Megan's Law

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Megan's Law
Great Seal of the United States
Long titleTo amend the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 to require the release of relevant information to protect the public from sexually violent offenders.[1]
Enacted bythe 104th United States Congress
Public lawPub.L. 104-145
Acts amendedViolent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994
Titles amended42
U.S.C. sections created§ 13701 note
U.S.C. sections amended§ 14071 et seq.
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the House as H.R.2137 by Dick Zimmer (RNJ) on July 27, 1995
  • Passed the House on May 7, 1996 (unanimous voice vote)
  • Passed the Senate on May 9, 1996 (unanimous voice vote)
  • Signed into law by President Bill Clinton on May 17, 1996

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.[2][3] Since only a 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 to as "Megan's Laws" of individual states. Thus, the 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. For example, they disseminate the information via social media platforms such as Facebook. 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, the 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.


Before Megan's Law, the federal Jacob Wetterling Act of 1994 required each state to create a registry for sexual offenders and certain other offenses against children. Under the Wetterling Act, registry information was kept for law enforcement use only, although law enforcement agencies were allowed to release the information of specific persons when deemed necessary to protect the public.[4][3] After the 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 worked to change the law by demanding mandatory community notification of sex offenders, arguing that the registration required under the Jacob Wetterling Act was not a sufficient protection measure. They said that Megan would still be alive had they known of the criminal history of Timmendequas.[3][5] Paul Kramer sponsored a package of seven bills known as Megan's Law in the New Jersey General Assembly in 1994.[5] 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.[6] Before Megan's death, only five states required sex offenders to register with local law enforcement as required in Jacob Wetterling Act.[3]

The New Jersey law became model for federal legislation, introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Dick Zimmer.[6] 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.[2][7]

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 on February 8, 2016.[8][9] 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.[10] 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.[11] The law was challenged shortly after being enacted.[12]

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.[13] Under federal SORNA tier I registrants may be excluded from public disclosure, with exemption of those convicted of "specified offense against a minor."[14] Since SORNA merely sets the minimum standards the states must follow, many SORNA compliant states disclose information of all tiers.[13] These disparities have prompted some registrants to move into states with less strict rules.[15]


Evidence to support the effectiveness of public sex offender registries is limited and mixed.[16] 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.[17][18][19][20] A few studies indicate that sexual recidivism may have been lowered by SORN policies,[21][22] while a few have found statistically significant increase in sex crimes following SORN implementation.[16][23] 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.[16]

