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E.B. v. Verniero

August 20, 1997

E. B., (A FICTITIOUS NAME)

v.

PETER VERNIERO *fn*, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY; CHARLES R. BUCKLEY, ACTING BERGEN COUNTY PROSECUTOR; JAMES MOSLEY, CHIEF OF POLICE OF THE CITY OF ENGLEWOOD, NEW JERSEY PETER VERNIERO*FN*, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY APPELLANT IN

W. P., ET AL., INDIVIDUALLY AND AS REPRESENTATIVES OF A CLASS PURSUANT TO FED. R. CIV. P. 23 (A) AND 23 (B) (2)

v.

PETER VERNIERO*FN*, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF NEW JERSEY; JEFFREY S. BLITZ, ATLANTIC COUNTY PROSECUTOR; CHARLES R. BUCKLEY, ACTING BERGEN COUNTY PROSECUTOR; STEPHEN G. RAYMOND, BURLINGTON COUNTY PROSECUTOR; JOSEPH F. AUDINO, ACTING CAMDEN COUNTY PROSECUTOR; STEPHEN D. MOORE, CAPE MAY COUNTY PROSECUTOR; NEIL S. COOPER, ACTING CUMBERLAND COUNTY PROSECUTOR; CLIFFORD J. MINOR, ESSEX COUNTY PROSECUTOR; HARRIS Y. COTTON, GLOUCESTER COUNTY PROSECUTOR; CARMEN MESSANO, HUDSON COUNTY PROSECUTOR; SHARON B. RANSAVAGE, HUNTERDON COUNTY PROSECUTOR; MARYANN K. BIELAMOWICZ, MERCER COUNTY PROSECUTOR; ROBERT W. GLUCK, MIDDLESEX COUNTY PROSECUTOR; JOHN KAYE, MONMOUTH COUNTY PROSECUTOR; W. MICHAEL MURPHY, JR., MORRIS COUNTY PROSECUTOR; DANIEL J. CARLUCCIO, OCEAN COUNTY PROSECUTOR; RONALD S. FAVA, PASSAIC COUNTY PROSECUTOR; RONALD A. EPSTEIN, SALEM COUNTY PROSECUTOR; MELAINE B. CAMPBELL, ACTING SOMERSET COUNTY PROSECUTOR; DENNIS O'LEARY, SUSSEX COUNTY PROSECUTOR; EDWARD NEAFSEY, ACTING UNION COUNTY PROSECUTOR; JOHN J. O'REILLY, WARREN COUNTY PROSECUTOR, W.P., ET AL., INDIVIDUALLY AND AS REPRESENTATIVES OF A CLASS PURSUANT TO FED. R. CIV. P. 23(A) AND 23(B)(2), APPELLANTS IN NO. 96-5416



On Appeal From the United States District Court For the District of New Jersey

(D.C. Civil Action Nos. 96-cv-00130; 95-cv-00098 and 96-cv-00097)

BEFORE: BECKER, STAPLETON and NYGAARD, Circuit Judges

STAPLETON, Circuit Judge

Filed August 20, 1997

Argued October 21, 1996

OPINION OF THE COURT

I. INTRODUCTION

On July 29, 1994, Megan Kanka, a seven year old child, was abducted, raped, and murdered near her home. The man who confessed to Megan's murder lived in a house across the street from the Kanka family and had twice been convicted of sex offenses involving young girls. Megan, her parents, local police, and the members of the community were unaware of the accused murderer's history; nor did they know that he shared his house with two other men who had been convicted of sex offenses.

By October 31, 1994, New Jersey had enacted the Registration and Community Notification Laws, Pub. L. 1994, Chs. 128, 133 (codified at N.J.S.A. 2C:7-1 to 7-11) as part of a ten-bill package collectively referred to as "Megan's Law." This legislation required registration by those who had committed certain designated crimes involving sexual assault and provided for the dissemination of information about those required to register. Other states followed suit with their own versions of Megan's Law and Congress passed a statute requiring a state program of registration and notification as a condition of receiving certain federal funds. By May of 1996, forty-nine states had adopted sex offender registration laws and thirty-two states maintained some form of community notification program.

