Megan's Law

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For a broader coverage related to this topic, see Sex offender registries in the United States.

Megan's Law is the name for a federal law, and informal name for subsequent state laws, in the United States requiring law enforcement authorities to make information available to the public regarding registered sex offenders. Laws were created in response to the murder of Megan Kanka. Federal Megan's Law was enacted as a subsection of the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act of 1994, which merely required sex offenders to register with local law enforcement.[1][2] Since only few states required registration prior to Megan's death, the state level legislation to bring states in compliance —with both the registration requirement of Jacob Wetterling Act and community notification required by federal Megan's Law— were crafted simultaneously and are often referred as "Megan's Laws" of individual states. Thus, federal Megan's Law refers to community notification (making registry information public), whereas state level "Megan's Law" may refer to both sex offender registration and community notification.

Individual states decide what information will be made available and how it should be disseminated. Commonly included information is the offender's name, picture, address, incarceration date, and offense of conviction. The information is often displayed on free public websites, but can be published in newspapers, distributed in pamphlets, or through various other means.

At the federal level, Megan's Law requires persons convicted of sex crimes against children to notify local law enforcement of any change of address or employment after release from custody (prison or psychiatric facility). The notification requirement may be imposed for a fixed period of time—usually at least ten years—or permanently. Some states may legislate registration for all sex crimes, even if no minors were involved. It is a felony in most jurisdictions to fail to register or fail to update information.

Together, Jacob Wetterling Act and Megan's Law provide two major information services: sex offender registry for law enforcement, and community notification for the public. The details of what is provided as part of sex offender registration and how community notification is handled vary from state to state, and in some states the required registration information and community notification protocols have changed many times since Megan's Law was passed. The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act supplements Megan's Law with new registration requirements and a three-tier system for classifying sex offenders according to certain listed offenses requiring registration.

History[edit]

Precedent of Megan's Law, federal Jacob Wetterling Act of 1994, required each state to create registry for sexual offenders and certain other offenses against children. Under Wetterling Act registry information was kept for law enforcement only, although law enforcement agencies were allowed to release information of specific person when deemed necessary to protect the public.[3][2] After a high-profile rape and murder of seven-year-old Megan Kanka in Hamilton Township, Mercer County, New Jersey by Jesse Timmendequas, a sex offender with two previous convictions of sex crimes against small children living across the street from Megan, her parents Richard and Maureen Kanka went on crusade to change the law by demanding mandatory community notification on sex offenders, arguing that registration required under Jacob Wetterling Act was not sufficient protection measure. They said that Megan would be alive had they known of criminal history of Timmendequas.[2][4] Paul Kramer sponsored package of seven bills known as Megan's Law in New Jersey General Assembly in 1994.[4] 89 days after Megan was murdered, New Jersey enacted Megan's Law which required sex offender registration, with a database tracked by the state, and whereabouts of high-risk sex offenders moving into a neighborhood to be made public.[5] Before Megan's death only five states required sex offenders to register with local law enforcement as required in Jacob Wetterling Act.[2]

The New Jersey law became model for federal legislation, introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Dick Zimmer.[5] On May 17, 1996 President Bill Clinton signed federal Megan's Law, an amendment to the Jacob Wetterling Act, that set the guidelines for the state statutes, requiring states to notify the public, although officials could decide how much public notification is necessary, based on the level of danger posed by an offender.[1][6]

International Megan's Law[edit]

International Megan's Law to Prevent Child Exploitation and Other Sexual Crimes Through Advanced Notification of Traveling Sex Offenders was signed into a law by President Obama in February 08, 2016.[7][8] International Megan's Law requires the notification of foreign governments when a citizen of United States registered as a sex offender for sexual offense involving a minor is going to be traveling to their country.[9] The law requires a visual "unique identifier" to be placed on the passports of covered registrants and requires offenders to notify law enforcement 21 days before traveling abroad.[10] The law was challenged shortly after being enacted.[11]

Public notification[edit]

States differ with respect to public disclosure of offenders. In some states all sex offenders are subject to public notification through Megan's Law websites. However, in others, only information on high-risk offenders is publicly available, and the complete lists are withheld for law enforcement only.[12] Under federal SORNA tier I registrants may be excluded from public disclosure, with exemption of those convicted of "specified offense against a minor."[13] Since SORNA merely sets the minimum standards the states must follow, many SORNA compliant states disclose information of all tiers.[12] These disparities have prompted some registrants to move into states with less stricter rules.[14]