Opponents of Megan's Law, like Women Against Registry,[24] National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws,[25][26][27] and Human Rights Watch,[28][29] 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.[30][31] 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.[28][32] Some victims' rights advocates like Patty Wetterling have presented similar critique.[33][34][35][36][37][38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pub. L.Tooltip Public Law (United States) 104–145 (text) (PDF)
  2. ^ a b "Public Law 104-145" (PDF). 104th Congress. Retrieved September 30, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d Wright, Ph.D Richard G. (2014). Sex offender laws : failed policies, new directions (Second ed.). Springer Publishing Co Inc. pp. 50–65. ISBN 9780826196712.
  4. ^ "Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994" (PDF). One Hundred Third Congress of the United States of America. 1995. pp. 246–247.
  5. ^ a b McLarin, Kimberly j. (August 30, 1994). "Trenton Races To Pass Bills On Sex Abuse". The New York Times. Retrieved September 9, 2015.
  6. ^ a b Shapiro, Rich (July 27, 2014). "Parents of little girl who inspired Megan's Law recall brutal rape, murder of their daughter 20 years later". New York Daily News.
  7. ^ "Clinton Signs Tougher "Megan's Law"". All Politics. CNN. May 17, 1996.
  8. ^ "Statement by the Press Secretary on H.R. 515, H.R. 4188, S. 2152". February 8, 2016 – via National Archives.
  9. ^ "Obama signs International Megan's Law". February 8, 2016.
  10. ^ Moody, Chris (May 20, 2014). "House prepares for rare votes on standalone bills to curb human trafficking". Yahoo! News. Retrieved May 21, 2014.
  11. ^ "S.1867 - International Megan's Law to Prevent Child Exploitation Through Advanced Notification of Traveling Sex Offenders". 114th Congress (2015-2016). July 27, 2015.
  12. ^ "Civil Rights Group Opposes Law Identifying Sex Offenders On Passports". CBS SF Bay Area. February 9, 2016.
  13. ^ a b "Megan's Law by State". Klaas Kids Foundation. April 14, 2014. Retrieved August 21, 2015.
  14. ^ "Registry Requirement FAQs". Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending. Retrieved December 4, 2015.
  15. ^ "Portland: Sex offender magnet?". Portland Tribune. February 14, 2013. Archived from the original on January 26, 2016. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
  16. ^ 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).
  17. ^ Levenson, Jill; Tewksbury, Richard (January 15, 2009). "Collateral Damage: Family Members of Registered Sex Offenders" (PDF). American Journal of Criminal Justice. 34 (1–2): 54–68. CiteSeerX doi:10.1007/s12103-008-9055-x. S2CID 146412299.
  18. ^ Vasquez, B. E.; Maddan, S.; Walker, J. T. (October 26, 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. S2CID 53318656.
  19. ^ 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. S2CID 144828566.
  20. ^ 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. CiteSeerX doi:10.1086/658485. S2CID 1672265.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ "Sex offender sentencing in Washington State: Has community notification reduced recidivism?". Washington State Institute for Public Policy. December 2005.
  23. ^ "Studies question effectiveness of sex offender laws". Science Daily. August 30, 2011.
  24. ^ "Missouri Sex Offenders: "Women Against Registry" Says Labels Unfairly Destroy Lives". RFT. Archived from the original on June 25, 2016. Retrieved September 24, 2015.
  25. ^ Long, Matt (July 29, 2013). "Group calls for moratorium on sex offender registry after killings". South Carolina Radio Network. Archived from the original on December 16, 2014. Retrieved December 10, 2014.
  26. ^ Zakalik, Lauren (August 29, 2012). "National conference aims to soften, reform sex offender laws". KOAT. Retrieved November 14, 2014.
  27. ^ Lovett, Ian (October 1, 2013). "Restricted Group Speaks Up, Saying Sex Crime Measures Go Too Far". The New York Times. Retrieved November 14, 2014.
  28. ^ a b "No Easy Answers: Sex Offender Laws in the US". Human Rights Watch. September 11, 2007. Retrieved February 21, 2011.
  29. ^ 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
  30. ^ "The Registration and Community Notification of Adult Sexual Offenders". Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. April 5, 2010. Retrieved November 14, 2014.
  31. ^ "Sexual Offender Residence Restrictions". Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. April 5, 2010. Retrieved November 14, 2014.
  32. ^ Blow, Steve (July 17, 2014). "We can do better on sex offender laws". The Dallas Morning News. Archived from the original on July 3, 2016. Retrieved November 14, 2014.
  33. ^ Bleyer, Jennifer (March 20, 2013). "Patty Wetterling questions sex offender laws". CityPages News. Archived from the original on November 13, 2014.
  34. ^ Wetterling, Patty (September 14, 2007). "Patty Wetterling: The harm in sex-offender laws". Sacramento Bee. Archived from the original on May 14, 2013. Retrieved December 4, 2014.
  35. ^ Gunderson, Dan (June 18, 2007). "Sex offender laws have unintended consequences". MPR news. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  36. ^ Mellema, Matt (August 11, 2014). "Sex Offender Laws Have Gone Too Far". Slate. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  37. ^ Sethi, Chanakya (August 15, 2014). "Reforming the Registry". Slate. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  38. ^ Wright, Richard (March 16, 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 July 10, 2015. Retrieved November 16, 2014.

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