We have before us challenges to the constitutionality of the notification requirements of New Jersey's Megan's Law based on the Ex Post Facto, Double Jeopardy, and Due Process Clauses of the United States Constitution. The issues before us are difficult but relatively narrow. We are not called upon to decide whether Megan's Law can constitutionally be applied to one who has committed one of the designated sex crimes after its enactment, where the application of the law follows a fair hearing in connection with the sentencing for that offense. Nor, of course, is it our responsibility to determine whether the policy judgments reflected in Megan's Law are prudent ones.

We hold that (1) the notification requirements of Megan's Law do not constitute state inflicted "punishment" on Tier 2 and Tier 3 registrants for purposes of the Ex Post Facto and Double Jeopardy Clauses; (2) the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution forecloses New Jersey from placing the burden of persuasion on the registrant in a proceeding challenging a Tier 2 or Tier 3 classification and notification plan; and (3) the Due Process Clause requires the state at such a proceeding to shoulder the burden of justifying the classification and notification plan by clear and convincing evidence.

II. THE MEGAN'S LAW SCHEME

A.

Public reaction to Megan's murder was intense, and New Jersey's governor and legislature responded quickly. By August 15, 1994, two weeks after the discovery of Megan's body, bills providing for registration and community notification had been introduced in the General Assembly. Two weeks later, the General Assembly declared the bills an "emergency," allowing them to bypass committee and be passed the same day.

In the Senate, no registration or notification bills had been introduced as of August 29, 1994. However, the Law and Public Safety Committee held a hearing upon pending legislation that pre-dated Megan's Law and would have required victim notification on the release of offenders. In connection with its consideration of that legislation, the Committee received testimony and/or written reports from, inter alia, the American Civil Liberties Union, municipal officials, inmates, state and federal legislators, and the Attorney General on issues related to sex offender registration and community notification. Registration and community notification bills identical to their General Assembly counterparts were introduced in the Senate on September 12, 1994. After hearing testimony from the ACLU, the New Jersey Coalition of Crime Victims, and corrections officials on September 26, 1994, the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee revised the bills by: (1) supplementing the list of crimes which require registration, *fn1 (2) directing the Attorney General to consult with a twelve-member Advisory Council of experts to establish guidelines concerning the risk of reoffense, (3) identifying certain factors material to the determination of risk of reoffense, and (4) narrowing the scope of community notification. The Committee then favorably reported the amended versions to the Senate, see Senate Law & Pub. Safety Comm., Statement to Substitute for Senate Bill No. 14 & Assembly Bill No. 85 (N.J. Sept. 26, 1994), which approved the bills on October 3. The General Assembly followed suit by debating and approving the revised bill on October 20, 1994, and Governor Whitman signed it into law on October 31, 1994.

B.

Megan's Law establishes both a registration requirement and a three-tiered notification program. See Artway v. Attorney General, 81 F.3d 1235, 1243 (3d Cir. 1996). The registration provisions were the subject of this court's decision in Artway, where we upheld their constitutionality in the face of ex post facto, double jeopardy, bill of attainder, due process, equal protection, and vagueness challenges. We there summarized the operation of the registration provision:

The registration provision requires all persons who complete a sentence for certain designated crimes involving sexual assault after Megan's Law was enacted to register with local law enforcement. N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2b(1). Those committing these offenses and completing all incarceration, probation, and parole before the Law's enactment must register only if, at the time of sentencing, their conduct was found to be "characterized by a pattern of repetitive and compulsive behavior." Id.

The registrant must provide the following information to the chief law enforcement officer of the municipality in which he resides: name, social security number, age, race, sex, date of birth, height, weight, hair and eye color, address of legal residence, address of any current temporary legal residence, and date and place of employment. N.J.S.A. 2C:7-4b(1). He must confirm his address every ninety days, notify the municipal law enforcement agency if he moves, and re-register with the law enforcement agency of any new municipality. N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2d to e.

