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Megan's Law Part I:
Federal and State Legislation

(updated August 7, 1997)

Contents

Background

Megan Kanka was a seven year old living with her parents in Hamilton, New Jersey when she was raped and murdered in late July of 1994. A man who lived across the street from Megan, Jesse Timmendequas, was convicted of murdering her. When he was arrested in 1994, Megan's parents learned that their neighbor across the street had prior convictions for sex offenses involving children and he had shared the home with two other convicted sex offenders. Authorities knew where Timmendequas and his rommates were living and had not notified the parents in the community of such an obvious danger. Megan's parents and others in the community were outraged.

For further information about Megan Kanka's murder,  see our May feature "Megan Kanka - a Guide to the Trial and a Very Special Cause" and The Megan Kanka Murder Trial - a site about the case maintained by Asbury Park Press/The Home News & Tribune. Return to Contents  

New Jersey Sets the Pace

Before Megan was killed, several states, including Washington, Louisiana, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas and Utah, already had laws requring convicted sex offenders to register with authorities.  Additionally, the federal government enacted the Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 the year that Megan was murdered. The Act contained a section known as the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, named after eleven-year-old Jacob Wetterling who was abducted in 1989. The Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act directed the Attorney General to establish guidelines for State programs that require those convicted of any of the specified criminal offenses against a minor or of sexually violent offenses to register their current address with law enforcement officials.

Proponent's of Megan's Law argued that most of these state laws and the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act was not sufficient to protect children because it did not make any provision for release to the public of the information about the offender's whereabouts obtained through the registration process, even in the cases of the most sexually violent predators. Someone from Megan's neighborhood began to circulate a petition demanding the right to know when predators like Timmendequas move into their neighborhoods. The demands were supported by Megan's parents who spoke out about their tragedy and their proposal to arm parents with the information they need to protect their children. Soon, New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman became a strong supporter of the proposed law. Fueled by public outrage and with the support of the Governor, "Megan's Law" was signed into law in New Jersey only 89 days after Megan disappeared. The New Jersey statute became the model for statutes around the country and, ultimately, for a federal version of Megan's Law.  
 

The Federal Version of Megan's Law

Responding to the outcry, the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration act was amended in 1996 to allow states to release the information obtained through the registration process wherever state law allowed for such release and to require the release of the information "that is necessary to protect the public concerning a specific person required to register".
 

Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act  (current version as of May, 1997)

SEC. 170101. ESTABLISHMENT OF PROGRAM. 

