Megan's Law is the common term for state and federal laws that create and maintain sex offender registries. These registries make information on registered sex offenders available to the public. Federal law also requires convicted sex offenders (when the victim is a minor) to contact local police about changes to their personal information. Examples of information that is relevant for registries include:
- Changes of address
- Post-incarceration changes in employment
Each state decides the extent to which the information is publicly available. They also decide what information to disclose. As a result, it's essential to verify the laws of your state. States enforce reporting requirements for at least 10 years. But, some states require lifetime reporting.
Sexual offenses are sexual contact without consent when the offense involves an adult. Consent is not a factor when the offense involves an underage person. If a victim is a minor under the age of consent, they can't consent. The age of consent can be different from one state to the next. It's 16 to 18 years of age in most states. But it's important to verify the laws of your state.
This article discusses Megan's Law. It also provides links to state sex offender registries.
A Brief History of Megan's Law
The first Megan's Law appeared after the rape and murder of 7-year-old New Jersey resident Megan Kanka. The man who killed her was a sex offender who lived in the girl's neighborhood. Soon after the first Megan's Law passed, the federal government required all states to establish sex offender registries. The federal government also requires that all states provide the public with information about the registered offenders.
Before Megan's Law, Congress enacted the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act in 1994. This law required states to maintain registries of convicted sex offenders and track where they live after their release from prison. The federal Megan's Law — passed in 1996 — amended this by requiring public notification.
Jacob Wetterling was an 11-year-old boy who was abducted at gunpoint by a masked man in Minnesota. Police found his body 27 years later. The police weren't able to save him. But lawmakers hoped passing the Wetterling Act in his honor, would help others.
Megan's Law in the States
While each state's version of Megan's Law differs slightly, they all require some form of sex offender registration and community notification. The information that states typically collect about sex offenders includes:
- The offender's name
- The nature of their crime
States publish this information on publicly accessible websites. On state sex offender websites, people can search their locations to see if sex offenders live near them.
It's essential to verify the laws of your state, as rules can vary dramatically from one state law to the next. The tier classification of offenses can vary dramatically, for example. A Tier I offense in one jurisdiction may be different in another. In the same way, what a jurisdiction considers a Tier III offense in one jurisdiction may be a Tier I offense in another.
States base risk assessment on a variety of factors. They are high risk, moderate risk, and low risk. Risk is often measured based on various factors, including proximity to a school. Proximity to a daycare causes an increase in the risk classification. States can base risk on the severity of a person's offense.
Sexual assault is a severe crime. Being put into the Megan's Law databases can have a terrible effect on a person's reputation and chances of resuming a normal life. Registration requirements involve the nature of a person's offense. But they will always include that the crime is sexual. Megan's Law websites are a resource for public safety.
Megan's Law: State Resources
The list below contains links to each state's official sex offender registry website. Follow the links below for access to your state's sex offender registry (SOR) and information on the operation of your state's version of the law. Law enforcement agencies regularly update this resource. It provides information about peoples' criminal histories (related to their sex crimes), with lists featuring all sexual offenders within any given jurisdiction.
If courts convict someone of a sex crime, their criminal history (related to the sex crime) will appear in these databases. These sexual offenses are not only toward underage people. Offenders against adult victims go on this registry. Local law enforcement agencies keep the databases up to date. Federal law enforcement agencies do, too. Sexually violent predators are on these websites.
Some have debated whether this resource violates constitutional protections for privacy. But, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that protecting public safety outweighs the privacy rights of offenders in these circumstances.
Have More Questions About Megan's Law? Ask an Attorney
Because of Megan's Law, sex offenders must register in the state where they live. This is to allow notifying and protecting the public. But it can also cause difficulties for someone trying to put their life back together after serving their sentence.
If you have questions about Megan's Law and its rules, speak with an experienced criminal law attorney in your state. Sex offenses are serious crimes. Contacting a criminal defense attorney is essential if someone accuses you of such an offense.
Whether your offense is in the first degree or third degree, it's vital to get the help of an attorney. If you're the victim of a sex crime, it's important to contact law enforcement. Law enforcement officers, including state police, take this offense very seriously. They will be able to help you handle the aftermath of an assault.