The registration agency then forwards the registrant's information, as well as any additional information it may have, to the prosecutor of the county that prosecuted the registrant. N.J.S.A. 2C:7-4c to d. The prosecutor, in turn, forwards the information to the Division of State Police, which incorporates it into a central registry and notifies the prosecutor of the county in which the registrant plans to reside. Id. This information is available to law enforcement agencies of New Jersey, other states, and the United States. N.J.S.A. 2C:7-5. The registration information is not open to public inspection.... Failure of the sex offender to comply with registration is a fourth-degree crime. [N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2a.]

81 F.3d at 1243. The registration requirement persists for a period of 15 years from the date of conviction or the date of release from a correctional facility, whichever is later. It is only after this 15 year period that a registrant may make application to the Superior Court to terminate the obligation to register. The obligation may be terminated only upon a persuasive showing that the registrant is not likely to pose a threat to the safety of others. N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2f.

C.

The registration information provides a basis for the next step--notification. The prosecutor of the county where the sex offender intends to reside and the prosecutor from the county of conviction use the registration information and other data to jointly assess the risk of reoffense by the registered individual. N.J.S.A. 2C:7-8d(1). They determine whether the sex offender poses a low (Tier 1), moderate (Tier 2), or high (Tier 3) reoffense risk. N.J.S.A. 2C:7-8c. Every registrant at least qualifies for Tier 1 treatment, otherwise known as "law enforcement alert," where notification extends only to law enforcement agencies likely to encounter the registrant. N.J.S.A. 2C:7-8c(1). In the case of those registrants posing a moderate risk of reoffense, Tier 2 notification, or "law enforcement, school and community organization alert," issues to registered schools, day care centers, summer camps, and other community organizations which care for children or provide support to women and where individuals are likely to encounter the sex offender. N.J.S.A. 2C:7-8c(2). The high risk registrants merit Tier 3's "community notification," where members of the public likely to encounter the registrant are notified. N.J.S.A. 2C:7-8c(3).

In order to preserve uniformity in the tier classification and notification process, the state Attorney General, in consultation with an advisory council, is required to develop and promulgate guidelines to be consulted by prosecutors in assessing the degree of risk of reoffense. N.J.S.A. 2C:7-8a, d. By statute, the guidelines are required to include the following considerations:

(1) Conditions of release that minimize risk of re-offense, including but not limited to whether the offender is under supervision of probation or parole; receiving counseling, therapy or treatment; or residing in a home situation that provides guidance and supervision;

(2) Physical conditions that minimize risk of re-offense, including but not limited to advanced age or debilitating illness;

(3) Criminal history factors indicative of high risk of re-offense, including:

(a) Whether the offender's conduct was found to be characterized by repetitive and compulsive behavior;

(b) Whether the offender served the maximum term;

(c) Whether the offender committed the sex offense against a child;

(4) Other criminal history factors to be considered in determining risk, including:

(a) The relationship between the offender and the victim;

(b) Whether the offense involved the use of a weapon, violence, or infliction of serious bodily injury;

(c) The number, date and nature of prior offenses;

(5) Whether psychological or psychiatric profiles indicate a risk of recidivism;

(6) The offender's response to treatment;

(7) Recent behavior, including behavior while confined or while under supervision in the community as well as behavior in the community following service of sentence; and

(8) Recent threats against persons or expressions of intent to commit additional crimes.

N.J.S.A. 2C:7-8b.

