenile adjudication, C.K.

stopped working with children.   By age thirty-three, C.K. had

worked for many years at a nonprofit agency that provides adults

                                 5
suffering from mental illness a range of services, such as

securing psychiatric treatment and affordable housing.    C.K. has

turned down opportunities for professional advancement from fear

that a background check might “out” his status as a Megan’s Law

registrant.   It has now been more than twenty years since C.K.

engaged in any unlawful conduct and more than fourteen years

since his juvenile adjudication.

                                B.

     In 2008, five years after his juvenile adjudication, C.K.

filed his first petition for post-conviction relief (PCR),

seeking, among other things, a judicial declaration that the

Megan’s Law lifetime registration and notification requirements

violated his constitutional rights.    The PCR court denied the

petition in its entirety.   The Appellate Division affirmed the

denial of C.K.’s petition, suggesting that an evidentiary record

would be necessary to support his constitutional arguments.

     In November 2012, C.K. filed his second PCR petition,

alleging that his earlier PCR counsel provided ineffective

assistance by failing to properly challenge the

constitutionality of his Megan’s Law requirements.    The second

PCR court held an evidentiary hearing.    C.K. presented five

expert witnesses who testified about the current body of

research on juvenile sex offender recidivism.    C.K. also offered

psychological assessments about his mental, emotional, and

                                   6
career development during his adult life.   The State cross-

examined C.K.’s witnesses but offered no rebuttal testimony or

expert reports.   The following summarizes the record before us. 1

     At the evidentiary hearing, C.K. called Dr. Jackson Tay

Bosley, Dr. Sean Hiscox, Dr. Robert Prentky, and Dr. James

Reynolds, clinical psychologists with expertise in the treatment

and rehabilitation of both juvenile and adult sex offenders.

Dr. Hiscox was additionally qualified as an expert in the risk

assessment of adult and juvenile offenders.   Nicole Pittman,

Esq., testified about the effects of placing juvenile offenders

on registries based on her nationwide research on the subject.

     All of the expert witnesses asserted that juvenile sex

offenders are more amenable to rehabilitation and less likely to

reoffend than adult sex offenders.   They stressed that juvenile

offenders, because of their lack of maturity and delayed social




1  Notification of the constitutional challenge was provided to
the Attorney General’s Office, which declined to participate in
the PCR proceeding. At oral argument before this Court, neither
the Bergen County Prosecutor, appearing for the State, nor the
Attorney General, appearing as amicus curiae, identified any
additional evidence that contradicted the testimony presented at
the PCR hearing. We gave the Attorney General’s Office an
additional opportunity to “bring to the Court’s attention expert
evidence that is contrary to the expert testimony presented to
the PCR court with respect to the application of 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-
2(g) with respect to juveniles.” The Attorney General’s Office
responded with a proffer of the expert testimony it would
“potentially” offer. The information was too speculative and
therefore not helpful to the Court.
                                 7
and emotional development, are fundamentally different from

adult offenders.

     The experts pointed to multiple studies confirming that

juveniles who commit sex offenses are more likely to act

impulsively and be motivated by sexual curiosity, in contrast to

adult sex offenders who are commonly aroused by deviant sexual

behavior or engage in predatory or psychopathic conduct.   See

Elizabeth J. Letourneau & Michael H. Miner, Juvenile Sex

Offenders:   A Case Against the Legal and Clinical Status Quo, 17

Sexual Abuse:   J. Res. & Treatment 293, 297-99 (2005); Human

Rights Watch, Raised on the Registry:   The Irreparable Harm of

Placing Children on Sex Offender Registries in the US 27-29

(2013) [hereinafter Human Rights Watch, Raised on the Registry].

Dr. Hiscox explained that “adolescent sex offense recidivism

rates are relatively low” when compared “with higher sex offense

recidivism rates of individuals who commit sex offenses as

adults.”   Dr. Bosley and other experts also noted that previous

assumptions about high rates of juvenile sex offender recidivism

as adults are inaccurate.

     One recent study -- cited by all five expert witnesses --

analyzed sixty-three data sets with information about more than

11,200 juvenile sex offenders.   The study averaged the data

sets, some of which followed juvenile sex offenders for less

than five years and others for more than five years, and

                                 8
concluded that the overall juvenile sex re-offense rate was

seven percent.   Michael F. Caldwell, Study Characteristics and

Recidivism Base Rates in Juvenile Sex Offender Recidivism, 54

Int’l J. Offender Therapy & Comp. Criminology 197, 201-03

(2010).

     According to a report of psychologist Dr. Philip Witt, the

recidivism rate for those falling into C.K.’s risk assessment

category is 1.1% over a two-year period and 2.0% over a four-

year period.   In that report, he indicated that “a sibling

incest offender whose offense [was] in his early to mid-teens

has little bearing on his risk” many years later.

     None of the risk assessment statistics accounted for a

juvenile sex offender who had been offense-free for a period of

fifteen or more years since his adjudication.   The experts,

however, explained that juvenile sex offenders who commit

subsequent sex offenses generally do so within the first few

years following their last offense.    See, e.g., James R. Worling

et al., 20-Year Prospective Follow-Up Study of Specialized

Treatment for Adolescents Who Offended Sexually, 
28 Behav. Sci.

& L. 54 (2010) (“[M]ost sexual and nonsexual recidivism occurs

in the first few years after adolescents are initially

assessed.”).   According to Dr. Hiscox, the longer a juvenile

turned adult remains offense-free in the community, the lower

the risk that he will re-offend.

                                   9
     The experts generally agreed that the best way to assess an

offender’s risk of recidivism is with individualized

assessments.   As Dr. Prentky explained, “Risk is not fixed, and

it certainly can’t be adequately captured by one single event in

the life of . . . an adolescent who is constantly changing.”

     Ms. Pittman observed that categorical lifetime registration

requirements based on an aggravated sex offense conviction

disproportionately impact juveniles.    That is so because

juveniles commonly commit sex offenses against their peers or

somewhat younger children. 2   See Human Rights Watch, Raised on

the Registry at 25 (“[R]ecent laws . . . reserve the harshest

punishments for those who target children without seeming to

appreciate that child offenders, whose crimes almost always

involve other kids, are particularly likely to be subjected to

these harsher penalties.”).

