Recent changes to New Jersey’s child sexual abuse and child pornography laws

A bill enacted this summer makes significant changes to New Jersey’s child sexual abuse and child pornography laws. The new provisions clarify the law, update it to apply to a broader range of technologies, and expand the penalties for child sexual abuse and exploitation, bringing it more into line with federal law.

 

Key provisions in the new law include the following:

  • Minors up to the age of 18 are now protected from sexual abuse and exploitation under the child endangerment statute. Previously, the statute only protected minors up to the age of 16.
  • Updated definitions and terminology have been incorporated into the child sexual abuse and child pornography statutes to better address digital technology and to prevent offenders from using new technology to exploit loopholes in the law.
  • The legislation expands the scope of criminal liability for child pornography possession, distribution, and production offenses. Some offenses have been upgraded and subject to harsher penalties, while other offenses are now subject to mandatory minimum sentences.
  • The law also adds a provision to Megan’s Law authorizing special lifetime parole supervision for child pornography offenders, and it makes these offenses ineligible for expungement.

 

For more information about child sexual assault and child pornography offenses in New Jersey, contact the Law Offices of Palumbo & Renaud at 908-337-7353 and ask to schedule a free legal consultation. Palumbo & Renaud serves clients facing all types of criminal charges, primarily in Essex County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Ocean County, and Union County. Call today and find out how we can help you.

 

 

 

New trial ordered in sexual abuse case due to lack of physical evidence and cumulative effect of trial errors

The New Jersey Appellate Division ruled in November that a Monmouth County man sentenced to 10 years in prison for sexually assaulting his daughter was entitled to a new trial. Although no single error standing alone warranted this reversal, the court was satisfied that a new trial was called for based on the lack of substantial physical evidence and the cumulative prejudicial impact of several trial errors. State v. M.M., 2012 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2474, No. A-2747-09T1 (N.J. App. Div. Nov. 8, 2012).

 

The first evidentiary ruling challenged by the defendant involved hearsay statements made by the daughter’s biology teacher and vice principal. Generally speaking, the rule against hearsay prohibits witnesses from testifying about statements made by other people, as such testimony is often unreliable or unverifiable. An important exception, however, is when the hearsay statement is offered to show the effect of the statement on the listener, not as proof that the statement was true. The prosecution invoked this exception to introduce testimony from the vice principal that the defendant’s daughter told him that she did not want to go home, with the prosecution claiming that the statement was not offered to prove whether she wanted to go home or not, but rather to show that the conversation occurred and the effect it had on the vice principal. Similarly, the prosecution argued that the biology teacher’s testimony regarding a conversation she overheard between the daughter and another girl was offered to show its effect on the teacher, namely concern, and not to prove that what the daughter told the other girl was true. Even if these statements qualified for the hearsay exception, the court agreed with the defendant that they were inadmissible because they were not relevant to any material fact in the trial.

 

The court also found that the prosecutor erred by stating during summation that the daughter “was not lying” and by telling the jury that all of the other witnesses believed her. While finding it unlikely that these comments, by themselves, created any significant prejudice against the defendant, the court still emphasized that it was inappropriate for a prosecutor to vouch for witnesses, attempt to bolster their credibility, or express personal beliefs as to the truthfulness of their testimony.

 

The defendant also contended that it was inherently prejudicial to use a screen to shield his daughter from view during her testimony, although the prosecution claimed that using a screen was an appropriate way to balance the defendant’s right to a neutral and public trial against the need to protect his daughter from undergoing psychological and emotional trauma during her testimony. The court accepted that screening might be appropriate in certain cases, but found that it was inappropriate in this case because there was no evidence that the daughter would have been unable to testify in open court, particularly in light of the fact that the screen shielded her only from spectators and not from the defendant or the jury.

 

Considering the effect of these errors together, along with the lack of direct evidence, the court concluded that a new trial was necessary. As the court explained, the combined impact of allowing irrelevant hearsay, inappropriate vouching, and unnecessary screening “was clearly capable of producing an unjust result.”

 

Trial errors like these can be especially damaging in cases involving child sexual abuse and other highly stigmatized crimes, but a skilled criminal defense attorney can raise objections and prevent prosecutors from introducing irrelevant and prejudicial evidence to the jury. If you’ve been accused of a sex crime and want to ensure that you’re represented by an experienced and aggressive defense lawyer, contact me, Anthony N. Palumbo, at 908-337-7353 to arrange a free and confidential consultation. I have more than 35 years of experience defending clients against sexual abuse charges and I know the best strategies and tactics to protect defendants and get the best results possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charged with Sexual Assault in Union County

Last week a 20-year-old man was charged with first-degree sexual assault and second-degree sexual assault in New Jersey after his sexual relationship with a 12-year-old girl came to the attention of the Union County Prosecutor.   The accused met the girl on the internet and thereafter, they met several times around Union County to allegedly engage in acts of sexual penetration.  The information was revealed to the police after one of the girl’s parents became aware of the incident.

In New Jersey, first degree 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 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: (a) The adult is related to the victim by blood or affinity to the third degree; (b) the adult has supervisory or disciplinary power over the victim based on his legal, professional, or occupational relationship with the victim; or (c) the adult is a resource family parent, a guardian, or stands in loco parentis within the household.

In New Jersey, second degree child sex abuse is the same as second degree sexual assault of a child. A conviction carries 5 to 10 years in prison.  It can occur two 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: (a) The adult is related to the victim by blood or affinity to the third degree; or (b) the adult has supervisory or disciplinary power of any nature or in any capacity over the victim; or (c) the adult is a resource family parent, a guardian, or stands in loco parentis within the household.

In New Jersey, first degree child abuse is considered aggravated sexual assault and carries a lifelong registration penalty under Megan’s Law.  Thus, if the young man is convicted of first degree sexual assault, he will be forced to register under Megan’s law for life.

My name is Anthony N. Palumbo, New Jersey sex crime attorney and if you have been charged with first degree sexual assault or child abuse in New Jersey, the penalties you face won’t end after incarceration.  Megan’s law is possibly the severest part of a first degree sexual assault conviction because it stays with you for life.  If you are involved in a situation that you feel may result in allegations of child abuse, contact an attorney immediately to find out how to protect your rights today.  Call 1-866-664-8118 for a free consultation with an experienced New Jersey sex crime attorney or visit my website at www.palumborenaud.com.
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