Pursuant to this statutory delegation of authority, the Attorney General has developed guidelines for law enforcement for classification and notification. See Guidelines for Law Enforcement for Notification to Local Officials and/or the Community of the Entry of a Sex Offender into the Community, June 1, 1996 ("Guidelines"). The Attorney General's Guidelines require the prosecutors to use the Registrant Risk Assessment Scale (the "Scale"), a numerical scoring system designed with the assistance of mental health and law enforcement professionals, to evaluate the degree of risk of the sex offender. See Registrant Risk Assessment Scale Manual, Oct. 3, 1995 ("Manual"). The New Jersey Supreme Court has said of the creation of the Scale:

A Committee of mental health professionals and legal experts ... developed the Scale. They examined risk assessment scales being used in the United States and Canada. After reviewing the scientific literature, the Committee selected for inclusion in the Scale those factors that met two conditions. First, all of the factors selected had to be empirically supported in the risk assessment field as criteria positively related to the risk of re-offense. Second, all of the factors selected had to be fairly concrete criteria that could be gathered in a consistent and reliable manner.

In re C.A., 679 A.2d 1153, 1169 (N.J. 1996).

The Scale itself is a matrix with thirteen factors grouped into four general categories: (1) Seriousness of Offense; (2) Offense History; (3) Characteristics of Offender; and (4) Community Support. See Artway, 81 F.3d at 1244. *fn2 Guided by the promulgated examples and commentary, the prosecutors determine whether the registrant poses a low, moderate, or high risk to the community under each of the factors and assign zero, one, or three points, respectively, for each factor. Then the prosecutors multiply these raw scores by a coefficient, reflective of the relative weight attributed to the various general categories by the creators of the Scale; raw scores for factors under Seriousness of Offense are multiplied by five, under Offense History by three, under Characteristics of Offender by two, and under Community Support by one. Prosecutors total the resulting amounts and place the registrant in the appropriate tier: Tier 1, low risk--0 to 36 points; Tier 2, moderate risk--37 to 73 points; and Tier 3, high risk--74 to 111 points. Finally, the prosecutors consider the applicability of two exceptions:

1) If an offender has indicated that he will reoffend if released into the community and the available record reveals credible evidence to support this finding, then the offender will be deemed to be a high risk of reoffense regardless of the weighting procedure; and 2) if the offender demonstrates a physical condition that minimizes the risk of reoffense, including but not limited to advanced age or debilitating illness, then the offender will be deemed to be a low risk of reoffense regardless of the outcome of the weighting procedure.

Manual at 1; see Artway, 81 F.3d at 1244.

While the class of those who receive notification differs depending on a registrant's classification, the type of information distributed is the same regardless of the classification. The package of information provided includes the registrant's name, a recent photograph, a physical description, the offense of conviction, home address, place of employment or schooling, and a vehicle description and license plate number. "Those notified under Tier 2 are informed that the information is not to be shared with the general public, and every notification must contain a warning about the criminal consequences of vandalism, threats and assaults against the registrant or any of his associates." 81 F.3d at 1244. *fn3

D.

The New Jersey courts have played an active role in refining and developing the Megan's Law scheme. See In re G.B., 685 A.2d 1252 (N.J. 1996); In re C.A., 679 A.2d 1153 (N.J. 1996); Doe v. Poritz, 662 A.2d 367 (N.J. 1995). In Doe, the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Megan's Law and read into the statute and Guidelines certain additional procedures designed to prevent any "excessiveness of community notification." 662 A.2d at 381. First, the Court added the "likely to encounter" the registrant restriction to Tier 2 notification. Id. *fn4 As a result of the Doe decision, a prosecutor who has classified a registrant in Tier 2 must make an "individual determination" concerning the appropriate institutions and organizations to include in the notification program he creates. Id. As articulated in the Guidelines, "[t]he decision as to which groups should appropriately be notified should be made on a case-by-case basis, following careful review." Guidelines at 11. There is no "automatic inclusion of an organization simply because it is `registered' "with the local law enforcement agencies; rather, "likely to encounter" requires "having a fair chance to encounter" the registrant. Doe, 662 A.2d at 385. The Guidelines interpret the Court's articulations to mean that the types of interactions which occur at the location and their attendant circumstances must demonstrate that contact with the offender is "reasonably certain." Guidelines at 6-7. They provide, for example, that if a registrant regularly stops at a gas station merely to refuel, there would not be a "fair chance to encounter" him there. Id. at 7.