     Last, according to the experts, studies reveal that

registration policies do not necessarily reduce recidivism among

juvenile sex offenders.   See, e.g., Elizabeth J. Letourneau et

al., The Influence of Sex Offender Registration on Juvenile





2 Under N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(1), an adult or juvenile is guilty
of aggravated sexual assault if he commits an act of sexual
penetration with a person who is less than thirteen years old.
Therefore, a thirteen-year old who sexually penetrates a person
under the age of thirteen, pursuant to that statute, is guilty
of aggravated sexual assault as a juvenile.


                                 10
Sexual Recidivism, 20 Crim. Just. Pol’y Rev. 136, 138, 143

(2009) (finding no significant difference in recidivism rates

between registered and nonregistered juvenile male sex offenders

over a nine-year period).   Correspondingly, Ms. Pittman

expressed her concern that inflexible lifetime registration

requirements imposed on juveniles impede their rehabilitation

and their quest for normal and productive lives in welcoming

communities.

                                 C.

     The evidentiary hearing also focused on the experts’

individualized risk assessments of C.K., now thirty-eight years

old, and on the negative impact the registration requirements

continue to have on his ability to lead a normal life.

     C.K. participated in several psychological assessments,

including two with Dr. Witt.    In his 2003 assessment, made

shortly after C.K.’s arrest, Dr. Witt did not find any

indication that “[C.K.’s] sexual behavior with his brother was

part of a broader pattern of illegal sexual behavior.”     He

considered C.K. “a low risk.”

     In 2009, Dr. Witt reevaluated C.K., then twenty-nine years

old, and observed that C.K. was “an adult with a productive,

appropriate lifestyle and healthy sexual adjustment” who

presented a low risk to reoffend.     Dr. Witt noted that the “risk

assessment is really just a reflection of commonsense:     When an

                                 11
individual’s risk is relatively low to begin with and the

individual has had a stable, offense-free lifestyle for many

years, his current risk is minimal.”

     At the evidentiary hearing, Dr. Hiscox testified that

C.K.’s 2013 psychological evaluation was “completely consistent

with Dr. Witt’s two risk assessments.”   Dr. Hiscox further

observed that C.K. had “gone 16 to 20 years in the community

without a new sexual or non-sexual offense” and the research was

clear:   “the longer an individual goes without committing a new

sex offense while at liberty in the community, the lower his

risk of reoffending.”

     That same year, in interviews with Ms. Pittman, C.K.

expressed his feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression

resulting from his Megan’s Law status.   He also disclosed his

sense of hopelessness, and his fear that his registrant status

will interfere with his ability to one day be a normal parent

who can attend his children’s sports games and school

conferences.

                                II.

                                A.

     The PCR court found the “evidence presented by [C.K.’s]

psychologists [to be] credible and persuasive” and noted that

“[t]he State did not present any evidence to the contrary.”      The

PCR court summarized some of the opinions reached by C.K.’s

                                12
experts:   (1) “[y]outh sex offenders differ from adult sex

offenders” and “are more amenable to sex offender specific

treatment”; (2) “the adolescent brain is not fully mature”; (3)

an individualized risk-based assessment of a juvenile sex

offender “adequately protects the public from recidivist sex

offenders”; (4) a categorical offense-based bar unnecessarily

precludes low-risk juvenile offenders who pose no threat to the

community from relief from the Megan’s Law registration

requirements; and (5) the offense-based bar to relief is “not

rationally related to the State’s interest to protect persons

from recidivist sex offenders.”

     The PCR court concluded, however, that any loosening of the

strictures of Megan’s Law must come from this Court in assessing

the constitutionality of the registration scheme as applied to

juveniles or from the Legislature, which has the paramount role

in forging public policy.   The PCR court expressed that it was

constrained by the precedents of this Court and, on that basis,

“the adverse consequences of Megan’s law registration” do not

give rise to a constitutional issue.   Finally, the PCR court

held that C.K. did not satisfy the standard for proving

ineffective assistance of prior counsel, under Strickland v.

Washington, 
466 U.S. 668 (1984) and State v. Fritz, 
105 N.J. 42

(1987), because the failure to present earlier the testimony



                                  13
given at the evidentiary hearing would not have achieved a

different outcome.

                                B.

     In an unpublished opinion, a panel of the Appellate

Division affirmed the denial of C.K.’s second PCR petition.    The

panel acknowledged that C.K.’s “constitutional arguments are

compelling,” but believed that this Court’s decisions in Doe v.

Poritz, 
142 N.J. 1 (1995), and In re Registrant J.G., 
169 N.J.
 304 (2001), foreclosed any basis for relief.   The panel

indicated that “this case may present an appropriate occasion

for our Supreme Court to revisit J.G.,” but, as an intermediate

appellate court, it was bound to follow this Court’s precedents.

     We granted C.K.’s petition for certification “limited to

the issue of the constitutionality of imposing the lifetime

registration requirements of Megan’s Law on juvenile offenders.”


228 N.J. 238 (2016).   We also granted the motions of the

American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, Advocates for

Children of New Jersey, and Northeast Juvenile Defender Center

(collectively, ACLU-NJ), the Juvenile Law Center, the Office of

the Public Defender, and the Attorney General of New Jersey to

participate as amici curiae.

     Our grant of certification is limited to addressing the

constitutionality of 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g) as applied to juveniles,

which, unlike subsection (f), imposes categorical lifetime

                                14
registration requirements for certain sex offenses.   We

therefore do not consider the parties’ general arguments that

all juvenile offense-based registration requirements are

constitutionally infirm because they do not assess the actual

risk posed by an individual juvenile.

                                III.

                                 A.

     C.K. contends that the Megan’s Law lifetime registration

requirements in 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g), as applied to juveniles,

violate his federal and state constitutional rights to

substantive due process and to be free from cruel and unusual

punishment.   C.K. claims that the registration scheme’s

irrebuttable presumption that juveniles who commit certain sex

offenses are dangerous and irredeemable is at odds with the

expert testimony presented at the PCR hearing, the neuroscience

about the developing juvenile brain, and his own life story.    He

asserts that a lifetime registration scheme for juvenile sex

offenders that makes no allowance for a juvenile’s

rehabilitation and low risk for re-offense is penal, not

remedial, in nature and advances no legitimate governmental

objective.    He describes how the registration scheme erects

barriers to a juvenile’s acceptance into society, career

advancement, and personal happiness, despite, as in his case, an

offense-free record and uniform expert testimony that he poses

                                 15
no safety risk.   According to C.K., a risk-based assessment is

sufficient to protect society’s interest in public safety.

