Megan's Law

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For a broader coverage related to this topic, see Sex offender registries in the United States.
Sign at the limits of Wapello, Iowa: sex offender-free districts appeared as a result of Megan's Law.

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.


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]

Ineffectiveness of law[edit]

A December 2008 study of the law in New Jersey concluded that it had no effect on community tenure (i.e., time to first re-arrest), showed no demonstrable effect in reducing sexual re-offenses, had no effect on the type of sexual re-offense or first time sexual offense (still largely child molestation), and had no effect on reducing the number of victims of sexual offenses. The authors felt that given the lack of demonstrated effect of the law on sexual offenses, its growing costs may not be justifiable.[7]

Subsequent legislation[edit]

On May 20, 2014, the United States House of Representatives voted to pass the International Megan's Law to Prevent Demand for Child Sex Trafficking (H.R. 4573; 113th Congress), a bill that would require the notification of foreign governments when an American registered as a sex offender of children is going to be traveling to their country.[8][9] According to Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), the bill would enable the United States "to notify destination countries that a sex offender who has previously abused a child is traveling to that country and encourage reciprocal notification to protect American children from abuse by foreign sex workers."[10] However, the bill failed to reach the floor of the Senate.


Opponents of Megan's Law, like Women Against Registry,[11] Reform Sex Offender Laws, Inc.[12][13][14] and Human Rights Watch,[15][16] have called the law overbroad and an invitation to vigilante violence. They cite cases such as that of William Elliot,[17] one of two people located through the Registry and killed by the vigilante Stephen Marshall. Elliot was required to register because his girlfriend was "two weeks shy of her 16th birthday" while Elliot himself was also a teenager. In a similar case, Ivan Garcia Oliver killed registrant Michael Dodele (and was sentenced to life in prison). Oliver said he had acted to protect his son: "I felt that by not taking evasive action as a father in the right direction, I might as well have taken my child to some swamp filled with alligators." In fact, Dodele was 67 years old, was stabbed 62 times by Oliver, and his accuser/victim was an older woman, not a child.[18]

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.[19][20] 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.[15][21] Some victims' rights advocates like Patty Wetterling have presented similar critique.[22][23][24][25][26][27]

One senator has suggested that sex offenders in each jurisdiction be ordered to report to their local jail on October 31 (Halloween) of each year to protect children from being abducted during "this night of intentional identity confusion".[28] The logistics of this have proven to be difficult to justify, as there have been no reported cases of abduction related to children visiting an offender's home on Halloween.[29]

See also[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. ^ Megan's Law: Assessing the Practical and Monetary Efficacy, Zgoba, Witt, Dalessandro and Veysey
  8. ^ Moody, Chris (20 May 2014). "House prepares for rare votes on standalone bills to curb human trafficking". Yahoo! News. Retrieved 21 May 2014. 
  9. ^ Marcos, Cristina (20 May 2014). "Boko Haram fuels human trafficking fight". The Hill. Retrieved 21 May 2014. 
  10. ^ Flores, Bill (18 May 2014). "Bill Flores, guest columnist: More people forced into slavery today than ever before". Waco Tribune. Retrieved 21 May 2014. 
  11. ^ "Missouri Sex Offenders: "Women Against Registry" Says Labels Unfairly Destroy Lives". RFT. 
  12. ^ Long, Matt (29 July 2013). "Group calls for moratorium on sex offender registry after killings". South Carolina Radio Network. 
  13. ^ Zakalik, Lauren (Aug 29, 2012). "National conference aims to soften, reform sex offender laws". KOAT. Retrieved 14 November 2014. 
  14. ^ Lovett, Ian (October 1, 2013). "Restricted Group Speaks Up, Saying Sex Crime Measures Go Too Far". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 November 2014. 
  15. ^ a b "No Easy Answers: Sex Offender Laws in the US". Human Rights Watch. 11 September 2007. Retrieved 2011-02-21. 
  16. ^ 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
  17. ^ "A vigilantes' charter? The bitter legacy of Megan's Law". The Independent. 
  18. ^ Martha Neil. "Did Megan's Law Website Target Rapist for Murder?". ABA Journal. 
  19. ^ "The Registration and Community Notification of Adult Sexual Offenders". Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. April 5, 2010. Retrieved 14 November 2014.  External link in |website= (help)
  20. ^ "Sexual Offender Residence Restrictions". Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. April 5, 2010. Retrieved 14 November 2014.  External link in |website= (help)
  21. ^ Blow, Steve (17 July 2014). "We can do better on sex offender laws". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved 14 November 2014. 
  22. ^ Bleyer, Jennifer (20 March 2013). "Patty Wetterling questions sex offender laws". CityPages News. 
  23. ^ Wetterling, Patty (14 September 2007). "Patty Wetterling: The harm in sex-offender laws". Sacramento Bee. Archived from the original on 14 September 2007. 
  24. ^ Gunderson, Dan (18 June 2007). "Sex offender laws have unintended consequences". MPR news. Retrieved 16 November 2014. 
  25. ^ Mellema, Matt (11 August 2014). "Sex Offender Laws Have Gone Too Far". Slate. Retrieved 16 November 2014. 
  26. ^ Sethi, Chanakya (15 August 2014). "Reforming the Registry". Slate. Retrieved 16 November 2014. 
  27. ^ 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. 
  28. ^ "SB714 - Modifies various provisions relating to sexual offenses". 
  29. ^ "Fear the Bogeyman: Sex Offender Panic on Halloween". The Huffington Post. 23 January 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]