Ordinarily, the "critical" factor for " `likely to encounter' is geography--how close is the institution or organization, in the case of Tier Two notification, to the offender's residence or place of work or school." Doe, 662 A.2d at 385. However, the New Jersey Supreme Court explained:

In some municipalities, not every institution or organization that would otherwise qualify for notification may be close enough to warrant same, but in some cases, ... institutions or organizations in other municipalities may be close enough. The same observations can be made for Tier Three notification. We do not attempt to define the area around the offender's residence or place of work or school that may be included within the notification process, and assume it may differ from one locale to another. Depending upon the particular offender, factors other than geography may be considered if they are relevant to the offender's likely whereabouts, such as an offender's proclivity for certain locations, and geographic considerations may be affected by the nature of the offender's characteristics and the institution in question, e.g., a repetitive and compulsive pedophile and a large elementary school. Id. at 385-86.

Moreover, the Guidelines provide that notification must be appropriately tailored to reach those members of the public who are at risk from the particular offender. The tailoring must include consideration of the relationship between the registrant and his prior victims. As the Guidelines suggest, sex offenders who have only victimized members of their own households may not pose a threat to most members of the community, and those that have targeted adult women may be of little risk to children; thus, the prosecutor may appropriately limit notification as all registered community organizations are not "likely to encounter" the offenders in either example.

Doe also added to the Megan's Law scheme a requirement that the prosecutor provide the registrant with notice of a Tier 2 or Tier 3 classification and the proposed notification plan. Id. at 382. The Court insisted that the written notice describe the manner and details of the notification plan and inform the registrant of his rights to retain counsel and to challenge the prosecutor's decisions. However, the Court "realize[d] that in some cases it may be impossible as a practical matter to give such notice, or to give it timely, and in those cases it may be dispensed with." Id. The Guidelines elaborate on dispensing with the notice requirement:

[I]f a Prosecutor['s] Office does not receive notification of release of a person determined to be a Tier 3 offender until after the date of release, then, in order to protect the public, notice to the offender may be dispensed with. The Prosecutor's Office may apply to the designated judge for an order allowing notification to take place without service of notice to the offender, upon receipt of the judge's order. This may occur, for example, when an offender who has been civilly committed is released on short notice by a judge.

Also, cases will arise where registrants will avoid service of the notice. In those cases, the Prosecutor's Office may apply to the designated judge for an order allowing notification to take place without service of notice to the offender, where the Prosecutor can demonstrate that every good faith effort was made within the allotted timeframe to serve the registrant. If service has not been completed within 3 days of the date that the tier decision is made, then the Prosecutor may apply to the court for the order allowing notification to occur without notice to the registrant.

Guidelines at 17-18.

Finally, Doe required the state to make available a pre-notification judicial review process for sex offenders who wish to contest their classification or the notification plan. 662 A.2d at 382. The registrant bears the burden of persuasion in these summary, in camera proceedings, where the court decides only whether to affirm or reverse the prosecutor's determination. Thus, where the state has met its burden of presenting evidence that "prima facie justifies the proposed level and manner of notification," the court will affirm the prosecutor's determination "unless it is persuaded by a preponderance of the evidence that it does not conform to the laws and Guidelines." Id. at 383. The "only issue for the court on the Tier level of notification is the risk of reoffense;" review of the notification plan largely involves interpretation and application of the "mandatory" limits on notification, such as the "likely to encounter" standard, articulated in the Doe opinion. Id. at 383-84. Still, the courts are to understand that "the Scale is merely a tool," In re G.B., 685 A.2d at 1261, and they are cautioned not to "blindly follow the numerical calculations" but to make a "case-by-case" determination regarding tier classification and scope of notification. In re C.A., 679 A.2d at 1171-72.