     The ACLU-NJ, the Juvenile Law Center, and the Public

Defender, as amici curiae, echo the arguments advanced by C.K.

and raise additional points, some collectively and others

individually.   Amici emphasize that juvenile sex offenders are

distinguishable from their adult counterparts due to their

immaturity and lack of cognitive development, their amenability

to rehabilitation, and their lower recidivism rate.   
N.J.S.A.

2C:7-2(g) imposes an undifferentiated disability on juvenile

registrants, without regard to their actual risk, and therefore

bears no relationship to a legitimate state interest.   According

to amici, rehabilitated juvenile sex offenders, while on the

registry, face increased difficulties securing education,

employment, and housing and suffer a stigma that has harmful

psychological consequences.

                                B.

     The State submits that “lifetime Megan’s Law registration

for juveniles adjudicated delinquent or convicted of certain

offenses pass[es] constitutional muster” under Doe and J.G.     The

State maintains that C.K.’s concerns about imposing lifetime

registration on adolescents “are appropriately directed at the

Legislature” rather than this Court.   It assails the studies

relied on by C.K.’s experts, reporting low juvenile recidivism

                                16
rates and high rehabilitative success, because they do not

distinguish between the general class of juvenile sex offenders

and the subclass of offenders affected by subsection (g) --

those adjudicated of committing aggravated sexual assault,

forcible sexual assault, or multiple sex offenses.

     The State, moreover, claims that C.K. has presented largely

theoretical harms and unfounded fears, given his status as a

Tier One registrant not subject to the broader Megan’s Law

notification requirements, and is not a proper class

representative of all Tier registrants to challenge the

constitutionality of 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g).    Additionally, the

State explains that its failure to present witnesses at the PCR

hearing flowed from its belief that “the issue was settled” and

should not be read as a concession that it agreed with C.K.’s

experts.

     The Attorney General, as amicus curiae, emphasizes many of

the points made by the State.   The Attorney General asserts the

twofold purpose of the registration and notification scheme is

to allow law enforcement to keep track of the whereabouts of sex

offenders and to arm the public with information concerning an

offender’s identity, location, and offense.    This registration

scheme, the Attorney General insists, is remedial, not punitive,

and advances the goal of public safety.    Finally, the Attorney

General states that amending Megan’s Law is the province of the

                                17
Legislature, not this Court, and that C.K., and his amici,

should bring the developing social science evidence to the

attention of the branch of government responsible for public

policy.

                                  IV.

                                  A.

     We granted certification to address the constitutionality

of imposing the Megan’s Law lifetime registration and

notification requirements on juveniles adjudicated of committing

certain sex offenses, despite the peculiar procedural vehicle

for doing so.   Typically, we would not consider a constitutional

challenge on a second PCR.    See R. 3:22-4(b).   However, “when a

'constitutional problem presented is of sufficient import to

call for relaxation of the rules [related to post-conviction

relief,] . . . we may consider the question on its merits.’”

State v. Franklin, 
184 N.J. 516, 528 (2005) (alterations in

original) (quoting State v. Johns, 
111 N.J. Super. 574, 576

(App. Div. 1970)).     We have before us a full evidentiary record

on a constitutional issue that both the trial court and

Appellate Division found compelling.    We therefore will not

reject consideration of this important issue on procedural

grounds.   See ibid.

     We begin our analysis with the statute at issue, with our

focus on juvenile sex offenders.

                                  18
       
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g) provides that

            [a] person required to register under this
            section who has been convicted of, adjudicated
            delinquent, or acquitted by reason of insanity
            for more than one sex offense as defined in
            subsection b. of this section or who has been
            convicted of, adjudicated delinquent, or
            acquitted by reason of insanity for aggravated
            sexual assault pursuant to subsection a. of
            [
N.J.S.A.] 2C:14-2 or sexual assault [using
            physical force or coercion, without causing
            severe   injury]   is   not    eligible   under
            subsection f. of this section to make
            application to the Superior Court of this
            State    to   terminate     the    registration
            obligation.

            [(emphases added).]


N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g) is part of the registration and community

notification provisions of Megan’s Law.     
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-1 to -11,

-19.

       The legislative rationale for the registration and

notification scheme is public safety -- to “permit law

enforcement officials to identify and alert the public” about

sex offenders who may pose a danger to children.     
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-

1(a).

       On adjudication of a sex offense identified in 
N.J.S.A.

2C:7-2(b), a juvenile offender must register with the police

department in the municipality where he lives.     
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-

2(c); New Jersey State Police, New Jersey Sex Offender Internet

Registry:    Frequently Asked Questions, http://www.njsp.org/sex-

offender-registry/faqs.shtml (last visited Mar. 16, 2018).

                                  19
Registration requires the collection of an offender’s

fingerprints and such information as his residence, school

enrollment, and employment.   N.J.S.A. 2C:7-4(b)(1)-(2).   The

juvenile also must advise the appropriate law enforcement agency

of whether he has access to a computer or device with internet

capability, 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(d)(2), and any change in residence,

employment, or other required information, 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-

2(d)(1).   A juvenile offender who fails to register or inform

the appropriate law enforcement agency of a change of address or

other status is guilty of a third-degree crime.   
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-

2(a)(3); 2C:7-2(d).

     For the purpose of determining the scope of public

notification of a registrant’s sex-offender status, Megan’s Law

registrants are categorized into three tiers based on an

assessment of their risk of reoffending.   
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-8(c).

Registrants classified as Tier One are deemed to have the lowest

risk to reoffend and those classified as Tier Three are deemed

to have the highest risk.   Ibid.

     For offenders in Tier One, notification is limited to “law

enforcement agencies likely to encounter the person registered.”


N.J.S.A. 2C:7-8(c)(1).   For offenders in Tier Two, notification

extends to “organizations in the community including schools,

religious and youth organizations.”   
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-8(c)(2).     For

offenders in Tier Three, notification further extends to

                                20
“members of the public likely to encounter the person

registered,” 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-8(c)(3), such as those in private

residences, businesses, schools, and community organizations in

the areas where the offender lives and works.    Attorney General

Guidelines 17-18, 42-45.    Although Tier Three juvenile offenders

are placed on an online registry for notification purposes, Tier

Two juvenile offenders are not, unless aggravating circumstances

are present.   
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-13(b) and (d); Attorney General

Guidelines 48-49.    No Tier One offenders are included on the

internet registry.    Attorney General Guidelines 48-49.

