Sex offenses, especially those committed against children, spark social outrage. It's understandable. Such cases are shocking and among the most common dealt with by New Jersey courts. It's easy to see why popular opinion might slant toward taking anyone charged with a sex crime straight to a cell and throwing away the key.
The legal system doesn't allow for that, at least not on paper. Once a person convicted of any crime completes the terms of their sentence, the law says their debt to society is paid. In practice, though, where sex offenses are concerned, some experts argue that the onus of having to register with authorities means the punishment doesn't end and there's little chance of integrating back into society.
Many may not appreciate that the drive to tag convicted sex offenders and track them got a major boost in 1994 in New Jersey. The death of a 7-year-old girl led to the passage of Megan's Law. Since then, every state has adopted some form of registry.
Every state's laws are different, carrying with them different penalties. Binding them all together, in a way, is federal law that prohibits any registered offender from moving across state lines without informing authorities in the new state. Failure to comply can result in federal prison time.
Some experts point out, however, that the multiple layers and varying penalties meted out by the different jurisdictions may actually drive some offenders off the radar. Faced with ostracism, they are often unable to find decent work or housing and retreat into the shadows. One recent study even suggests registries could increase the chances of re-offense.
Obviously, finding a proper balance between the rights of the individual and the public's right to know is desired and hard to achieve. The public has government and the law on its side. Protecting the individual involves working with experienced legal counsel.