Criticism[edit]

Evidence to support the effectiveness of public sex offender registries is limited and mixed.[15] Majority of research results do not find statistically significant shift in sexual offense trends following the implementation of sex offender registration and notification (SORN) regimes.[16][17][18][19] A few studies indicate that sexual recidivism may have been lowered by SORN policies,[20][21] while a few have found statistically significant increase in sex crimes following SORN implementation.[15][22] According to the Office of Justice Programs' SMART Office, sex offender registration and notification requirements arguably have been implemented in the absence of empirical evidence regarding their effectiveness.[15]

Opponents of Megan's Law, like Women Against Registry,[23] Reform Sex Offender Laws, Inc.[24][25][26] and Human Rights Watch,[27][28] have called the law overbroad and an invitation to vigilante violence.

Treatment professionals such as ATSA criticize the lack of evidence of the laws' effectiveness, the automatic inclusion of offenders on the registry without determining the risk of reoffense (by applying scientifically validated risk assessment tools), the scientifically unsupported popular belief in high recidivism, and the counter-effectiveness of the laws, which can actually undermine, rather than improve public safety by exacerbating factors (e.g. unemployment, instability) that may lead to recidivism.[29][30] In addition, civil rights and reformist organizations highlight the adverse collateral effects on the family members of registrants, and question the fairness of the registries as indefinite punishment, and when applied to certain offender groups, such as juveniles and young adults engaging in consensual acts.[27][31] Some victims' rights advocates like Patty Wetterling have presented similar critique.[32][33][34][35][36][37]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Public Law 104-145" (PDF). 104th Congress. Retrieved 30 September 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d Wright, Ph.D Richard G. (2014). Sex offender laws : failed policies, new directions (Second edition. ed.). Springer Publishing Co Inc. pp. 50–65. ISBN 9780826196712. 
  3. ^ "Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994" (PDF). One Hundred Third Congress of the United States of America. 1995. pp. 246–247. 
  4. ^ a b McLarin, Kimberly j. (30 August 1994). "Trenton Races To Pass Bills On Sex Abuse". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 September 2015. 
  5. ^ a b Shapiro, Rich (27 July 2014). "Parents of little girl who inspired Megan's Law recall brutal rape, murder of their daughter 20 years later". New York Daily News. 
  6. ^ "Clinton Signs Tougher "Megan's Law"". All Politics. CNN. 17 May 1996. 
  7. ^ "Statement by the Press Secretary on H.R. 515, H.R. 4188, S. 2152". The White House. 8 February 2016. 
  8. ^ "Obama signs International Megan's Law". nj.com. 8 February 2016. 
  9. ^ Moody, Chris (20 May 2014). "House prepares for rare votes on standalone bills to curb human trafficking". Yahoo! News. Retrieved 21 May 2014. 
  10. ^ "S.1867 - International Megan's Law to Prevent Child Exploitation Through Advanced Notification of Traveling Sex Offenders". Congress.gov. 114th Congress (2015-2016). 
  11. ^ "Civil Rights Group Opposes Law Identifying Sex Offenders On Passports". CBS SF Bay Area. 9 February 2016. 
  12. ^ a b "Megan's Law by State". Klaas Kids Foundation. Retrieved 2015-08-21. 
  13. ^ "Registry Requirement FAQs". Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending. Retrieved 4 December 2015. 
  14. ^ "Portland: Sex offender magnet?". Portland Tribune. 14 February 2013. 
  15. ^ a b c Office of Justice Programs (2012). "Chapter 8: Sex Offender Management Strategies". Office of Justice Programs - Sex Offender Management and Planning Initiative (SOMAPI). 
  16. ^ Levenson, Jill; Tewksbury, Richard (15 January 2009). "Collateral Damage: Family Members of Registered Sex Offenders" (PDF). American Journal of Criminal Justice. 34 (1-2): 54–68. doi:10.1007/s12103-008-9055-x. 