     The lifetime registration requirements imposed by 
N.J.S.A.

2C:7-2(g) are categorical.    A juvenile, fourteen years or older,

who has committed an enumerated sex offense, or multiple sex

offenses, under subsection (g) cannot seek relief ever from

those requirements -- however successful his rehabilitation,

however many his achievements, and however remote the

possibility that he will reoffend.

                                 B.

     Subsection (g) of 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2 was not part of the

original legislative scheme that became Megan’s Law in 1994.

The Legislature enacted subsection (g) in 2002 with the intended

purpose of conforming our State registration and notification

scheme to Congress’s 1996 amendments to the Jacob Wetterling

Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender

                                 21
Registration Act of 1994 (Jacob Wetterling Act).      Pub. L. No.

104-236, §§ 3-7, 
110 Stat. 3096, 3097 (repealed 2006).      The

amended Jacob Wetterling Act -- the federal counterpart to

Megan’s Law -- required law enforcement agencies to notify the

community when “necessary to protect the public.”      42 U.S.C.

§ 14071(e)(2) (repealed 2006).    Under the Act, offenders who

committed certain enumerated sex crimes were subject to lifetime

registration requirements.   42 U.S.C. § 14071(b)(6) (repealed

2006).   That provision was cited by the New Jersey Legislature

in enacting the permanent, offense-based bar contained in


N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g).   See S. Law & Pub. Safety Comm. Statement to

S. 2714 (Nov. 29, 2001) (L. 2001, c. 392).      The rationale behind

the passage of subsection (g) evidently was to comply with

federal law and ensure continued specified federal crime

funding.   See ibid. (explaining that “States that do not comply

with [the Jacob Wetterling Act] will lose federal funding

beginning in the year 2002”).

     The presence of subsection (g) of 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2 in our

legislative scheme today, however, is not a precondition to the

maintenance of federal funding.    In 2006, Congress repealed the

Jacob Wetterling Act and passed the Adam Walsh Child Protection

and Safety Act (Adam Walsh Act).       Pub. L. No. 109-248, 
120 Stat.
 587 (codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 16901-91 (repealing 42 U.S.C.

§§ 14071-73)).   Title I of the Adam Walsh Act -- known as the

                                  22
Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) --

establishes a national baseline for sex offender registration

and requires that states receiving federal crime funds

substantially comply with the guidelines it outlines.    See 34

U.S.C. § 20927; see also 34 U.S.C. § 10151 (establishing that

non-compliant jurisdictions lose ten percent of funds from

federal Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program).

In effect, SORNA serves as model legislation that can be adopted

in part or in whole by the states.    Nevertheless, most states,

including New Jersey, have not substantially implemented SORNA.

Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending,

Registering, and Tracking, SORNA Implementation Status,

https://smart.gov/sorna-map.htm (last visited Mar. 16, 2018)

(listing only twenty-two states and territories as having

substantially implemented SORNA).

     SORNA classifies sex offenders into three risk tiers --

Tiers I, II, and III -- for registration and notification

purposes, depending solely on the nature of the offense.     34

U.S.C. § 20911.    If New Jersey strictly followed federal law,

C.K. would be classified as a Tier III offender based on his

juvenile aggravated sexual assault adjudication.    34 U.S.C.

§ 20911(4)(A).    The offender’s tier assignment, in turn,

determines the duration of his registration requirements.     34

U.S.C. § 20915(a).    Unlike 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g), SORNA has no

                                 23
permanent lifetime registration provision for juveniles.      A

juvenile Tier III offender, although subject to presumptive

lifetime registration, is eligible under SORNA to have his

registration requirements terminated after twenty-five years if

he has a “clean record.”    34 U.S.C. § 20915(a)(3) to (b).

Although Tier I and II offenders are subject to fifteen-year and

twenty-five-year registration periods, respectively, Tier I

offenders are allowed to apply for a shortened registration

period.    34 U.S.C. § 20915(a) to (b).

     Currently, under SORNA, states have discretion whether to

include juveniles on their public sex-offender registry

websites.    Supplemental Guidelines for Sex Offender Registration

and Notification, 
76 Fed. Reg. 1630, 1636-37 (Jan. 11, 2011). 
3 In 2016, the United States Attorney General implemented new

SORNA guidelines governing juvenile offenders.    See Supplemental

Guidelines for Juvenile Registration Under the Sex Offender

Registration and Notification Act, 
81 Fed. Reg. 50,552 (Aug. 1,

2016).    Under those guidelines, states that do not register

juveniles who have committed serious sex offenses may still be

compliant with SORNA if the federal government finds that those




3  Initially, SORNA required online public notification for
certain juvenile sex offenders. National Guidelines for Sex
Offender Registration and Notification, 
73 Fed. Reg. 38,030,
38,040-41 (July 2, 2008).

                                 24
states have nonetheless “substantially implemented SORNA’s

juvenile registration requirements” through other means.    Id. at

50,558.

     Moreover, the United States Attorney General may exempt a

state from implementing a provision of SORNA that “would place

the jurisdiction in violation of its constitution, as determined

by a ruling of the jurisdiction’s highest court.”    34 U.S.C.

§ 20927(b).   In short, a state’s highest court can declare

unconstitutional a state’s sex-offender registration provision

without necessarily jeopardizing a state’s federal funding.

                                C.

     Before the passage of subsection (g) of 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2 in

2002, subsection (f) governed the termination of registration

requirements for all adult and juvenile sex offenders.     
N.J.S.A.

2C:7-2(f), which is still operative, provides that

          a person required to register under this act 4
          may make application to the Superior Court of
          this State to terminate the obligation upon
          proof that the person has not committed an
          offense within 15 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.




4  “A person who has been convicted, adjudicated delinquent or
found not guilty by reason of insanity for commission of a sex
offense . . . shall register as provided . . . .” 
N.J.S.A.
2C:7-2(a)(1).


                                25
     Subsection (f) was part of the original Megan’s Law

registration and notification requirements, which we declared

constitutional in Doe.     
142 N.J. at 12-13. 5   In Doe, we rejected

the argument that the registration and notification requirements

constituted a form of punishment, finding instead that they are

“remedial in purpose” and “designed simply and solely to enable

the public to protect itself from the danger posed by sex

offenders.”   Id. at 73.    We held that the “Constitution does not

prevent society from attempting to protect itself from convicted

sex offenders, no matter when convicted, so long as the means of

protection are reasonably designed for that purpose.”       Id. at 12

(emphasis added).   The validity of subsection (f)’s presumptive

lifetime registration requirements was not at issue in Doe.       The

Court noted that, under subsection (f), a fifteen-year offense-

free registrant could have his registration requirements

terminated if he could “persuade the court that he or she is not

likely to pose a threat to the safety of others.”       Id. at 21-22

(citing 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f)).

