Horseplay or criminal act?
Two New Jersey teenagers -- fictitiously referred to by the court as “James” and “Daniel” -- may need to register for life as sex offenders under Megan's Law for what their lawyers claim was mere horseplay. A three-judge panel ruled earlier this week that the boys' actions were serious enough to warrant this decision.
The appeals court agreed the boys, who were 14 at the time, engaged in sexual contact when they held down an 11-year-old and a 12-year-old boy in Somerset County in 2008 and placed their bare buttockses on the boy's faces. NJ.com has more:
One boy was convicted of criminal sexual contact. The other boy who was implicated pleaded guilty to the same offense and received the same penalty.
...at least one of the boys’ penises touched the lips of a victim and might have parted the lips. Although that contact was unintended, it raises the act from horseplay and bullying to a more serious offense.
The ruling means the boys would have to register under Megan's Law because the court said sexual contact applies to touching for the purpose of humiliation. The law requires law enforcement officials to make public information about sex offenders (name, picture and location are some of the common elements included).
The judges wrote they were "keenly aware" of the ruling's life-long ramifications for the boys and for others like them. But, they contended that, with certainty, the law requires -- regardless of age -- that their actions be labeled and punished as such.
Defense lawyers didn't argue against the sex offender registration based on the boys' ages, as New Jersey courts have already ruled that children as young as 13 can be tried under Megan's Law. The defense, instead, claimed that their actions, while certainly problematic, did not warrant such a literal interpretation of the law.
The judges sent both cases back to a lower court to consider whether one boy can withdraw his guilty plea and whether the other received effective counsel. MyCentralJersey.com writes:
Under the ruling, a Family Court judge now must hold separate hearings that could result in either a new trial or a chance for the defendants to strike a new plea agreement with prosecutors.
On Fox News, legal analyst Peter Johnson Jr. explains that he believes the court was correct in finding the boys' actions to be more severe than mere horseplay. But, he says:
“I believe in the end that these boys will not wind up on that watch list in the state of New Jersey, but we need to look at; is Megan’s Law effective in the United States?”
Watch Johnson's comments, below:
Certainly, the literal interpretation of the law should be explored, especially in murky cases in which offenders are young children. The conclusion of this story may be somewhat more favorable for the boys, though they have most certainly learned a valuable lesson about bullying.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
(h/t Fox News Insider)