  17. ^ Vasquez, B. E.; Maddan, S.; Walker, J. T. (26 October 2007). "The Influence of Sex Offender Registration and Notification Laws in the United States: A Time-Series Analysis". Crime & Delinquency. 54 (2): 175–192. doi:10.1177/0011128707311641. 
  18. ^ Zevitz, Richard G. (June 2006). "Sex Offender Community Notification: Its Role in Recidivism and Offender Reintegration". Criminal Justice Studies. 19 (2): 193–208. doi:10.1080/14786010600764567. 
  19. ^ Prescott, J.J.; Rockoff, Jonah E. (February 2011). "Do Sex Offender Registration and Notification Laws Affect Criminal Behavior?". Journal of Law and Economics. 54 (1): 161–206. doi:10.1086/658485. 
  20. ^ DUWE, GRANT; DONNAY, WILLIAM (May 2008). "THE IMPACT OF MEGAN'S LAW ON SEX OFFENDER RECIDIVISM: THE MINNESOTA EXPERIENCE". Criminology. 46 (2): 411–446. doi:10.1111/j.1745-9125.2008.00114.x. 
  21. ^ "Sex offender sentencing in Washington State: Has community notification reduced recidivism?". Washington State Institute for Public Policy. December 2005. 
  22. ^ "Studies question effectiveness of sex offender laws". Science Daily. 30 August 2011. 
  23. ^ "Missouri Sex Offenders: "Women Against Registry" Says Labels Unfairly Destroy Lives". RFT. 
  24. ^ Long, Matt (29 July 2013). "Group calls for moratorium on sex offender registry after killings". South Carolina Radio Network. 
  25. ^ Zakalik, Lauren (Aug 29, 2012). "National conference aims to soften, reform sex offender laws". KOAT. Retrieved 14 November 2014. 
  26. ^ Lovett, Ian (October 1, 2013). "Restricted Group Speaks Up, Saying Sex Crime Measures Go Too Far". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 November 2014. 
  27. ^ a b "No Easy Answers: Sex Offender Laws in the US". Human Rights Watch. 11 September 2007. Retrieved 2011-02-21. 
  28. ^ Raised on the Registry: The Irreparable Harm of Placing Children on Sex Offender Registries in the US Human Rights Watch 2013 ISBN 978-1-62313-0084
  29. ^ "The Registration and Community Notification of Adult Sexual Offenders". http://www.atsa.com. Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. April 5, 2010. Retrieved 14 November 2014.  External link in |website= (help)
  30. ^ "Sexual Offender Residence Restrictions". http://www.atsa.com. Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. April 5, 2010. Retrieved 14 November 2014.  External link in |website= (help)
  31. ^ Blow, Steve (17 July 2014). "We can do better on sex offender laws". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved 14 November 2014. 
  32. ^ Bleyer, Jennifer (20 March 2013). "Patty Wetterling questions sex offender laws". CityPages News. 
  33. ^ Wetterling, Patty (14 September 2007). "Patty Wetterling: The harm in sex-offender laws". Sacramento Bee. Archived from the original on 14 September 2007. 
  34. ^ Gunderson, Dan (18 June 2007). "Sex offender laws have unintended consequences". MPR news. Retrieved 16 November 2014. 
  35. ^ Mellema, Matt (11 August 2014). "Sex Offender Laws Have Gone Too Far". Slate. Retrieved 16 November 2014. 
  36. ^ Sethi, Chanakya (15 August 2014). "Reforming the Registry". Slate. Retrieved 16 November 2014. 
  37. ^ Wright, Richard (16 March 2009). Sex Offender Laws: Failed Policies, New Directions. New York: Springer Publishing Company. pp. 101–116. ISBN 978--0-8261-1109-8. Archived from the original on 7 April 2009. Retrieved 16 November 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Levenson, Jill S.; Cotter, Leo P. (2005). "The Effect of Megan's Law on Sex Offender Reintegration". Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice. 21 (1): 49–66. doi:10.1177/1043986204271676. 
  • Zgoba, Kristen; Dalessandro, Melissa; Veysey, Bonita; Witt, Philip (December 2008), Megan’s Law: Assessing the Practical and Monetary Efficacy (PDF)  Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  • Levenson, Jill S.; D'Amora, David A.; Hern, Andrea L. (2007). "Megan's law and its impact on community re-entry for sex offenders". Behavioral Sciences & the Law. 25 (4): 587–602. doi:10.1002/bsl.770. PMID 17620324. 
  • Welchans, Sarah (2005). "Megan's Law: Evaluations of Sexual Offender Registries". Criminal Justice Policy Review. 16 (2): 123–140. doi:10.1177/0887403404265630. 

External links[edit]