     The underlying assumption of 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f) is that

when a registrant, who has been offense-free for fifteen or more




5  While the Court generally held that Megan’s Law is
constitutional, we mandated due process hearings to afford
registrants judicial review of both their proposed tier
designations and the scope of community notification. Id. at
28-32, 107-08.
                                   26
years, no longer poses a risk to the safety of the public,

keeping him bound to the registration requirements no longer

serves a remedial purpose.

     In J.G., this Court grappled with the implication of

applying the presumptive lifetime registration requirements of


N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f) to juveniles under the age of fourteen.      
169 N.J. 304.   In that case, J.G. pled guilty in family court to

committing a second-degree sexual assault.     Id. at 309-10.   At

the time of the assault, J.G. was ten years old and the victim,

his cousin, just eight years old.     Id. at 309.   The family court

imposed a suspended indeterminate custodial sentence not to

exceed three years, ordered J.G. to attend a family counseling

program, and advised J.G. that he was subject to the Megan’s Law

lifetime registration and community notification requirements.

Id. at 311-12.

     The dilemma faced by the Court in J.G. was to reconcile the

Megan’s Law presumptive lifetime registration requirements with

the Juvenile Code’s “mandate to terminate all dispositions other

than incarceration at age eighteen, or within three years,

whichever is later.”    Id. at 334.   Under 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f),

J.G. could not move to lift the registration requirements until

age twenty-six, fifteen years following his delinquency

adjudication.    See id. at 319-20, 334.



                                 27
       We emphasized our Juvenile Code’s continued focus on

rehabilitation as evidenced by such dispositional alternatives

as individual and family counseling, academic and vocational

education, work programs, and community service.      Id. at 321-27,

335.    We also acknowledged the goals of Megan’s Law, which focus

on the need to protect society from sex offenders by

disseminating critical information to the public.      Id. at 339.

In viewing the two statutory schemes, seemingly in conflict, we

found “implausible and anomalous the notion that a child 'sex

offender’ such as J.G. should pursuant to Megan’s Law be subject

to a lifetime registration requirement merely on the basis of a

delinquency adjudication that included no effort to assess his

true culpability.”    Id. at 336.

       In reconciling the rehabilitative goals of the Juvenile

Code and the public safety goals of Megan’s Law, we held that

for an adjudicated juvenile sex offender under age fourteen, the

“registration and community notification orders shall terminate

at age eighteen,” provided the juvenile can establish in the Law

Division by “clear and convincing evidence that [he] is not

likely to pose a threat to the safety of others.”      Id. at 337.

       In setting age fourteen as the dividing line, we focused on

the different treatment the Juvenile Code affords youths below

and above that age.    Id. at 335-36.    We stressed that treating

juveniles under the age of fourteen differently “is essential if

                                    28
we are to sensibly reconcile the Juvenile Code with Megan’s

Law.”    Id. at 335.   In light of our disposition, we rejected

J.G.’s argument that Megan’s Law constitutes cruel and unusual

punishment under our Federal and State Constitutions.       Id. at

339.

       Importantly, at the time Doe and J.G. were decided, all

juveniles adjudicated of a sex offense could terminate their

Megan’s Law requirements after a period of fifteen years,

provided they satisfied the criteria laid out in subsection (f)

of 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2.     See J.G., 
169 N.J. at 319-20; Doe, 
142 N.J.

at 21.    Neither Doe nor J.G. addressed whether permanent

lifetime registration and notification requirements imposed on a

juvenile would violate the substantive due process guarantee of

our State Constitution.

                                  D.

       Less than a year after our J.G. decision in 2001, for the

reasons previously discussed, the Legislature enacted the

permanent, irrevocable lifetime registration requirements in

subsection (g) that are applicable to adult as well as juvenile

offenders.    L. 2001, c. 392 § 1.     In this case, our focus is

only on those juveniles between the ages of fourteen and

seventeen adjudicated delinquent in family court for sex

offenses falling within the ambit of subsection (g).       We agree

with the Appellate Division’s determination in In re Registrant

                                  29
L.E. that the Legislature did not intend to override the rights

provided in J.G. to juvenile sex offenders under age fourteen

who are authorized to seek termination of their registration and

notification requirements at age eighteen.   
366 N.J. Super. 61,

64-65 (App. Div. 2003).   Notably, since 2003 the Legislature has

not enacted legislation that would signal disagreement with L.E.

See Smith v. Fireworks by Girone, Inc., 
180 N.J. 199, 215 (2004)

(“[T]he construction of a statute by the courts, supported by

long acquiescence on the part of the Legislature . . . is

evidence that such construction is in accord with the

legislative intent.” (quoting Quaremba v. Allan, 
67 N.J. 1, 14

(1975))).

     Neither Doe nor J.G. provides guidance for the resolution

of the substantive due process challenge to subsection (g) as

applied to juveniles.   The implicit assumption underlying

subsection (g) is that a juvenile, once adjudicated of certain

sex offenses, will forever pose a danger to the safety of

others, despite the offense-free and productive life he may lead

in the future.   C.K. challenges that assumption and the

constitutionality of a statutory provision that has no risk-

based assessment for continued registration and notification

requirements fifteen years following his juvenile adjudication.

                                V.

                                A.

                                30
     Our laws and jurisprudence recognize that juveniles are

different from adults -- that juveniles are not fully formed,

that they are still developing and maturing, that their mistakes

and wrongdoing are often the result of factors related to their

youth, and therefore they are more amenable to rehabilitation

and more worthy of redemption.   Our juvenile justice system is a

testament to society’s judgment that children bear a special

status, and therefore a unique approach must be taken in dealing

with juvenile offenders, both in measuring culpability and

setting an appropriate disposition.   Indeed, the United States

Supreme Court has explained that juvenile courts were created

“to provide measures of guidance and rehabilitation for the

child and protection for society, not to fix criminal

responsibility, guilt and punishment.”    Kent v. United States,


383 U.S. 541, 554 (1966).

     Among the purposes of the Juvenile Code, 
N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-20

to -92, is “to remove from children committing delinquent acts

certain statutory consequences of criminal behavior, and to

substitute therefor an adequate program of supervision, care and

rehabilitation, and a range of sanctions designed to promote

accountability and protect the public.”    
N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-21(b).