    (a)    IN GENERAL- 
            (1)    STATE GUIDELINES- The Attorney General shall establish guidelines for State programs that require-- 
                    (A)    a person who is convicted of a criminal offense against a victim who is a minor or who is convicted of a sexually violent offense to register a current address with a designated State law enforcement agency for the time period specified in subparagraph (A) of subsection (b)(6) of this section; and 
                    (B)    a person who is a sexually violent predator to register a current address with a designated State law enforcement agency unless such requirement is terminated under subparagraph (B) of subsection (b)(6) of this section. 
            (2)    COURT DETERMINATION- A determination that a person is a sexually violent predator and a determination that a person is no longer a sexually violent predator shall be made by the sentencing court after receiving a report by a State board composed of experts in the field of the behavior and treatment of sexual offenders, victim rights advocates, and representatives from law enforcement agencies. 
            (3)    DEFINITIONS- For purposes of this section: 
                    (A)    The term `criminal offense against a victim who is a minor' means any criminal offense that consists of-- 
                                (i)    kidnapping of a minor, except by a parent; 
                                (ii)    false imprisonment of a minor, except by a parent;
                                (iii)    criminal sexual conduct toward a minor; 
                                (iv)    solicitation of a minor to engage in sexual conduct; 
                                (v)    use of a minor in a sexual performance; 
                                (vi)    solicitation of a minor to practice prostitution; 
                                (vii)    any conduct that by its nature is a sexual offense against a minor; or 
                                (viii)    an attempt to commit an offense described in any of clauses (i) through (vii), if the State-- 
                                         (I)    makes such an attempt a criminal offense; and 
                                         (II)    chooses to include such an offense in those which are criminal offenses against a victim who is a
                                                  minor for the purposes of this section.
                                                  For purposes of this subparagraph conduct which is criminal only because of the age of the victim shall not be considered a criminal offense if the perpetrator is 18 years of age or younger. 
                    (B)    The term `sexually violent offense' means any criminal offense that consists of aggravated sexual abuse or sexual abuse (as described in sections 2241 and 2242 of title 18, United States Code, or as described in the State criminal code) or an offense that has as its elements engaging in physical contact with another person with intent to commit aggravated sexual abuse or sexual abuse (as described in such sections of title 18, United States Code, or as described in the State criminal code). 
                    (C)    The term `sexually violent predator' means a person who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense and who suffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes the person likely to engage in predatory sexually violent offenses. 
                    (D)    The term `mental abnormality' means a congenital or acquired condition of a person that affects the emotional or volitional capacity of the person in a manner that predisposes that person to the commission of criminal sexual acts to a degree that makes the person a menace to the health and safety of other persons. 
                    (E)    The term `predatory' means an act directed at a stranger, or a person with whom a relationship has been established or promoted for the primary purpose of victimization. 
    (b)    REGISTRATION REQUIREMENT UPON RELEASE, PAROLE, SUPERVISED RELEASE OR PROBATION- An approved State registration program established under this section shall contain the following elements: 
            (1)    DUTY OF STATE PRISON OFFICIAL OR COURT- 
                    (A) If a person who is required to register under this section is released from prison, or placed on parole, supervised release, or probation, a State prison officer, or in the case of probation, the court, shall-- 
                                (i) inform the person of the duty to register and obtain the information required for such registration; 
                                (ii) inform the person that if the person changes residence address, the person shall give the new address to a designated State law enforcement agency in writing within 10 days; 
                                (iii) inform the person that if the person changes residence to another State, the person shall register the new address with the law enforcement agency with whom the person last registered, and the person is also required to register with a designated law enforcement agency in the new State not   later than 10 days after establishing residence in the new State, if the new State has a registration requirement; 
                                (iv) obtain fingerprints and a photograph of the person if these have not already been obtained in connection with the offense
                                     that triggers registration;  and 
                                (v) require the person to read and sign a form stating that the duty of the person to register under this section has been explained. 
                     (B) In addition to the requirements of subparagraph (A), for a person required to register under subparagraph (B) of subsection (a)(1) of this section, the State prison officer or the court, as the case may be, shall obtain the name of the person, identifying factors, anticipated future residence, offense history, and documentation of any treatment received for the mental abnormality or personality disorder of the person. 
            (2) TRANSFER OF INFORMATION TO STATE AND THE FBI- The officer, or in the case of a person placed on probation, the court, shall, within 3 days after receipt of information described in paragraph (1), forward it to a designated State law enforcement agency.  The State law enforcement agency shall immediately enter the information into the  appropriate State law enforcement record system and notify the appropriate law enforcement agency having jurisdiction where the person expects to reside. The State law enforcement agency shall also immediately transmit all information described in paragraph (1) to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for inclusion in the FBI database described in section 14072 of this title. 
            (3) VERIFICATION- 
                     (A)  For a person required to register under subparagraph (A) of subsection  (a)(1) of this section, on each anniversary of the person's