The New Jersey Supreme Court has recognized that"a registrant is entitled to lodge three distinct challenges to his tier designation":

First, a registrant may introduce evidence that the calculation that led to the Scale score was incorrectly performed either because of a factual error, because the registrant disputes a prior offense, because the variable factors were improperly determined, or for similar reasons. Second, a registrant may introduce evidence at the hearing that the Scale calculations do not properly encapsulate his specific case; or phrased differently, a registrant may maintain that his case falls outside the "heartland" of cases and, therefore, that he deserves to be placed in a tier other than that called for by the prosecutor's Scale score. Finally, a registrant may introduce evidence that the extent of notification called for by his tier categorization is excessive because of unique aspects of his case. Challenges to the Scale itself, or challenges to the weight afforded to any of the individual factors that comprise the Scale, are not permitted. Instead, all challenges must relate to the characteristics of the individual registrant and the shortcomings of the Scale in his particular case.

In re G.B., 685 A.2d at 1264.

The registrant's hearing "is civil, not criminal, and remedial, not adversarial." In re C.A., 679 A.2d at 1164. It follows the "format . . . for probation violation hearings" in New Jersey. Id. at 1166. The court possesses broad discretion over whether and to what extent witnesses and cross examination will be allowed. Doe, 662 A.2d at 382-83. Rules of evidence do not apply, and the court may rely on documentary evidence, such as expert opinions, for all issues. Id. at 383. Reliable hearsay is admissible. In re C.A., 679 A.2d at 1165. Moreover, "non-conviction offenses [i.e., criminal activities that have not been the subject of a conviction] are to be considered in evaluating a registrant's risk of re-offense, provided there is sufficient evidence that the offense occurred." Id. at 1162.

Where the proof, whether in the form of reliable hearsay, affidavits, or offers of live testimony, creates a genuine issue of material fact that the tier designation or manner of notification is inappropriate, "then the trial court should convene a fact-finding hearing and permit live testimony." Id. at 1166. Both sides may use expert testimony, but the proceedings are not to be converted into "long drawn-out contests between experts." Doe, 662 A.2d at 384. Thus, courts must permit registrants to introduce expert testimony which tends to establish that the Scale does not properly account for aspects of the registrant's character or prior offense, where those aspects are relevant and material to the tier classification, and, in the court's opinion, would assist in the disposition of the case. In re G.B., 685 A.2d at 1265-66.

E.

In Artway, we sustained the constitutionality of the provisions of Megan's Law requiring registration and Tier 1 notification. We declined, however, to address the accompanying constitutional challenge to the provisions requiring the broader notification authorized for Tier 2 and Tier 3 classifications. We found that challenge unripe in large part because the plaintiff there had not been classified and had not received a notification plan. We also noted that the record there lacked evidence of the effects of notification on the community. 81 F.3d at 1250. For purposes of the ensuing discussion, we will follow the convention established in our Artway opinion, whereby"registration" includes Tier 1 notification and "notification" refers to Tier 2 and Tier 3 notification. Artway, 81 F.3d at 1244.

III. THE PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

We have two actions before us: E.B. v. Verniero and W.P. v. Verniero. They involve identical challenges to Megan's Law; each alleges that notification violates ex post facto, double jeopardy, and procedural due process protections conferred by the United States Constitution. The plaintiffs in both actions are sex offenders who were convicted of their offenses prior to the enactment of Megan's Law. The plaintiff in the individual action, E.B., comes within the broad language defining the class certified in W.P., constituting:

All persons required to register as a sex offender[sic] pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:7-1 et seq. and whose offenses were committed prior to October 31, 1994, the effective date of the New Jersey Registration and Community Notification Laws, and who have been or will be classified as a tier II or tier III offender.

W.P. v. Poritz, 931 F. Supp. 1187, 1192 (D.N.J. 1996). The defendants in E.B. are the Attorney General, the local county prosecutor, and the police chief, while in W.P. they are the Attorney General and various county prosecutors.

A.