Although rehabilitation, historically, has been the primary

focus of the juvenile justice system, a second purpose --

increasingly so in recent times -- is protection of the public.

                                 31
See State in Interest of K.O., 
217 N.J. 83, 92-93 (2014); see

also J.G., 
169 N.J. at 320-21 (noting that soon after enactment

of Megan’s Law, Legislature amended Juvenile Code’s statement of

purpose to include “a range of sanctions designed to promote

accountability and protect the public” (quoting 
N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-

21)); State in Interest of M.C., 
384 N.J. Super. 116, 128 (App.

Div. 2006) (noting that rehabilitation and protection of society

are among considerations family court must weigh).

     Nevertheless, rehabilitation and reformation of the

juvenile remain a hallmark of the juvenile system, as evidenced

by the twenty enumerated dispositions available to the family

court in sentencing a juvenile adjudicated delinquent.   See


N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-43(b); State in Interest of C.V., 
201 N.J. 281,

295 (2010).   The range of dispositional options signifies that a

“'one size fits all’ approach” does not apply in the juvenile

justice system.   C.V., 
201 N.J. at 296 (citing State of New

Jersey, Office of the Child Advocate, Reinvesting in New Jersey

Youth:   Building on Successful Juvenile Detention Reform 16

(2009)).   The juvenile system’s flexibility in selecting an

appropriate disposition for a young offender allows the family

court to take into account “the complex, diverse, and changing

needs of youth” and to address “the unique emotional,

behavioral, physical, and educational problems of each juvenile

before the court.”   Id. at 296.

                                   32
                                B.

     In a series of landmark cases, the United States Supreme

Court declared unconstitutional legal regimes that imposed

capital punishment on juvenile offenders, Roper v. Simmons, 
543 U.S. 551, 568-70 (2005); life without parole on juveniles

convicted of non-homicide offenses, Graham v. Florida, 
560 U.S. 48, 82 (2010); and mandatory life without parole on juveniles

convicted of homicide offenses, Miller v. Alabama, 
567 U.S. 460,

489 (2012).   In striking down each of those statutory schemes,

relying on the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual

punishment, the Court grounded its decisions on commonly

accepted scientific and sociological notions about the unique

characteristics of youth and the progressive emotional and

behavioral development of juveniles.    We reviewed the breadth of

the social science in Zuber, in which we held that sentencing

judges must consider “the mitigating qualities of youth” when

imposing consecutive prison sentences that are the “practical

equivalent of life without parole.”    
227 N.J. at 429 (quoting

Miller, 
567 U.S. at 478).

     Based on scientific and sociological studies, the United

States Supreme Court and this Court have acknowledged that (1)

“[a] lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of

responsibility are found in youth more often than in adults,”

Roper, 
543 U.S.  at 569 (alteration in original) (quoting Johnson

                                33
v. Texas, 
509 U.S. 350, 367 (1993)); (2) “juveniles are more

vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences” and “have less

control . . . over their own environment,” ibid. (citation

omitted); and (3) the personality and character traits of

juveniles “are more transitory, less fixed,” and “not as well

formed as that of an adult,” id. at 570.   See Zuber, 
227 N.J. at
 439-40.   Scientific studies reveal that “parts of the brain

involved in behavior control continue to mature through late

adolescence,” accounting for one of the “fundamental differences

between juvenile and adult minds.”   Graham, 
560 U.S.  at 68; see

also Miller, 
567 U.S.  at 472 n.5 (“It is increasingly clear that

adolescent brains are not yet fully mature in regions and

systems related to higher-order executive functions such as

impulse control, planning ahead, and risk avoidance.” (citations

omitted)).   As a result, “[j]uveniles are more capable of change

than are adults, and their actions are less likely to be

evidence of 'irretrievably depraved character.’”   Graham, 
560 U.S.  at 68 (quoting Roper, 
543 U.S. at 570).   Because juveniles

are in a state of becoming, they “'have a greater claim than

adults to be forgiven for failing to escape negative influences

in their whole environment,’ and there is 'a greater possibility

. . . that a minor’s character deficiencies will be reformed.’”

Zuber, 
227 N.J. at 440 (alteration in original) (quoting Roper,


543 U.S. at 570).

                                34
     In finding unconstitutional juvenile life sentences without

parole in non-homicide cases, the United States Supreme Court

concluded that just because a juvenile defendant “posed an

immediate risk” at one point in his young life does not mean

that he will “be a risk to society for the rest of his life.”

Graham, 
560 U.S.  at 73.   The Court held that a life without

parole sentence denies a juvenile “some meaningful opportunity

to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and

rehabilitation.”   Id. at 75.   The Court also struck down the

imposition of a mandatory sentence of life without parole in

juvenile homicide cases because the disposition precludes any

“consideration of [a juvenile’s] chronological age and its

hallmark features -- among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and

failure to appreciate risks and consequences.”    Miller, 
567 U.S. 
at 477.

     In the wake of Roper, Graham, and Miller, we held in Zuber

that sentencing judges must consider “the mitigating qualities

of youth” and “exercise a heightened level of care before they

impose multiple consecutive sentences on juveniles which would

result in lengthy jail terms.”    
227 N.J. at 429-30.   We

encouraged “the Legislature to consider enacting a statute that




                                 35
would provide for later review of juvenile sentences that have

lengthy periods of parole ineligibility.” 
6 Id. at 430.

                                   C.

     Other state courts of last resort that have addressed the

constitutionality of long-term registration and notification

requirements imposed on juvenile sex offenders offer guidance.