                                     initial registration date during the period in which the person is required to register under this section the following applies: 
                                (i) The designated State law enforcement agency shall mail a nonforwardable verification form to the last reported address of the person. 
                                (ii) The person shall mail the verification form to the designated State law enforcement agency within 10 days after receipt of the form. 
                                (iii) The verification form shall be signed by the person, and state that the person still resides at the address last reported to the
                                     designated State law enforcement agency.  The person shall include with the verification form, fingerprints and a photograph
                                     of that person. 
                                (iv) If the person fails to mail the verification form to the designated State law enforcement agency within 10 days after receipt of the
                                     form, the person shall be in violation of this section unless the person proves that the person has not changed the residence address. 
                     (B) The provisions of subparagraph (A) shall be applied to a person required to register under subparagraph (B) of subsection (a)(1)
                                     of this section, except that such person must verify the registration every 90 days after the date of the initial release or
                                     commencement of parole. 
            (4) NOTIFICATION OF LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES OF CHANGES IN ADDRESS- A change of address by a person required to register under this section reported to the designated State law enforcement agency shall be immediately reported to the appropriate law enforcement agency having jurisdiction where the person is residing.  The designated law enforcement agency shall, if the person changes residence to another State, notify the law enforcement agency with which the person must register in the new State, if the new State has a registration requirement. 
            (5) REGISTRATION FOR CHANGE OF ADDRESS TO ANOTHER STATE- A person who has been convicted of an offense which requires registration under this section shall register the new address with a designated law enforcement agency in another State to which the person moves not later than 10 days after such person establishes residence in the new State, if the new State has a registration requirement. 
            (6) LENGTH OF REGISTRATION- A person required to register under subsection (a)(1) of this section shall continue to comply with this section,
                                      except during ensuing periods of incarceration, until-- 
                     (A) 10 years have elapsed since the person was released from prison or placed on parole, supervised release, or probation;  or 
                     (B) for the life of that person if that person-- 
                                (i) has 1 or more prior convictions for an offense described in subsection  (a)(1)(A) of this section;  or 
                                (ii) has been convicted of an aggravated offense described in subsection  (a)(1)(A) of this section;  or 
                                (iii) has been determined to be a sexually violent predator pursuant to subsection (a)(2) of this section. 
    (c)    PENALTY- A person required to register under a State program established pursuant to this section who knowingly fails to so register and keep such registration current shall be subject to criminal penalties in any State in which the person has so failed. 
    (d)    RELEASE OF INFORMATION- 
            (1) The information collected under a State registration program may be disclosed for any purpose permitted under the laws of the State. 
            (2) The designated State law enforcement agency and any local law enforcement agency authorized by the State agency shall release relevant information that is necessary to protect the public concerning a specific person required to register under this section, except that the identity of a victim of an offense that requires registration under this section shall not be released. 
    (e)    IMMUNITY FOR GOOD FAITH CONDUCT- Law enforcement agencies, employees of law enforcement agencies, and State officials shall be immune from liability for good faith conduct under this section. 
    (f)    COMPLIANCE- 
            (1) COMPLIANCE DATE- Each State shall have not more than 3 years from September 13, 1994, in which to implement this section, except that the Attorney General may grant an additional 2 years to a State that is making good faith efforts to implement this section. 
            (2) INELIGIBILITY FOR FUNDS- 
                     (A) A State that fails to implement the program as described in this section shall not receive 10 percent of the funds that would otherwise be allocated to the State under section 3756 of this title.
                       (B) Reallocation of funds - Any funds that are not allocated for failure to comply with this section shall be reallocated to States that comply with this section. 
    (g)    FINGERPRINTS-  Each requirement to register under this section shall be deemed to also require the submission of a set of fingerprints of the person required to register, obtained in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Attorney General under section 14072(h) of this title.

  If you want to see if there have been any other amendments to the statute since May of 1997, the Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School maintains the United States Code (see 42 U.S.C. 14071) at their web site. For further information about the federal statute, see also Proposed Guidelines for Megan's Law and the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act issued by the Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General.  

The Status of State Laws
 
The nationwide campaign worked for legal changes to both state and federal laws. In addition, the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, as amended by Megan's Law, penalizes states that do not have registration and community notification plans implemented by next month (September 13, 1997) unless they get an extension based upon a good faith effort to implement the law.

As of mid-April according to Issue Alert - What's News in State Government Today (citing the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, Apr. 1997 as its source):

States with active public notification laws

The following states have limited public notification laws

The following states have access to registration

The following States have no notification laws or access to records

Community Notification in Canada

The United States is not the only country working to provide notification to the community about sex offenders in their midst. According to an Internet set I found at the time of the update, Canada has also made provision for communities to be notified about the release of convicted sex offenders.