In 1974, E.B. pled guilty in New Jersey Superior Court to three offenses of sexual abuse against young boys and received a thirty-three-year sentence. Two years later, he pled guilty in the Circuit Court in Petersburg, Virginia, to two separate murders and was sentenced to concurrent terms of twenty years of incarceration in that state to run consecutive to the New Jersey sentence. In 1979, after serving less than six years of his thirty-three-year New Jersey sentence, E.B. was paroled and extradited to Virginia to serve the murder sentences. On June 15, 1989, E.B. was paroled by Virginia. He is now free, subject to supervised release by the New Jersey Bureau of Parole until July 23, 2006.

Pursuant to Megan's law, E.B. registered with the authorities in Englewood, New Jersey. On October 24, 1995, the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office notified E.B. that he was classified as a Tier 3 sex offender and proposed to issue notification to "all public and private educational institutions and organizations within a one-half mile radius of the Plaintiff 's home, and all parties who resided or worked within a one block radius of the Plaintiff 's home." E.B. Complaint at Para(s) 13. Upon E.B.'s objection to the classification and notification, a hearing was held in New Jersey Superior Court, Law Division. On December 18, 1995, the court ruled that the classification was appropriate and permitted notification to: (1) 82 public and private educational institutions, licensed day care centers and summer camps in Englewood, Teaneck, Bergenfield, Tenafly, Englewood Cliffs, Leonia and Fort Lee, and (2) all residences within a one block radius of E.B.'s house. E.B.'s appeals to the Appellate Division and the State Supreme Court were unsuccessful, but notification remained stayed by court order during the pendency of the proceedings.

E.B. then filed his federal action. The district court entered a preliminary injunction, enjoining the defendants from implementing notification. E.B. v. Poritz, 914 F. Supp. 85 (D.N.J. 1996). Defendants appeal from that order and a subsequent order denying their application for a stay of the preliminary injunction.

B.

Seven plaintiffs filed the initial complaint in W.P. in January 1996. Two months later, when the court certified the class, there were 22 representative plaintiffs, all classified as either Tier 2 or Tier 3 and facing prosecutor's notification plans ranging in scope from notification of three schools to notification of all schools, day care centers, and registered community organizations in the city of Trenton, as well as all residents within a certain area of the city. Some of the representative plaintiffs had sought relief from a state court and were subject to the resulting state court orders. The district court promptly entered a preliminary injunction preventing notification for any of the class members. W.P. v. Poritz, 931 F. Supp. at 1187. *fn5

Thereafter, the court entered summary judgment for the defendants. W.P. v. Poritz, 931 F. Supp. 1199 (D.N.J. 1996). Plaintiffs filed this appeal from the entry of summary judgment.

C.

The record in these cases contains affidavits from registrants and state authorities, the Attorney General's publications concerning the Scale, registration and notification data, newspaper articles, and reports from other jurisdictions maintaining notification programs. The district court held the plaintiffs' constitutional claims were ripe for review, and no one has challenged that determination on appeal.

New Jersey's Administrative Office of the Courts reports that, as of May 6, 1996, there were 528 registrants designated as Tier 1; 585 as Tier 2; and 59 as Tier 3; or 45 percent, 50 percent, and 5 percent, respectively, of all classified registrants. According to the county prosecutors, as of May 16, 1996, notification was completed for 135 out of the 644 individuals classified to Tier 2 or Tier 3. Administrative Office information also indicates that of the 117 registrants who pursued their notification challenges to a resolution, 62 had their tier levels affirmed. Fifty-two challenges resulted in changed tier classifications and 13 resulted in modification of the scope of notification.

The record contains anecdotal evidence concerning the experiences of a total of at least nineteen sex offenders in New Jersey. *fn6 In only six of these cases had state-compelled notification under Megan's Law been carried out. In the remaining cases, members of the community had received information about the sex offenders from sources other than a Megan's Law notification. *fn7 In all the cases, the sentenced offender had experienced adverse repercussions. Loss of employment, eviction, and verbal abuse were not uncommon. Vandalism and threats were experienced but considerably less frequently. Two registrant affidavits speak of physical assaults following notification. One registrant reported being physically attacked on three separate occasions. In another case, a father and son broke into the registrant's residence and assaulted a house guest whom they mistook for the sex offender. Police arrived on the scene and arrested the assailants, who were later prosecuted and convicted for criminal trespass.

