The Penalties and Stigmas of Child Abuse Convictions

By Anthony Palumbo of Palumbo & Renaud - Cranford, NJ

By Anthony N. Palumbo, Criminal Defense Attorney of Palumbo & Renaud

New Jersey Child Abuse Laws

In New Jersey, when a person commits an act of child abuse, he will be charged with first or second degree sexual assault. In order to understand the laws on child abuse that are laid out below, it is important to know the meaning of sexual penetration. Sexual penetration is defined as vaginal intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio, anal intercourse, and insertion of the hand, finger or object into the anus or vagina. It does not matter how deep the penetration is. A little is enough. In New Jersey, an act of sexual penetration must be committed for a person to be guilty of both first and second degree child abuse.

First Degree Child Molestation

In New Jersey, first-degree child molestation or child sex abuse is the same crime as aggravated sexual assault of a child. A conviction carries 10 to 20 years in prison. It can occur in two general ways:

  1. An adult commits an act of sexual penetration with a person who is under 13-years-old; or
  2. An adult commits an act of sexual penetration with a person who is 13 to 16-years-old; and one of the following situations exists: (1) The adult is related to the victim by blood or affinity to the third degree; (2) the adult has supervisory or disciplinary power over the victim based on his legal, professional, or occupational relationship with the victim; or (3) the adult is a resource family parent, a guardian, or stands in loco parentis within the household.

Second Degree Child Molestation

In New Jersey, second-degree child molestation or child sex abuse is the same crime as second degree sexual assault of a child. A conviction carries 5 to 10 years in prison. It can occur two in general ways.

  1. An adult commits sexual penetration with a child who is 13 to 16-years-old, and the actor is at least four years older than the victim; or
  2. The victim is 16 to 18-years-old and one of the following circumstances exist: (1) The adult is related to the victim by blood or affinity to the third degree; or (2) the adult has supervisory or disciplinary power of any nature or in any capacity over the victim; or (3) the adult is a resource family parent, a guardian, or stands in loco parentis within the household.

Sex Offender Registration

In New Jersey, Megan's law sex offender registry requires convicted sex offenders to provide information to the local community about what they look like, where they live, and their past crimes so the community can be aware of their presence. While it's important to protect the community, it is also important to give sex offenders a genuine shot at rehabilitation, and Megan's list can make that difficult. Registration can be lifelong and in New Jersey a person must remain on the registry for at least 15 years once convicted.

Who Must Register

Megan's law applies to almost every crime that has a sexual nature. The New Jersey statute sets out a list of crimes to which Megan's law applies. Additionally, the statute contains a catch-all clause which states that if a crime similar to the ones listed is committed, but it is not on the list, a judge may order the offender to be placed on the registry. The law applies to convictions, adjudications of delinquency, and acquittals by reason of insanity for the following crimes:

  • Aggravated Sexual Assault
  • Sexual Assault
  • Aggravated Criminal Sexual Contact
  • Kidnapping a child who is under 16
  • Luring or Enticing of a minor
  • Criminal Sexual Contact (if victim under 18)
  • Kidnapping (if the victim is under 18 and the offender is not a parent of victim)
  • Criminal Restraint (if the victim is under 18 and the offender is not a parent of victim)
  • False Imprisonment (if the victim is under 18 and the offender is not a parent of victim)
  • Promotion of Prostitution if a child
  • Endangering the Welfare of a Child (Sexual Contact)
  • Endangering the Welfare of a Child by receiving in any manner, with the purpose to disseminate in any manner, any kind of media or construction of a child involved in a prohibited sexual act or simulation thereof.

An attempt to commit aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual assault or the kidnapping of a child under 16 will also place a person on Megan's law if the conduct was characterized by a pattern of repetitive, compulsive behavior.

What Information Must Be Disclosed?

The list below contains the information which must usually be disclosed. Failure to disclose the required information is a fourth degree crime that carries up to 18 months in prison and $10,000 in fines.

  • Name (including aliases)
  • Addresses (must update)
  • Modus Operandi
  • Age
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Date of Birth
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Hair
  • Eye Color
  • Distinguishing scars or tattoos
  • Employment
  • School (if applicable)
  • Dated Photograph
  • Vehicle information: make, model, color, year and license plate number

How Long Must A Convict Register?

In New Jersey, a defendant convicted of a sex offense must remain on the Megan's law sex offender registry for 15 years. When 15 years has expired, the sex offender can request a termination of the obligation to register. It must be shown that the offender is no longer a threat to the community and has not been convicted of a subsequent sex crime.

Some offenders cannot terminate their obligation to register, and must remain permanently registered for life. Offenders who have been convicted, adjudicated delinquent, or acquitted by reason of insanity of the following crimes cannot petition for removal:

  • Aggravated sexual assault
  • Sexual assault involving physical force or coercion; or
  • Conviction of more than one sex offense

Juveniles also have to register, but depending on the age when the crime was committed, they may not be subjected to the 15 year rule. Juvenile delinquents who commit a Megan's Law offense when they are under 14-years-old may terminate at the age of 18 if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the juvenile does not pose a threat to the safety of others.

What Information is Made Public?

When a person has been convicted of a Megan's law crime, they will be subjected to a notification system. Under the system, people are grouped into tiers based on the severity of the crime. The tiers determine how much information an offender must provide and who gets to see it. The notification system applies to all Megan's law sex offenders in New Jersey. If a person is convicted out of state, they must register within 10 days of moving to New Jersey, and must register even if just attending school or working in New Jersey.

A person may be ranked as Tier 1 (low risk), Tier 2 (moderate risk), or Tier 3 (high risk offender). The risk factor refers to the likelihood that the individual will commit another similar crime. When determining tiers, many factors are taken into consideration including the characteristics of the past crime, treatment, responsiveness, and community support. A hearing is held in which the final rank is determined by the court. When a person is ranked Tier 2 or Tier 3, an attorney can file a motion to reduce the tier level.

Only law enforcement agencies are notified of Tier 1 offenders. For Tier 2 offenders, law enforcement, schools, day cares, camps, and community organizations are notified. For Tier 3 offenders, all the above parties are notified, and in addition, the information is placed on the internet so that the public can view it. In exceptional situations, Tier 2 offenders will also be placed on internet.

Obtain Experienced Legal Representation

If you have been charged with child abuse in New Jersey, it is imperative to have an experienced criminal defense attorney by your side as soon as possible. Even if you are simply being investigated for child abuse, it is never too early to have an attorney. At the early stages of an investigation, an attorney can ensure that incriminating evidence does not accumulate against you. The faster you begin your defense, the easier the road ahead will be. A conviction of child abuse can carry severe penalties, not just those imposed by the law, but even more serious are the stigmas imposed by your peers and community. The stigmas associated with a child abuse conviction can last forever affecting your family, career and where you can live, but it doesn't have to.

For more information on how to defend a child abuse charge or investigation in New Jersey, contact an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney today.