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A Loophole Big Enough for a Sex Offender

gavv.jpgYou may have read our recent blog about a New Jersey Appeals Court decision that public schools are not accountable under the Child Sexual Abuse Act. If you didn't like that, you won't like this.

Needless to say, it runs contrary to most people's sensibilities to allow convicted sex offenders to work closely with children. But a recent decision in New Jersey created an exception, allowing sex offenders to work in youth groups that are affiliated with a church. Read on!

In 2015, trial court judge Julie Marino dismissed an indictment of a person convicted of sexual assault on a minor who later volunteered at a church youth group and was later charged with violating Megan's Law, which prevents "an excluded sex offender to hold a position, or otherwise participate, in a paid or unpaid capacity, in a youth serving organization."

Judge Marino referred to the language of Megan's Law, which specifically excludes church organizations from "youth-serving organizations," defined as "a sports team, league, athletic association or any other corporation, association or organization... which provides recreational, educational, cultural, social, charitable or other activities or services to persons under 18 years of age." On appeal, 3 judges agreed with the decision, saying that the factors determining whether an organization constitutes a "youth-service organization" are whether the organization is attached to a larger organization that does not strictly provide youth-services (such as a church) and whether the organization has its own board of directors or bylaws.

Despite this "protection for pedophiles," sex offenders working with church youth groups must provide the leaders of the organization with notice, explaining the nature of the past conviction. But even with this requirement, most parents will be understandably be upset with the decision and will question whether the writers of the law in the State Legislature really intended for church youth groups to be exempted from the law's protection. Courts are limited to interpreting the language of the statute-they're not supposed to create new law. If a law has language that may provide unwanted "loopholes" and exceptions, readers and parents should contact their state legislative representatives to rewrite or alter the existing law to best serve the community. The same goes for the "sex abuse in schools" decision. Loree Varella, Rutgers School of Law Newark candidate for a JD degree in May 2016 collaborated with me on this blog. She is Associate Editor of the Rutgers Computer and Technology Law Journal and Managing Research Editor of that publication.

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