What Is Megan’s Law?

Megan’s Law is the name of a federal (and an unofficial title of later state laws) legislation in the United States that requires law enforcement agencies to provide the public with information regarding registered sexual predators. The federal Megan’s Law requires states to require correctional officers or courts to advise convicted sex offenders of their obligations to register with the states law enforcement agency, and re-register if they move to another state. By October 1994, New Jersey’s Legislature had passed its first so-called Megan’s Act, requiring convicted sex offenders, upon their release from prison, to register with the police departments in the communities where they lived.

Shortly after passage of the first Megan’s Law, the Federal Government implemented a requirement that all states create a registry for sex offenders and make the information of registered offenders available to the public. New Jersey’s law also established a tri-level notification process for providing sex offenders information to law enforcement agencies and, as appropriate, to the public. Megan’s law requires this information be made available upon request to members of the public, to ensure the general public is more equipped to protect itself and its children. Notifying communities about information about sexual predators helps law enforcement with investigations, provides a legitimate reason for incarcerating known sexual predators, can discourage sexual predators from committing additional crimes, and provides citizens with information that they can use to protect their children.

The details of what is provided in a sex-offender registry and how notification is handled by communities differs by state, and the required registry information and protocol for notification of communities has changed numerous times since the passage of Meghan’s law. The federal law addresses community notification (publication of registration information), while at the state level, the Megan’s Act can address both sex offender registration and community notification. The federal Megan’s Law was passed as a sub-section of the Jacob Wetterling Offender Offences Against Children and Sexually Violent Offenders Registration Act of 1994, which simply requires sex offenders to register with local law enforcement. In 1996, California passed the Megan’s Law, which provides to the public photographs and descriptive information about convicted sex offenders who live in California, who committed a sex crime, and are required to register with local law enforcement.

Megan’s Law provides residents and parents the ability to take the necessary preventative measures to safeguard themselves and their children against the real-world threats posed by serious sex offenders. Any information that is obtained on a registered sex offender should be used responsibly. Registered sex offenders who refuse to follow Megan’s Laws provisions and requirements, or who do not give accurate information when they are registered, can be subject to serious criminal charges, no matter what level they are classified. Anyone may access the information about registered sexual offenders via Pennsylvania’s State Polices website on Megan’s Law, only for purposes of public safety.

The Pennsylvania State Police has established this website to provide timely information to the public about registered sexual offenders residing, or being a transient, attending school, or employed/engaged in employment, in this Commonwealth. The disclosure of this information to the public is intended to ensure the safety and security of the general public, and is not intended for punishment of registered individuals.

The Act limits information that may be posted online to only Level III offenders and some Level II offenders. The law also allows offenders to contest, in court, the placement of their information on a website. The law specifically bars from online disclosure all Level I offenders, convicted sex offenders who are minors, most offenders who committed a sexual offence that was committed against members of their own family or household (incest crimes), and most offenders who committed a sexual offense that was considered to be of lawful character (the victims of the offence underlying a sexual offence were too young to consent to any sexual activity).

In brief, the US Supreme Court held that a state law designed to use the Internet to inform parents about the presence in their neighborhoods of convicted rapists and child abusers did not violate a listed sex offenders constitutional rights. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed these decisions, saying the key factor in listing a sex offender in Connecticut’s Internet registry was prior felony sex conviction, rather than whether an individual may pose an ongoing danger to the community. The Court said statutes like the federal Megan’s Law offer a vital service, helping protect the public from those who might prey upon its weaker members.

After rape, New Jersey passed legislation creating a three-tiered classification for offenders, based on the assessment by prosecutors of the likelihood of an offender repeating their crime, and required that police inform the residents of local residents about the presence of a sex offenders, and required that local residents be alerted to the presence of a sex offender. The law was further amended in 2006 with Adam Walsh’s bill, which improved registration coordination between states by creating more uniform guidelines on what information should be kept on the offenders, by categorizing types of crimes into three levels, that subsequently determined what extra information on offenders should be made available to the general public, and made failure to register an offender, or violating terms of their registration, and made failure to register an offender, a crime, and made failure to register an offender, or to break terms of registration, and made failure to register an offender, or violate terms of their registry, and better coordinated the collection system.

The only times information under Megan’s Law would be released to parents or students families is when a school received a Level III High Risk Notice concerning an offender living within 1,000 feet of its own facility. Tier II offenders information cannot be disclosed to students or parents, and an order signed by the superior court judge instructs the staff, or any person authorized to obtain information, to not distribute information that they might obtain through Megan’s Law.

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