     In In re C.P., the Ohio Supreme Court declared an Ohio

statute that subjected certain juvenile offenders to automatic

and mandatory lifetime    sex-offender registration and

notification requirements -- with the potential for

reclassification after twenty-five years -- violative of the

cruel-and-unusual-punishment and due-process clauses of the

Federal and Ohio Constitutions.     
967 N.E.2d 729, 732, 737 (Ohio

2012).   In that case, C.P., age fifteen, was adjudicated

delinquent of kidnapping and raping a six-year old male

relative.   Id. at 732.   The juvenile court sentenced C.P. to a

minimum three-year period of commitment to the Ohio Department

of Youth Services.   Id. at 733.    Under an Ohio statute, which

adopted federal SORNA, C.P. was automatically classified as a

Tier III sex offender, which required him to register with the

sheriff every ninety days and to comply with community




6  We also noted that other states had already enacted statutes
that permitted a retrospective review of lengthy juvenile
sentences. Zuber, 
227 N.J. at 452 n.4.
                                   36
notification requirements.   Id. at 733-34, 738-39.   The

notification requirements not only authorized the dissemination

of C.P.’s photograph and personal information to neighbors,

schools, and various agencies and organizations, but also the

placement of C.P. on the electronic sex-offender database.    Id.

at 736.

     In striking down the statute on constitutional grounds, the

Ohio Supreme Court reasoned:   (1) the lifetime registration and

notification requirements are imposed at an age when the

juvenile offender’s character is not yet fixed; (2) the

“statutory scheme gives the juvenile judge no role in

determining how dangerous a child offender might be or what

level of registration or notification would be adequate to

preserve the safety of the public”; and (3) “the juvenile judge

never gets an opportunity to determine whether the juvenile

offender has responded to rehabilitation or whether he remains a

threat to society.”   Id. at 741-42, 749.   The Court observed

that “[f]ew labels are as damaging in today’s society as

'convicted sex offender’” and that sex offenders are “'the

lepers of the criminal justice system.’”    Id. at 746 (quoting

Phoebe Geer, Justice Served?   The High Costs of Juvenile Sex

Offender Registration, 27 Dev. Mental Health L. 33, 47 (2008)).

The Court determined that “[l]ifetime registration and

notification requirements run contrary to [the law’s] goals of

                                37
rehabilitating the offender and aiding his mental and physical

development.”   Id. at 742.

     Similarly, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared that

Pennsylvania’s statute imposing lifetime registration and

notification requirements on sexually violent juvenile offenders

violated the state constitution’s due process guarantee.     In re

J.B., 
107 A.3d 1, 2, 10, 14-16 (Pa. 2014).    The Pennsylvania

statute authorized termination of the registration requirements

after twenty-five years, provided the juvenile could establish

he did not reoffend within that period, successfully completed a

rehabilitation program and court-ordered supervision, and was

“not likely to pose a threat to the safety of any other person.”

Id. at 7-8 (quoting 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9799.17(b)(2)).     Like

the Ohio statute, Pennsylvania’s statute is modeled after the

federal SORNA statute.   See id. at 3.   Nevertheless, the

Pennsylvania high court held that the sex-offender registration

statute violated the due process rights of juvenile offenders

“by utilizing the irrebuttable presumption that all juvenile

offenders 'pose a high risk of committing additional sexual

offenses.’”   Id. at 14 (quoting 42 Pa. Cons. Stat.

§ 9799.11(a)(4)).   The court explained that an irrebuttable

presumption doctrine should not apply when a “presumption is not

universally true and a reasonable alternative means currently



                                38
exists for determining which juvenile offenders are likely to

reoffend.”   Ibid.

     In J.B., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the

registration statute’s “presumption that sexual offenders pose a

high risk of recidivating is not universally true when applied

to juvenile offenders” because, as studies suggest, “many of

those who commit sexual offenses as juveniles do so as a result

of impulsivity and sexual curiosity, which diminish with

rehabilitation and general maturation.”   Id. at 17.   The court

concluded that the registration statute’s other parts,

authorizing individualized assessments for determining which

juveniles posed a high risk of reoffending, provided a

reasonable alternative to the use of a discredited presumption.

Id. at 19-20.

                                VI.

     We now determine whether the categorical lifetime

registration and notification requirements imposed on juvenile

offenders by 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g) passes muster under the

substantive due-process guarantee of our State Constitution.

     Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution

provides:

            All   persons   are   by  nature   free  and
            independent, and have certain natural and
            unalienable rights, among which are those of
            enjoying and defending life and liberty, of
            acquiring,    possessing,   and   protecting

                                 39
            property, and of pursuing and obtaining safety
            and happiness.

            [N.J. Const. art. I, ¶ 1.]

       That paragraph “sets forth the first principles of our

governmental charter -- that every person possesses the

'unalienable rights’ to enjoy life, liberty, and property, and

to pursue happiness.”     Lewis v. Harris, 
188 N.J. 415, 442

(2006).    Those basic rights cannot be abridged by arbitrary

government action.    See Robinson v. Cahill, 
62 N.J. 473, 491-92

(1973).    Although our State Constitution nowhere expressly

states that every person shall be entitled to substantive due

process of law, the expansive language of Article I, Paragraph 1

embraces that fundamental guarantee.     Caviglia v. Royal Tours of

Am., 
178 N.J. 460, 472 (2004) (citing Greenberg v. Kimmelman, 
99 N.J. 552, 568 (1985)).     The guarantee of substantive due process

requires that a statute reasonably relate to a legitimate

legislative purpose and not impose arbitrary or discriminatory

burdens on a class of individuals.     See Greenberg, 
99 N.J. at
 563.    Although all laws are presumed to be constitutional, no

law can survive scrutiny under Article I, Paragraph 1 unless it

has a rational basis in furthering some legitimate state

interest.    See ibid.   Therefore, a statute that bears no

rational relationship to a legitimate government goal and that




                                  40
arbitrarily deprives a person of a liberty interest or the right

to pursue happiness is unconstitutional.

     With those fundamental principles in mind, we conclude that


N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g) violates the substantive due process rights

of juvenile sex offenders.

                               VII.

                                A.

     We first acknowledge that since the passage of 
N.J.S.A.

2C:7-2(g) in 2002, scientific and sociological studies have

shined new light on adolescent brain development and on the

recidivism rates of juvenile sex offenders compared to adult

offenders.   Our commonsense and historical understanding that

children are different from adults is enshrined in our juvenile

justice system and fortified by recent United States Supreme

Court decisions and Zuber, which embraced those studies that

found that juveniles do not possess immutable psychological or

behavioral characteristics.   That body of jurisprudence and the

evidentiary record in this case tell us that adolescents are

works in progress and that age tempers the impetuosity,

immaturity, and shortsightedness of youth.   They tell us that,

generally, juvenile sex offenders are less likely to reoffend

than adult sex offenders and that the likelihood of recidivism

is particularly low for those who have not reoffended for a long

period of time.   They tell us that the permanent status of sex-

                                41
offender registrant will impair a juvenile, as he grows into

adulthood, from gaining employment opportunities, finding

acceptance in his community, developing a healthy sense of self-

worth, and forming personal relationships.   In essence, the

juvenile registrant will forever remain a social pariah.