According to law enforcement records, the 135 cases in which Tier 2 and Tier 3 notifications have been completed have produced only a single instance of a physical assault being reported to the authorities--the father and son attack on the person mistaken for a registrant. In addition, there was a total of four reports to law enforcement personnel of threats, harassment, or other offensive actions. In Bergen County, one Tier 3 registrant contacted the local police department and reported that his mother's car had been vandalized. In Somerset County, a juvenile who registered under Megan's Law reported to police that a harassing note had been left on his car at school. In Sussex County, the prosecutor's office received a call from the wife of a Tier 3 registrant who reported that a threatening note had been mailed to the registrant's home. In Atlantic County, a Tier 2 registrant's employer reported that the local school had disclosed the employment of the registrant and a boycott was planned for the employer's restaurant. The police defused the situation by contacting the potential picketers and the school's principal, who agreed to speak to his staff concerning the confidentiality of information received through notification.

The record also includes information from the registration and notification experiences of other jurisdictions. A review of community notification in Washington state found that of the 176 notifications completed between March 1990 and March 1993, 14 incidents of harassment were reported, ranging in severity from multiple incidents of verbal abuse to a death threat and one assault. *fn8

In addition, the record contains a January 1995 study by the Oregon Department of Corrections, undertaken to investigate the impact of the first 14 months of the state's 1993 community notification statute. Even before this statute, probation and parole officers with a sex offender under supervision had provided notification to"local police; immediate and extended family members in contact with the offender; victims; other residents in the offender's home; regular visitors to the home; employers; therapists; Children's Services Division; landlords and apartment managers; ministers, pastors, and other officials where the offender attends church; select neighbors; specific business[es] frequented by the offender; and close associates to the offender." Oregon Dep't of Corrections, Sex Offender Community Notification in Oregon at 7 (Jan. 1995). This practice continued after enactment of the statute requiring notification to "a broader public." As of the time of the study, there had been 237 notification plans submitted under the new law. In this context, the Oregon Department of Corrections reported as follows:

In January 1995, forty-five parole/probation sex offender specialists from thirty-five counties responded to a survey of their experience with Community Notification. These officers were responsible for a total caseload of 2,160 sex offenders. The following information was gained from the surveys and [Sex Offender Supervision] Network discussions:

* * *

Less than 10% of offenders experienced some form of harassment. Incidents reported included name calling, graffiti, toilet papering and minor property vandalism, monitoring of a home by video camera, repeated reports of unfounded violations to parole/ probation officers, and picketing of residences.

There were two extreme cases of retaliation. One sex offender had a gun pointed at him and was threatened. In another case, a victim had tires slashed and the offender was blamed. Although the offender passed a polygraph and was accountable for the time, there were threats made that the offender's home would be burned down.

* * *

Other circumstances reported by parole/probation officers included:

Community notification has made it more difficult to find residences for some sex offenders released from prison.

* * *

Notification has [affected] employment opportunities for sex offenders.

* * *

Businesses who were initially willing quietly to employ a sex offender sometimes do not provide jobs when the hiring will clearly become public.

Id. at 12-14.

IV. THE ROOKER-FELDMAN ISSUE

There is a threshold jurisdictional issue for decision. The appellants contend that the district court was without subject matter jurisdiction under the doctrine articulated by the Supreme Court in Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923), and District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983). Section 1257 of Title 28 of the United States Code bestows upon the Supreme Court of the United States appellate jurisdiction to review final judgments of the highest courts of the respective states. The so-called Rooker-Feldman doctrine teaches that, by negative implication, the inferior federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction to review judgments of those courts. We have interpreted ...


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