New Jersey legislators have introduced a bill that intends to change how state and local authorities prosecute cases of sexual assault and abuse outside state lines. The new bill, A1418, was unanimously recommended for passage by the Assembly Judiciary Committee in February and has gone on to the full Assembly and the Senate for further approvals.
The bill comes in response to a ruling from the state Supreme Court last year, in which the judges found that New Jersey officials could not prosecute teachers for having sex with their minor students while overseas on a school-sponsored trip. The judges ruled that sex crimes committed outside the state borders were outside the jurisdiction of New Jersey authorities.
State v. Sumulikowski and State v. Sopel
In State v. Sumulikoski and State v. Sopel, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office could not bring charges against two chaperones who were accused of engaging in sexual activities with three of their high school students during a class trip to Germany. The accused, Michael Sumulikoski and Artur Sopel, were both employed by Paramus Catholic High School, Sumulikoski as a permanent substitute and coach and Sopel as the vice president of operations.
In February of 2011, the two men chaperoned a group of 17 students in the school’s German Club on a trip to the country. The following month, a teacher spoke with one of the students involved in the alleged assault and reported the incident to the Division of Youth and Family Services. In the investigation that followed, Sumulikoski and Sopel were both charged with multiple counts of sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child.
The court ruled that in cases where “all of the elements of an offense that relate to conduct that took place outside the state’s borders, jurisdiction lies elsewhere—in the state or country where the conduct occurs.” This ruling was drawn from the language of N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(a)(1), which states that New Jersey has jurisdiction to try crimes if “either the conduct which is an element of the offense or the result which is such an element occurs within the state.”
Changes Possible in A1418
In response to this decision, lawmakers have decided to amend state statutes to allow prosecution in cases like these. According to the chief sponsor, Gordon Johnson, the bill would go into full effect immediately, if it passes, but it would not be retroactively applied to past cases.
If passed, this bill could change the way future criminal allegations are handled for state residents when they’re out of town; so it’s important to be aware of what is and isn’t allowed in an investigation. At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, we represent anyone who has been charged with sexual assault or other sex-related crimes. For more information about New Jersey’s sexual assault laws, jurisdiction boundaries and statutes or to discuss your case, contact a New Jersey sexual assault lawyer at our firm today.