     
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g) is grounded on the irrebuttable

presumption that juveniles adjudicated delinquent for committing

certain sex offenses will forever pose a danger to society.

That irrebuttable presumption disregards any individual

assessment of whether a particular registrant is likely to

reoffend, long after the adjudication and long after the

juvenile has become an adult.   Those juveniles are, in effect,

branded as irredeemable -- at a point when their lives have

barely begun and before their personalities are fully formed.

They must carry this stigma even if they can prove that they

pose no societal threat.   But that irrebuttable lifetime

presumption is not supported by scientific and sociological

studies or our jurisprudence and is not needed given the

fifteen-year look back required by subsection (f).

     Even a lifetime presumption with a twenty-five-year look-

back period has been found violative of some states’

constitutions.   New Jersey’s lifetime presumption of

dangerousness that attaches to juvenile sex offenders pursuant

to 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g) is more extreme than the registration and

                                42
notification schemes, as applied to juveniles, struck down by

the Ohio and Pennsylvania Supreme Courts.   See C.P., 
967 N.E 2d

at 732, 737; J.B., 107 A.3d   at 2, 17.   The Ohio and Pennsylvania

schemes, which allowed juvenile sex offenders to seek the

lifting of registration and notification requirements after the

passage of twenty-five years, were deemed constitutionally

offensive because the classifications were not based on ongoing

individual risk assessments.   C.P., 
967 N.E 2d at 741-42; J.B.,

107 A.3d   at 17.   
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g) is even out of step with

federal SORNA, which has no permanent lifetime registration

provision for juveniles.   A juvenile Tier III offender under the

federal enactment is subject to a presumptive lifetime

registration but, after twenty-five years, is eligible to have

his registration requirements terminated.   34 U.S.C.

§ 20915(a)(3) to (b).

      Subsection (g) of 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2, moreover, cannot be

viewed in isolation from other provisions of the statute.

Subsection (f) imposes presumptive lifetime registration and

notification requirements for sex offenses covered by subsection

(g) but allows for a juvenile sex offender to be relieved of

those requirements fifteen years after his juvenile adjudication

or release from a correctional facility, provided he has been

offense-free and “is not likely to pose a threat to the safety

of others.”   Thus, under subsection (f), those juvenile sex

                                43
offenders who have reoffended or pose a continuing threat after

fifteen years will not be relieved of their registration and

notification requirements.   Subsection (g) has the perverse

effect of keeping on the sex-offender registry those juveniles

who have completed their rehabilitation, not reoffended, and who

can prove after a fifteen-year look-back period that they are

not likely to pose a societal threat.   When, in the case of

juveniles, the remedial purpose of Megan’s Law -- rehabilitation

of the offender and protection of the public -- is satisfied,

then the continued constraints on their lives and liberty

pursuant to subjection (g), long after they have become adults,

takes on a punitive aspect that cannot be justified by our

Constitution.

     It is at that point that subsection (g), as applied to

juveniles, no longer bears a rational relationship to a

legitimate state purpose and arbitrarily denies those

individuals their right to liberty and enjoyment of happiness

guaranteed by Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey

Constitution.

     It also bears emphasizing that holding that subsection (g)

runs afoul of a fundamental right guaranteed under our State

Constitution will not likely jeopardize any federal funding to

this State.   First, as mentioned earlier, subsection (g) is more

severe and inflexible than the Tier III provisions of the

                                44
federal SORNA.    Second, a state is likely exempt from the

federal SORNA’s dictates when implementing one of its provisions

is violative of a state’s constitution, “as determined by a

ruling of the jurisdiction’s highest court.”    34 U.S.C.

§ 20927(b).

                                 B.

     C.K.’s case in many ways exemplifies why subsection (g)

does not bear a reasonable relationship to a legitimate state

purpose when applied to juvenile offenders.    Twenty years have

passed since C.K. committed his offense as a juvenile, and his

adjudication occurred more than fourteen years ago.    C.K. is now

thirty-eight years old and has not committed an offense in

twenty years and none since his juvenile delinquency

adjudication.    Over the years, he has complied with his Megan’s

Law responsibilities.   He has graduated from college and

received a master’s degree in counseling, remained gainfully

employed working for a nonprofit agency that provides services

for adults suffering from mental illness, and has been a

contributing member of his community.    Multiple psychological

evaluations attest that he is an extremely low risk to reoffend.

     Nevertheless, C.K. remains a sex-offender registrant.    That

tainted status has permeated various spheres of his life --

professional, personal, and social.    He often feels isolated and

depressed.    He has turned down opportunities for professional

                                 45
advancement for fear that his juvenile sex-offender registrant

status will be revealed.   He despairs that the permanent

designation of sex offender registrant will impair his ability

to fully participate in the lives of his children, if he one day

has a family.

     Solely because of the nature of the offense he committed as

a juvenile, C.K. is presumed under subsection (g) to be a

permanent, lifetime risk to the safety of the public.    That

irrebuttable presumption, however, is not supported by

scientific or sociological studies, our jurisprudence, or the

record in this case.   Because it does not further a legitimate

state interest when applied to juveniles, subsection (g) does

not withstand scrutiny under Article I, Paragraph 1 of our State

Constitution. 7

                               VIII.

     For the reasons expressed, we hold that 
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g)

is unconstitutional as applied to juveniles adjudicated

delinquent as sex offenders.   Under subsection (f) of 
N.J.S.A.

2C:7-2, fifteen years from the date of his juvenile

adjudication, C.K. will be eligible to seek the lifting of his




7 In light of this disposition, we need not address C.K.’s
claims that subsection (g) violates the Eighth Amendment’s
prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and the New
Jersey Constitution’s corollary provision under Article I,
Paragraph 12.
                                46
sex-offender registration requirements.   At that time, he must

be given the opportunity to demonstrate by clear and convincing

evidence that he has not reoffended and no longer poses a threat

to others and therefore has a right to be relieved of his

Megan’s Law obligations and his status as a sex-offender

registrant.



     CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER and JUSTICES LaVECCHIA, PATTERSON,
FERNANDEZ-VINA, SOLOMON, and TIMPONE join in JUSTICE ALBIN’s
opinion.




                               47